Monthly Archives: December 2010

Downtown Phoenix Jamaican Restaurant to Open Rum Bar

[Source: Emily Gersema,  The Arizona Republic]

Michael Schennum/The Arizona Republic

A downtown Jamaican restaurant is preparing for the grand opening of its rum bar.

The Breadfruit Jamaican Grill at 108 E. Pierce St. recently held a soft opening for Phoenix’s first-known rum bar.

The rum-bar extension of the intimate restaurant has a rustic Caribbean feel, featuring tables made from supply crates turned upside down, homemade bar stools and more than 60 rums. Co-owner Dwayne Allen says it reminds him of his home in Jamaica, where rum bars remain a community gathering place. Allen and co-owner Danielle Leoni still have about 40 rums on order but believe they’ll receive them by their 5 p.m. grand opening on Jan. 23.


Allen and Leoni opened the restaurant more than a year ago. It was an opportunity for Allen to introduce Phoenix diners to Caribbean dishes such as Jamaican grilled, jerk-style prawns, and curried chicken with dumplings, and desserts such as sweet-potato pudding and a parfait made with Madagascar vanilla ice cream.


Allen says most bars in his native Jamaica are known as rum bars because years ago, that was the only liquor available on the island. He says the rum bars tend to look rustic and weathered, which is why he and Leoni adopted a similar look for their bar. They transformed century-old barn doors salvaged from a Midwestern farm into shelves and created beer-bottle pendulum lights.


This drink is made from sugar-cane byproducts, such as the juice or molasses. Historians believe that the first rums were developed in India. The first Caribbean rums were made by slaves in the 17th century, and then British colonists began selling it. Allen says the flavors for each rum vary according to whether juice or molasses is used, and how it is processed.

108 RUMS

This is the number of imported rums that Leoni and Allen have chosen to offer at their bar. They chose it because it is a multiple of three – symbolic of fundamental principles in Daoist philosophy. The couple have had to hunt for importers to bring the unique brands to Arizona. Their menu features rums primarily from Central and South America.

Downtown Phoenix’s 44 Monroe Condos to be Leased

[Source: Jan Buchholz, Phoenix Business Journal]

Jim Poulin/Phoenix Business Journal

From the “that didn’t last long” file, word comes today that the sale of condos at 44 Monroe in downtown Phoenix is off.

In early November, the new owner of most of the project — it was purchased by ST Residential after the lender took it back — said they would sell the units for nearly half of their original pricing.

The high-rise at First Avenue and Monroe Street has 196 units, with 14 occupied by residents who bought at the height of the market, when they cost between $450,000 and $3.2 million.

But now the plan is to lease them. In a letter sent to brokers and other interested parties Thursday afternoon, a representative from the sales team said the market dynamics don’t support sales. No word yet on what rents will run, but look for a mix of Arizona State University students and staff, and young professionals working downtown to settle into the high-rise lifestyle.

Panel told not to post about Downtown Phoenix Dog Park online

[Source: Emily Gersema,]

Phoenix city staff have told a 73-member committee charged with finding a location for a new dog park that they can’t discuss their meetings and opinions on blogs and social networks such as Twitter, a warning that some attorneys believe is a violation of free speech.

Phoenix staffers issued the directive this month, saying blogging or tweeting could violate the state’s public-meetings laws.

At least one member of the Ad Hoc Dog Park Committee, Sean Sweat, balked at the warning because he believes it’s a matter of free speech.

Sweat, who lives in downtown at St. Croix Villas and blogs about downtown issues, said city staff made similar warnings at the committee’s first meeting on Dec. 14.

The committee must suggest a new dog-park site in or near the downtown area by Jan. 31. The site must be inexpensive to develop and maintain. Most members are volunteers who live in neighborhoods in and around downtown Phoenix.

Phoenix’s open-meetings coordinator, Joey Casto, responded to Sweat with a letter on Dec. 16 warning that blogs and other online statements could prompt committee members to comment online and have a discussion outside of public view.

If enough members commented, there could be an informal quorum, which would be illegal because the discussion would be taking place outside of public view, Casto wrote.  “The city strongly discourages board members from having any discussions with each other about board business outside of their publicly posted meetings,” he wrote.

Given the committee’s size, the risk of a quorum appearing online is slim. With 73 members so far and a maximum membership of 80, it’s the largest committee in the city and would need more than 37 members online to constitute a quorum.

