Blog Archives

Networks vital for revitalizing Phoenix downtown

Carol Poore, the President and CEO of the Southwest Center for HIV/AIDS, wrote an op-ed in The Arizona Republic about how networks are important to downtown Phoenix’s success. Her op-ed is the summary of her recently completed Ph.D. dissertation and we at the DVC send our congratulations to her.

As temperatures rise and the Phoenix mayoral race heats up, understanding each candidate’s vision for continued revitalization of our downtown core is essential.

Why? In the words of urbanist Jane Jacobs, downtowns serve as the heart of any city, providing an ecosystem, a place to gather, a place of density and efficiency for both large and small venues that, altogether, create a region’s distinct sense of place, momentum and economic prosperity.

Research I’ve conducted suggests that a lively downtown requires social capital – vital networks needed to sustain collective action, identify opportunities and put in place solutions.

In past decades, two network-building organizations – Phoenix Community Alliance and Downtown Phoenix Partnership – fused people and ideas together, jumpstarting at least nine pivotal downtown projects that otherwise would not have been launched, including Arizona Center in 1988, Human Services Campus in 2005 and Downtown Phoenix Public Market in 2009.

Read more here. Congratulations, Dr. Poore!

Be a Dreamr in Downtown Phoenix

[Source: Downtown Phoenix Partnerships]

Downtowners share their visions for Downtown Phoenix over the next 20 years:

Jon Talton Responds to DVC’s Downtown Phoenix Assessment

The following is a post by Jon Talton, a former Arizona Republic business columnist, who now writes as “Rogue Columnist.” Jon wrote the following post using Downtown Voices Coalition’s Saturday op-ed as a springboard for discussion.

[Source: Rogue Columnist]

Downtown, again

Susan Copeland, chair of the Downtown Voices Coalition, recently wrote an op-ed in the Arizona Republic, entitled, “A realistic downtown assessment.” It was mostly a clear-eyed look at the reality of downtown Phoenix’s challenges: Expecting too much from sports teams, failure to integrate ASU into the city fabric, too many surface parking lots and chimerical hopes from an “entertainment district.” Copeland rightly adds that CityScape is “suburban mall stylistically dating to the 20th century,” although I have a hard time mourning the brutalist “park” of Patriot’s Square. She adds:

With all the damage done, there are still hopeful signs, if only our city officials and civic leaders follow their own community vetted and charetted ideals. The Urban Form Project; Arts, Culture, and Small Business District Overlay; and Adaptive Reuse Program are smarter moves for aspiring urban infill than another stab at a faux urban Entertainment District. When the city actually listens to its citizens rather than check-marking the input box, great things happen, like the improved ASU Nursing School exterior or the forthcoming Washington Street Centennial Project.

Well, fine. And good on her for searching for realism. But regular readers will have to forgive me if I cover some familiar ground as well as discuss the deep problems and real opportunities facing downtown Phoenix. I’m still not sure people fully get it.

Phoenix leaders made a series of catastrophic mistakes in the 1960s, 1970s and even 1980s that left downtown nearly dead. Among them: Bulldozing of the Deuce to make room for homely Civic Plaza with no provision for where the homeless would go; failure to preserve the kinds of historic buildings that provide the bones of a great city, or even the one- and two-story buildings that could have housed small businesses in a downtown revival; pursuing a policy of massive tear-downs in downtown and the capitol mall, and allowing quality of life petty crime that, along with City Hall’s neglect, drove out the small retailers and their customers. Retail for the working poor was also forced out in a misguided effort to turn downtown into an office “park” with stadiums. In addition, the produce district was allowed to fade as agriculture became less important and passenger train service ended, and no strategy was pursued to give this fascinating area a second life. Most Phoenicians today can’t even imagine that as late as the 1960s, downtown Phoenix was the state’s busiest shopping district and all those vacant lots — or bland parking garages and boxy skyscrapers — once held many precious buildings and dense business activity.

To be sure, bad luck and prevailing trends played a huge role. These were the eras of malls and cheap gasoline, the suburban dream and the notion that downtowns were things of the past. The art of civic design had been lost, so lovely territorial buildings were demolished to make room for Patriot’s Square, and in front of Symphony Hall was an ugly frying pan of a “public space.” Phoenix was cursed with more land than brains, so sprawl constantly drew businesses and residents outward. Park Central and the skyscrapers of Uptown were only the beginning. The old merchant princes that had held downtown together died off. Not enough major companies remained. Outside of Palmcroft, no affluent neighborhoods were close to the core; the Papago Freeway nearly killed off the middle-class neighborhoods directly north of downtown and the comeback took many years. Over time, much popular loyalty to downtown faded.

