Blog Archives

Viewpoint: Beyond chains and cheese (restaurant madness and what it means for downtown Phoenix)

Popularity of Matt's Big Breakfast fostered other local restaurant startups.

[Source: Life in Downtown Phoenix blog] — While the arts community was the first generation of pioneers to successfully lift downtown Phoenix out of its doldrums, the second wave of downtown resurgence came from the independent restaurants that gambled on the area.  By 2005, places like Matt’s Big Breakfast, Cibo, and Fate proved that independent restaurants with quality food could really have success downtown.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and 2009 is really proving that as the number of restaurants opening their doors all around the aforementioned downtown pioneers is staggering.  Already this year the Turf (formerly Turf Accountant), Pasta Bar, El Portal, and Sapna’s Cafe have opened.  By the end of the month Moira will bring sushi back to downtown for the first time in years, and sometime soon Luke’s of Chicago will start a branch on Seventh Street in a renovated historic building while a Mediterranean restaurant is set to appear on Roosevelt Street just east of Third Avenue.  Almost every one of those restaurants is within a half-mile radius of the original Matt’s/Fate duo that got things rolling.  Amidst all this Palette apparently closed — which is shocking for anyone like me who was part of the sometimes-90 minute wait on the weekends for brunch — but the rumor is that someone else wanted the location and that Pallette will resurface somewhere else in the area.

Assuming these businesses can survive the current economic conditions, they’ll be poised to really help downtown surge when the housing market finally turns around.  Downtown Phoenix probably already stood alone with Tempe’s Mill Avenue and Old Town Scottsdale as options for those who live in the Phoenix area and prefer walkable urban environments.  But aided in no small part by this restaurant boom, downtown has separated itself from the chains of Mill and the cheese of Scottsdale as probably the premiere locale for urbanists.  While downtown Phoenix is of course only beginning to catch up with even its western competitors in places like Denver and Portland, it has clearly established some positive momentum.  [Note: To read more of downtown_resident’s views, click here.]

Adaptive reuse key to Phoenix’s diverse and unique history

[Source: Kimber Lanning, Local First Arizona, and David Cavazos, City of Phoenix, “My Turn” column, Arizona Republic] — The city of Phoenix has a plan to ensure our history will become part of our future, as vintage buildings are given new vitality through a process known as adaptive reuse.  This process instills a sense of character and diversity in our city -– a balance of modern construction and the modification of existing buildings.  The process also represents a commitment to future generations and provides jobs for today. 

During the last few years, we have witnessed tremendous growth in our city.  Partners including small business owners and entrepreneurs are major components to this growth.  In exchange for sweat equity, they are looking for a simplified path through the development process. 

It is easier to see why major projects such as the Phoenix Convention Center, CityScape, and Sheraton Downtown Phoenix (to name a few), are essential to economic growth and prosperity.  However, we all need to better realize the importance of the small adaptive reuse projects, including restaurants such as Fate, Cibo, Palette, and Roosevelt Tavern, and shops such as MADE Boutique.  These new businesses offer the influx of ASU and U of A students, convention visitors, and guests of the new Sheraton memorable experiences and places to frequent.

The positive benefits of adaptive reuse come with some challenges.  Bringing older buildings up to code to meet today’s fire, structural safety, and accessibility requirements can present a financial burden for small business owners.  At the end of the day, the adaptive reuse project must be financially feasible.  To this end, the City of Phoenix developed a pilot program to simplify the process of modifying older buildings for new purposes, while continuing to ensure the safety of all construction.  This program includes a comprehensive 10-item plan that includes defining life safety issues; allowing the routine use of the International Existing Building Code (which often reduces the scope and cost of modifications to the building); internal and external education programs; and evaluating “best practices” of other cities.  A task force comprised of senior staff from a number of city departments was formed to ensure all 10 items are achieved.  The task force also will conduct focus groups to ensure that we are including our diverse community in this plan.