Two attorneys consulted by The Arizona Republic read the letter and said the city is going overboard on its interpretation of the state’s open-meeting law. They said it verges on infringement of Sweat’s First Amendment right of free speech.  “What the city is doing here is it is essentially squashing this member’s free-speech rights because some other members might post comments,” said Mike Liburdi, a Phoenix attorney speaking for the Arizona First Amendment Coalition. “There’s a lot of less intrusive ways of dealing with this that don’t infringe on his First Amendment rights.”

Liburdi said city staff could have asked Sweat to disable the comment capabilities on his blog, but even then, their warning is extreme. “I think they’re impermissibly chilling Mr. Sweat’s First Amendment rights based on this hypothetical concern that some other members may post replies,” he added.

Paul Bender, an attorney who teaches U.S. and Arizona constitutional-law courses at Arizona State University, said he would have thought that city staff would encourage a public blog because it is transparent, providing public information.  “My reaction to (Casto’s) letter is if the blog is open to the public, I don’t think it would violate the open-meeting law,” he said. “The spirit of the open-meeting law is that the committee is not supposed to be getting together in private.”

City Council members routinely send out newsletters telling their constituents about their positions on issues that the council hasn’t voted on.

Casto said he has not heard of any effort to tell them to stop doing so. He also said he didn’t mean to infringe on Sweat’s freedom of speech.  “We were definitely not trying to squash his First Amendment rights,” said Casto, who had consulted the city’s Law Department before sending Sweat the letter. “We tried to make sure that . . . the blog or e-mail is not used to circumvent open-meeting law.”

Three-fourths of the committee must agree on the site for the new dog park. The next meeting is Jan. 6 at 6 p.m.

Downtown Phoenix business is purr-fect

[Source: Emily Gersema, The Arizona Republic]

Dave Seibert/The Arizona Repubic

Non-toxic toys, scratchers and climbing trees for cats are Kate Benjamin’s business – and now that sales from her Moderncat Studio on Grand Avenue and two Internet sites are soaring, she is directing a percentage of sales to local charities that help stray, feral or abandoned cats.

Benjamin recently started “Cat Charity of the Month,” in which a charity is named every month to receive 5 percent of her sales.

Her first Valley charities of choice were Altered Tails, Foothills Animal Rescue, the Foundation for Homeless Cats and the Arizona State University group, Mild Cats at ASU.

In addition, Benjamin launched a holiday give-a-thon, which will end before Christmas Day. Moderncat Web users can sign up to win a prize from one of her 21 sponsors.

Every sponsor provides two of each prize, so winners can keep one prize and donate the second to a charity.

“I love to give stuff away,” Benjamin said.

Within 18 months of opening Moderncat, Benjamin’s business is becoming popular. The blog on her website,, has 14,000 subscribers, and she said she draws 200,000 views per month.

“The studio business has just blown up,” Benjamin said. Internet “traffic has just been through the roof.”

Benjamin, 39, appears to have the gene for entrepreneurship. She was raised in Plattsburgh, N.Y., where her father was a restaurateur and her mother sold handmade crafts and gifts.

From them, she learned how to sew and develop product ideas.

“Selling Girl Scout cookies, it started from there,” she said. “I was always selling things.”

By age 18, Benjamin had a T-shirt design business, and sold jewelry and hair scrunchies at a booth in the Ithaca, N.Y., farmers market.

She went to Cornell University and graduated with a degree in design and environmental analysis with a focus on interior design. She was drawn to Phoenix because she wanted to work for a resort and, of course, for the weather.

After working for Valley resorts and for a website that sold children’s toys, Benjamin was inspired to launch her a toy business for cats.

Her nine felines – Ando, Dazzler, Flora, Mackenzie, McKinley, Ratso, Sherman, Simba and Theo – influence her craft.

Benjamin has designed and sells popular toys such as “Atomic Flyers” – merino-wool felt toys cut in shapes like snowflakes and moons that zoom and spin across hard floors.

Her Modkickers, also known as “Bunny Kickers,” are a huge hit with the cat community. They’re pillows and tubes of fabric stuffed with a little catnip – a toy that a cat can grip and kick with its hind legs.

She also sells cat trees and scratchers that are covered with carpet tiles that have no formaldehyde.

“This is all about cats,” Benjamin said.

Moody’s slashes bond rating for Downtown Phoenix Hotel Corp. (Sheraton)

[Source: Russ Wiles, The Arizona Republic]

A credit-rating agency has downgraded $350 million worth of bonds issued by the city-affiliated Downtown Phoenix Hotel Corp., reflecting a challenging debut for its Sheraton hotel near the convention center.

The downgrades by Moody’s Investors Service of New York won’t affect the entity’s payments on the bonds, which carry a fixed interest rate.

They also won’t add any pressure on general city finances, said Jeff DeWitt, Phoenix’s finance director, who said bondholders still will be paid in full.