All this left downtown deader than that of any major city I have studied or lived in. As it turns out, downtowns are very important and enjoyed a renaissance in many places. Yet for Phoenix, coming back from such a hole is very difficult. (Even Charlotte, with its banks and other headquarters driving a major downtown revival, has failed to really rekindle retail, having allowed its department stores to decamp to a mall, its local small businesses to die, and some of its best historic buildings to be ripped down). Thus, skyscrapers were slowly added, Arizona Center was built (but facing in, like a suburban mall), the Civic Plaza expanded. But the patient was at best stabilized. Tear-downs continued. The major headquarters were either bought by outsiders or, in the case of APS, radically downsized. The consequences were staggering; for example, imagine if Wells Fargo had built its operations center downtown rather than in exurban Chandler? The stadiums were fine, but the people who vilified Jerry Colangelo (now a West Side developer — happy?) missed the point. So many stewards with the means to invest in downtown were gone that Colangelo was the last man standing. There was no Colangelo of banking. No Colangelo building a software district in the old produce warehouses. No Colangelo to endow a new Symphony Hall. None to keep and lure new small businesses. None developing new office buildings and filling them with tenants. In other words, all the stadiums are in downtown Denver, but that didn’t stop that city’s revival in other areas. But Denver was never in Phoenix’s hole (it came close, with modernist planners wanting to tear down Union Station and the historic buildings of SoDo). And it had stewards and business leaders with capital and vision.

The 2000s seemed promising. Under Mayor Skip Rimsza, and followed through by Phil Gordon, the city built a fine convention center, light rail, ASU downtown, the Sheraton and lured T-Gen and the UofA medical school. The Herberger Theater Center, Chase Field and USAirways Arena are all valuable assets (the football stadium should, and could, have been built downtown). “Meds and eds” could have been a real game changer had it been pursued with vigor, creating a major medical-research-biotech hub downtown. It wasn’t, and other mistakes also held back downtown. City Hall dragged its feet on mixed-use, adaptive reuse and other downtown-friendly policies. The Downtown Phoenix Partnership wasted money and time on the insipid “Copper Square” “rebranding campaign.” Downtown got caught up in the bubble, and the narrow capital financing it in metro Phoenix. Thus, the promising 44 Monroe looks headed for apartments. The lovely art deco Valley National Bank headquarters never made it to boutique hotel. Downtown, and the center city, continue to lack enough private investment, high-paid jobs and residents with money and an urban sensibility to crawl back past the tipping point. It lacks a real economic-development organization. A hostile Legislature — and perhaps in the future hostile City Council — present a daunting challenge; one example is the lack of tax-increment financing, critical to downtown San Diego’s comeback, or support for the downtown university/biosciences campuses. Land banking continues to make the core look uninviting, to say the least. Center city champions, so combat fatigued from years of banging their heads against City Hall, sometimes pick the wrong battles, are often too far from each other to build a critical mass, and in any case lack the capital to really launch a comeback.

So what to do with a challenge? It’s unlike any other major city in America. Does Phoenix need a downtown? Can it ever attract an urban sensibility of its own? Can it see the central core as critical for sustainability? What, realistically, can be done? I’ll take all this up next time, and I’m sure our commenters will start early. To note: This is the 10th anniversary of Portland’s restaurant, not downtown but close. It shows what the passion and persistence of two local owners, Dylan and Michelle Bethge, can do. This has been replicated elsewhere, just not enough. And: Will Bruder has left Scottsdale to move back to the Central Corridor.


Jon has written a follow-up column. You can find it here.

Best Of Downtown Phoenix Winners Announced


As part of the 17th Annual DREAMR Awards, which will be held Feb. 7 at the Hyatt Regency Phoenix, an online and write-in poll was conducted to determine our favorite downtown Phoenix destinations.

Here are the Best Of Downtown winners for 2010:


Hero Factory

  • Athlete: Steve Nash

Congratulations to all the 2010 ”Best Of” winners!

A day in the life of a downtown Phoenix ambassador

ASU’s StatePressTelevision created this video about the Downtown Phoenix Partnership‘s orange shirted ambassadors.  The clip features ambassador Silvia Hayes:

City plans to cut free downtown Phoenix DASH bus route

[Source: Jahna Berry, Arizona Republic] — Phoenix plans to downsize the free Downtown Area Shuttle’s bus routes on July 26, but a downtown business group is lobbying prevent some of the cuts.   Because of city budget reductions, the DASH will lose its “downtown loop,” which stops at or near many key downtown cultural attractions, including the Phoenix Convention Center, Heritage Square, hotels, and the Orpheum Theatre.  The more heavily-used “government loop” will continue.  It links the county government campus and the state government complex, which lie farther west.

The change will save Phoenix’s Public Transit Department $317,000 annually in its $175 million bus operations budget.  “When we cut there is a method to the madness.  We want to affect the least amount of people,” transit spokeswoman Yvette Roeder said.  The government loop had 459,984 boardings in fiscal 2009, city figures show, while the downtown loop had 71,266 boardings. A boarding is a one-way trip made by one rider.

