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A growing appetite for downtown Phoenix dining

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Sens, Downtown Phoenix (photo source: Cam Riley)

[Source: Howard Seftel and Megan Finnerty, Arizona Republic] — Looking past the current economic downturn, optimistic restaurateurs believe downtown Phoenix is poised to compete in the next few years with Scottsdale as a dining destination.  The momentum has been jump-started by a group of independent chefs and entrepreneurs who believe in the area’s potential.  They, in turn, have inspired a fresh wave of high-profile names with big plans to rush in and stake a downtown claim.

New arrivals say downtown Phoenix has reached a tipping point, energized in part by light rail and the Arizona State University campus.  But some warn that the Valley has seen this sort of hopeful restaurant hype fail to live up to its promise before, pointing to troubles on Mill Avenue in Tempe and developments such as downtown Phoenix’s Arizona Center and the Mercado that never flourished.  Others think downtown’s residential core is still not strong enough to support a restaurant community.

Meanwhile, CityScape is accelerating the downtown dining buzz.  Fifteen restaurants are planned for the sprawling residential, commercial and retail complex set to open in 2010.  Developers are targeting local chefs in hopes of complementing the fledgling dining scene, not squashing it.  Although downtown had seen scattered individual successes in the past, like the wood-fired pizza at Pizzeria Bianco and classy comfort food of Matt’s Big Breakfast, their popularity didn’t create a movement.  Winning national acclaim meant they became just as much tourist destinations as local joints.  Now, however, chefs and restaurant owners are relocating from other parts of the Valley or opening additional locations.

Metro light rail, ASU’s downtown campus, the Downtown Phoenix Public Market and new residents are creating buzz for the area, they say.  “It’s the spot to be,” said Linda Nguyen, whose bustling, 4-month-old Moira Sushi Bar & Kitchen offers Japanese fare.  She considered Tempe and Scottsdale before opening in a space on East McKinley Street.  [Note: Read the full article at A growing appetite for downtown Phoenix dining]

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Downtown Phoenix parking debate grows along with ASU

[Source: Associated Press] — Some downtown Phoenix residents living in the Roosevelt Neighborhood are expressing concern about parking for Arizona State University students both now and in the future.  Some condo and office building developers waiting for the soft real estate market to rebound are instead turning their downtown land into parking lots for ASU students and others.  That has some members of nearby neighborhood associations worried.  “Ideally, we don’t want a parking lot there,” said Steve Brueckner, president of the Roosevelt Action Association.

Neighbors said they fear that parking, even if it’s temporary, could lead to more permanent downtown lots.  Besides relying on light rail to get students downtown, ASU will also need thousands of parking spaces, according to university figures.  This fall, ASU expects to have 4,500 students and as many as 900 staffers on campus, said university planner Richard Stanley.  The school currently has 1,100 parking spaces and agreements to lease 3,400 other spaces some for daytime use only from the city of Phoenix, near Chase Field; the Mercado complex; and the Phoenix Convention Center.  By 2020, ASU estimates it will have 15,000 downtown students and may need up to 6,000 spaces by then.

Hoping to calm neighborhood fears, the City of Phoenix says some landowners must seek a zoning change or special permit to create a parking lot, said Debra Stark, the city’s planning director.  “The city also has specific lighting and landscaping requirements,” Stark said.  ASU officials said they are still working on a long-term parking fix downtown.  Planning for parking does not include disrupting residential neighborhoods surrounding ASU, Stanley said.