The rating cuts affect three categories of bonds sold in 2005 to develop the Sheraton Phoenix Downtown Hotel, which opened in October 2008:

  • The rating on $157 million worth of senior revenue bonds was cut to Ba1 from Baa3, with a negative outlook. That pushes the bonds into a lower-grade or “junk” status.
  • The ratings on $164 million of one series of subordinate revenue bonds and $29 million in a second series were both cut to A2 from A1, with a stable outlook.

The bonds were issued to build and furnish the hotel, located north of the convention center.

The two subordinate bonds have different provisions that provide added protection to bondholders from the city. This support derives from sports-facilities taxes, based on hotel and rental-car levies, that the city can apply if hotel revenues aren’t enough to make debt payments.

The three series are revenue bonds backed by cash flow from the hotel.

“They are separate from the city’s general credit,” DeWitt said.

The subordinate bonds are supported by sports-facilities taxes.

The downgrade on the senior bonds reflects lower-than-projected results for the hotel’s first two years of operation compared with what was envisioned when the bonds were sold in 2005.

“The occupancy rate and the average daily rate of the hotel fell significantly below expectations due to the economic conditions at the time of (the) hotel’s initial operating period,” Moody’s analysts wrote in a report. “The downgrade on the subordinate bonds reflects (the) city’s decreased sports-facility taxes.”

Moody’s expects the Sheraton Phoenix Downtown Hotel will continue to struggle over the next 12 to 18 months to boost its occupancy and pricing.

The hotel was just 49 percent full in 2009 compared with a national average of 55 percent. Occupancy at the Phoenix hotel is projected to climb to 56 percent in 2011.

According to Moody’s, the hotel’s 2011 budget assumes an average daily rate of $159 per room – well below the original $182 projection for the 2011-12 period.

DeWitt said the hotel continues to perform well but just not at the levels envisioned in 2005. He cited guest surveys ranking it among the top Sheratons in the nation.

“The hotel opened in a difficult recession,” he said. “I’m confident it will do well when the economy recovers.”

Moody’s noted that the city’s sports-facilities taxes declined in 2009 and earlier in 2010, although they have started to recover more recently.

Downtown Phoenix’s Icehouse to close at end of 2011

[Source: New Times]

Source: New Times

New Times has confirmed that the Icehouse, the longtime downtown art gallery and performance space, is planning to close at the end of 2011.

“We are being taxed out by the county,” says Icehouse owner Helen Hestenes. “We are one of the largest alternative arts projects in the U.S., but Phoenix has been crazy.”

In 1990, Hestenes and her at-the-time husband David Therrien converted the circa 1910 building — which originally housed operations for Constable Ice Storage — into an edgy contemporary art space that has helped launch the careers of countless artists, such as Angela Ellsworth and the late Rose Johnson.  However, due to its relative off-the-beaten-path location at 429 West Jackson Street, the 20-year-old venue has struggled to survive for the past decade.

It wasn’t always that way, especially when the space was located in the creative epicenter of the downtown arts scene in the early 1990s. But following the displacement of many DIY spaces and artists due to the construction of US Airways Center (the downtown sports venue, formerly known as America West Arena, opened in 1992) as well as current First Friday artgoers’ concentration on Roosevelt Street and Grand Avenue, the Icehouse, despite its longevity and quality of exhibitions, has, in some ways, become a forgotten venue.

Future exhibits planned for the space include a solo show by photographerJoe Jankovsky in January and a 20-year retrospective during March’s Art Detour.

UA to open cancer center in Downtown Phoenix

[Source: Emily Gersema, The Arizona Republic]

Phoenix officials are about to begin working on a 60-year lease agreement for the University of Arizona to build and open an Arizona Cancer Center downtown.

The City Council on Wednesday directed City Manager David Cavazos to start writing the lease agreement.

The future site of the center is at Fillmore and Seventh streets.

The lot is part of the Phoenix Biomedical Campus, which is home to various research organizations, such as Translational Genomics Research Institute and the UA College of Medicine-Phoenix.

According to a city staff report, Phoenix will lease the property on the northwestern corner of Fillmore and Seventh streets to the Arizona Board of Regents for $45 per square foot over 60 years.

The annual payment would be about $50,932 per year, providing a total of $3 million to the city for the duration of the lease.

However, the Arizona Cancer Center would not have to pay rent for the first 10 years. The city proposes to wait and recapture those deferred rent payments in the final 20 years of the lease.

After the lease expired, the city would give the land to the Board of Regents.

The board, which oversees the three state universities, is expected sometime early next year to give UA approval to build the new cancer-research center.

