Blog Archives

Viewpoint: Downtown Phoenix’s Jackson Street lost its artists long ago

[The following “letter to the editor” was written by Steve Weiss, Steering Committee Chair of Downtown Voices Coalition, in response to the Arizona Republic’s June 10, 2009 editorial on the Jackson Street Entertainment District.  Since the letter hasn’t been printed in the Republic, we’re reprinting it here.]

There are many issues to debate regarding the proposed Jackson Street Entertainment District: the loss of historic preservation on the last surviving contiguous areas of the Warehouse District, the impact on residents South of Jackson Street, or even whether a created Entertainment District can achieve the financial and sales tax success the developers and city officials hope for.  The debate can rage back and forth on these issues.

But there is one glaring fact that disputes your editorial, where you say “Even now the area is drawing artists’ studios and clubs.”

The artists were forced out of Jackson Street long ago, first by the America West Arena (now US Airways Center) and then by Bank One Ballpark (now Chase Field).  What was once an area inhabited by live/work studios and galleries seeking large spaces with cheap rent is now priced for speculation or geared towards the ethereal sports fan.  The one exception is the eternally struggling Icehouse, way West of the proposed development.  No city help seems forthcoming to the last true artspace on Jackson.

As in all big cities, the gentrification of the downtown, first made cool by the artists, will be left to those who can afford “attainable” housing or “themed” entertainment.  A House of Blues club is no match for the authenticity of The Rhythm Room, as an example.

If the developers who seek to make Jackson Street interesting once again are wise enough, they will create incentives for affordable (not just attainable) live/work artist spaces and the kind of hospitable and distinct food, music and art venues that thrive in the less structured and less pricey environments of Grand Avenue and Roosevelt Street.  Look to those streets to find the remaining downtown artists and artspaces.

Steve Weiss
Steering Committee Chair, Downtown Voices Coalition

Jackson St. entertainment district lobbies for state help

[Source: Mary Jo Pitzl, Arizona Republic, June 21, 2008] — Recent long-running legislative sessions have featured months of budget bickering between the GOP-led Legislature and the Democratic governor and at least one big last-minute deal.  This year’s eleventh-hour proposal is the jobs-stimulus package, a plan to boost the state’s economy through tax breaks for developers, help for spring-training baseball in Tucson, and tax credits for solar manufacturing, research and development.

The idea — to energize the state’s sagging economy by generating jobs, primarily in construction — surfaced this week after Rep. Michele Reagan, R-Scottsdale, convened lawmakers and lobbyists…  Here’s a rundown on the four components:

Urban Development.  The impetus for this is a downtown Phoenix entertainment district proposed by developers Dale Jensen and Brad Yonover.  They need the Legislature to waive four construction-related sales taxes — two collected by the state, two by the city — to give them a break on construction costs.  Yanover told lawmakers the plan includes a 380-room Fairmont hotel (a boutique hotel from the Marriott Hotels line), a 2,500-seat House of Blues, high-end restaurants, and other amenities.  But Reagan interrupted his presentation to make it clear that the package would not apply just to downtown Phoenix but also to other districts that meet certain criteria.  The construction-related taxes would be returned to the developers for 10 years.

House Speaker Jim Weiers, R-Phoenix, made a special appearance this week to urge lawmakers to take a risk to launch the project.  “This doesn’t cost the taxpayers one cent,” Weiers said.  “It does have the potential for creating tens of thousands of jobs.”  The argument for such tax-abatement projects is that none would be built without the tax waiver.  And with the waiver, a project could proceed and generate new taxes for the city and state.

The proposal, pitched by lobbyists Mike Williams and Kevin DeMenna, caught at least one Phoenix official by surprise.  “My personal feeling is, if they want to include the city in this, maybe we could have a conversation if we can afford to do this,” said Phoenix City Councilman Claude Mattox.  Others see the still-emerging plan as special-interest legislation.  “The urban-development project just smacks of handouts to developers,” said Michael Crowe, chairman of the leadership council of the local branch of the National Federation of Independent Business.  “It just looks like a money grab…”  [Note: To read the full article, click here.  Related Phoenix Business Journal article here.]