The Downtown Phoenix Partnership wants the city to save at least part of the downtown loop, said David Roderique president and CEO of the business group. The partnership, which contributes $18,000 annually to the DASH, plans to meet with transit officials in a few weeks to discuss options, Roderique said.   [Note: Read the full article at City plans to cut free downtown Phoenix DASH bus route.]

Downtown Phoenix Partnership to install way-finding signs

[Source: Lynn Ducey, Phoenix Business Journal] — This spring, Downtown Phoenix Partnership will begin installation of its $800,000 way-finding project to identify key sites and attractions for downtown visitors.  The signs are being funded through a 2006 voter-approved capital bond earmarked for improving downtown.  SmithCraft of Phoenix is doing the work.   “Our big focus is on downtown aesthetics.  This is a way for everyone to be able to easily find and walk to cultural sites,” said David Roderique, president and CEO of the partnership.

City leaders also are working on a proposal to address the hordes of newspaper boxes throughout downtown.  Not all are maintained.

Viewpoint: Ode to a Phoenix

[Source: jsethanderson, blogger, Downtown Phoenix Partnership] — I must be a glutton for punishment.  My passion about Phoenix history burns hot like the Phoenix sun in July and as much as I love the heat, it can harm me if I’m not careful.  Studying Phoenix history can do the same.  The subject is like a cactus: it’s beautiful, I like to look at it and study it, but if I get too close it will prick me and leave a stinging pain that eventually wears off.  Learning new things can have the same effect.  But no matter how often it happens, I keep going back for more.  I have to understand.  The past is the prologue – I must study the past.

Not only must I study history to appease (temporarily) my natural curiosity, I also have to share what I find.  To borrow a phrase from Richard Dawkins, “consciousness raising” is of the utmost importance.  When riding the light rail, I see a city growing out of the awkward teenage years and into young adulthood with a sense of its own identity.  I feel the perfect storm blowing winds of change across vacant lots downtown.  There is an energy and an excitement about urban Phoenix.  The shrill voices from the suburbs still shriek but the rhetoric is foolish and shortsighted.  The days of cheap gas and short commutes are long past.  The true costs of sprawl and of low density “communities” located in the far-flung suburbs have reared its head in a way we’ve never seen before.  It’s about time.

Beneath the city lights, skyscrapers, and our remaining historic buildings lies a fabric of history created and destroyed by lives of countless people.  Some may argue that Phoenix has an unromantic past.  I disagree.  Our romantic past was erased by the wrecking ball before our very eyes, then quickly forgotten.  The early years of the city, when Phoenix grew feed for horses at Fort McDowell, are admittedly, unremarkable.  But it was during the early booms that the desert, against overwhelming odds, blossomed into Victorian architecture with theatres, opera houses, schools, neighborhoods, museums, and trains.  Later Phoenix became addicted to a drug that destroyed it from the inside out- the automobile.  Phoenix is still recovering.  I don’t like what cars did to western American cities.  People need cities where they can walk, people need to be outside, people need to hear voices of strangers.  Phoenix lost that element.

I admit freely that I am a Phoenix cheerleader, a self-conscious cheerleader perhaps.  I’m smart enough to know that blind adoration is not conducive to creativity.  I’m hypersensitive to criticism when it’s unwarranted but will listen when it is.  Claims that “there is nothing to do in Phoenix” or “Phoenix has no culture” are the ramblings of the ignorant and lazy and I always dismiss such claims.

Phoenix doesn’t need “a” history, we just must learn our history.  This knowledge is essential for the creative and innovative ideas to take root.  Mature cities foster their history, they don’t tear it down.  Mature cities build on traditions and common language.  Our cultural language and literature of the city has yet to be written.  I can’t imagine New York without the literary contributions of Edith Wharton, London without Shakespeare, St. Petersburg without Dostoevsky.  I believe the best novels set in and about Phoenix are yet to come.  (Honestly, there is so much to write about!)  [Note: Read the full blog entry at Ode to a Phoenix.]

Wanna help market downtown Phoenix?

[Source: CareerBuilder, Arizona Republic] — Downtown Phoenix Partnership seeks a responsible individual with strong writing and Web skills to play a key role in all marketing aspects of the Partnership.  The perfect candidate will not only be a strong writer, but will also be well versed in a number of Web applications, including Word Press and various social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr), and have the organization skills necessary to manage a team of volunteer bloggers.  The Marketing Coordinator will also be responsible for the creation of a weekly email newsletter; writing and editing a quarterly print newsletter; coordinating and running meetings with community businesses; and writing press releases and maintaining a media contacts database.  Must be deadline driven, well organized, and able to balance multiple projects.

Downtown Phoenix Partnership unveils new website

209145-600-0-31Check out the new website of the Downtown Phoenix Partnership.  And remember, Downtown Phoenix is in; Copper Square is OUT (hmmm, was the latter ever really “in?”).