The Arizona Cancer Center is a UA research institution based in Tucson.

Officials plan to build and open the second center in the next few years.

Preliminary plans include building a six-story, 250,000-square-foot building.

The center would work in cooperation with the UA Medical School in Phoenix and Valley hospitals.

It is expected to employ up to 600 people.

The Phoenix Biomedical Campus covers 28 acres downtown.

City staff is working with the Board of Regents on an intergovernmental agreement that would enable the campus to expand beyond that.

Pop the Soda Shop moves to Downtown Phoenix

[Source: Michele Laudig, New Times Chow Bella]

Pop the Soda Shop was always the place where you could find those rare, nostalgic beverages that seem to pre-date beverage behemoths like Pepsi and Coke. Birch beer, sarsaparilla, Moxie, and countless kinds of cola filled the shelves of the longstanding store in South Scottsdale.

Now that location has finally closed up shop, and the operation is based out of  The Duce in Downtown Phoenix (525. S. Central Ave.).

There, you can hang out at the circa 1915 soda fountain and order up handmade sodas, ice cream floats, milk shakes and other treats, as well as purchase bottled pop and candy.


Hours are 10 a.m. to midnight, Wednesday through Saturday, and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday.

A new vintage line in Downtown Phoenix

[Source: Carrie Wheeler, New Times Jackalope Ranch]

Photo credit: Carrie Wheeler

Downtown Phoenix is developing quite a little vintage scene. On December 1st, a new line of  clothing, Hailey’s Hand Me Downs joined the growing list of indie cool finds (First Butter Toast, recently Grow Op) as the newest purveyor of vintage goods.

Hailey Andresen, a recent FIDM grad, is the Hailey behind the name and the curator of the line. “All vintage is at least 20 years old,” she explained. Most current merchandise came from a recent LA trip, where she scoured vintage stores and wholesalers, but she’s always on the lookout for new things and expanding her collections, which she also sells on her online Etsy store under the same name.

Some of the store finds: A cute 1950s sun dress for $36, men’s western shirts which run around $30, a pair of neutral bow loafers for $20, and a tin full of colorful scarves for $5 each.

Sharing a space off Central Avenue with hairstylist/make-up artist/stylist, Shauna Thibault, the two unlikely businesses will join forces, along with other local lines and brands (like letterpress designers, SeeSaw) under one soon-to-be launched name, Mercantile, which will have its grand opening mid-January.

In the meantime, you can still peruse clothes and accessories in the roomy loft space, sit at the giant table and benches (designed by Christoph Kaiser) and enjoy the visually-pleasing vignettes, and schedule a cut and color.

Hailey’s Hand Me Downs is located inside Mercantile (which might or might not have a sign up) at 828 N. Central Avenue in Phoenix between Roosevelt and McKinley. Visit the store Monday through Saturday from noon to 7 p.m. and every First Friday from noon to 10 p.m.

Chase Tower plaza renovation in downtown Phoenix complete

[Source: Emily Gersema,]

Source: Emily Gersema/The Arizona Republic

Downtown workers have watched crews over the summer install new concrete steps, trees and benches outside of Chase Tower and remove the giant fountain that was next to the building at Central Avenue and Van Buren Street.

The nearly $7 million plaza upgrade was part of a $14 million massive renovation inside and outside the tower that has taken JPMorgan Chase more than a year to complete. JPMorgan Chase celebrated the plaza’s completion last week. Bank officials then honored Walter Reed Bimson, the former leader of Valley National Bank, which was Arizona’s largest bank.

Walter Reed Bimson

Born in Colorado in 1892, Bimson was in charge of Valley National Bank from 1932 to 1970. He was known as a visionary and supported Phoenix’s growth. The renovated plaza, Bimson Plaza, is named for him and features a bust of his likeness sculpted by Lawrence Tenney Stevens.

Chase Tower

The 40-story building opened in 1973 after about three years of construction. The tower was built after Valley National Bank outgrew its original home, the Professional Building at Monroe Street and Central Avenue. About 2,100 people work in the tower, most of them for Chase. Bimson Plaza

The plaza now has more benches where people can sit, plus trees and new lighting. Workers are grateful the fountain is gone. The fountain used to leak; water would seep into the cafeteria and force workers to eat elsewhere. The monsoon storm winds and rain sometimes forced closure of the cafeteria.

The Renovation

Plenty of improvements have been completed and some are still under way. The exterior of Chase Tower features hundreds of glass windows that have been upgraded and sealed to improve energy efficiency of the building and office comfort. Crews are replacing the elevators and installing two new escalators.