At this stage in the evolution of downtown, city leaders recognize the need for the city to become a partner in the growth of new businesses, both large and small.  Now is the time to encourage business growth with over 750 new student residents moving downtown in August, and over 1,000 overnight guests daily coming to our new Sheraton and new light rail connecting downtown to other parts of the Valley.  The City is committed to streamlining and deregulating the development process for adaptive re-use and new in-fill development in our city’s core without compromising public safety.  Mayor Gordon and City Council are in strong support of this pilot program and will review the task force recommendations in the fall.

National Trust officials tour Valley for possible 2012 conference

Kathy Adams and Lori Feinman of the National Trust for Historic Preservation flew into town last week to view Phoenix’s convention facilities; tour selected historic sites and neighborhoods in Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Tempe; and visit with area preservation advocates to determine Phoenix’s ability to host the 2012 National Preservation Conference.  Meeting them at Sky Harbor was Sally Forrest, National Accounts Director for the Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Phoenix Councilman Michael Nowakowski welcomes National Trust representatives Lori Feinman and Kathy Adams. (Photo: Midtown Messenger)

The three lunched at the Hotel Valley Ho, one of the National Trust’s Historic Hotels of America, and then drove to downtown Phoenix to tour the Phoenix Convention Center, the Hyatt Regency and Wyndham hotels (two of the host hotels), and Orpheum Theatre. Barbara Stocklin, City of Phoenix Historic Preservation Officer, and Jim McPherson, Arizona Advisor to the National Trust, joined them for dinner at the Rose & Crown Pub in Heritage Square Park (a large outdoor venue that could serve as the opening reception for the 2,500-plus attendees of the 2012 conference).

Phoenix's historic Ellis Shackelford House was decked out in the colors of Arizona's state flag. (Photo: Midtown Messenger)

On Tuesday, Adams and Feinman started off the day by visiting the historic San Carlos Hotel and breakfast at Palette in the Roosevelt Historic District.  Then it was a “timed-to-the minute” whirlwind van tour of First Presbyterian Church, Security Building (and ASU’s PURL overlooking the city), Monroe School (Children’s Museum of Phoenix), Phoenix Union High School Buildings (University of Arizona College of Medicine), Steele Indian School Park, Heard Museum, and several midtown residential historic districts.

State Historic Preservation Officer Jim Garrison and Modern Phoenix Founder Alison King joined the group for lunch and tour of the Arizona Biltmore Resort and Spa.  Then it was off to drive by the Wrigley Mansion, and visit the Desert Botanical Garden, Gammage Auditorium, Pueblo Grande National Historic Landmark, and St. Mary’s Basilica.  Special guests “popped in” throughout the day to say hello, provide their perspective on preservation, and tout Phoenix as a conference site: Attorney General Terry Goddard (Palette), State Senator Debbie McCune Davis (UA College of Medicine), City of Phoenix Council Member Greg Stanton (Children’s Museum), attorney Grady Gammage (Gammage Auditorium), former Phoenix mayor John Driggs, and Arizona 2012 Centennial director Karen Churchard.

Dan Klocke (Downtown Phoenix Partnership), Charles Fortenberry (Southwest Association of Buffalo Soldiers), John Jacquemart (Arizona Historic Sites Review Committee), and G.G. George (Encanto Citizens Association). (Photo: Midtown Messenger)

Topping off the visit was a reception at the Ellis Shackelford House in downtown Phoenix.  Over 60 preservation advocates from all over the Valley (and Sierra Vista!), city officials, and downtown business group leaders attended.  A balloon arch, special signage, decorations, and flowers in the colors of Arizona’s state flag welcomed our guests from the National Trust.  City of Phoenix Council Member Michael Nowakowski, Garrison, Stocklin, Feinman, and McPherson said a few words, and the rest of the evening was spent enjoying each other’s company and dining on wonderful hors d’oeuvres from Catered by St. Joseph’s.  Gift bags courtesy of the State Historic Preservation Office and City of Phoenix were presented to Adams and Feinman, and each attendee received a small gift as well.

Visit the mayor over coffee, May 10

Mayor Phil Gordon invites downtown residents and those interested in downtown Phoenix to join him at his quarterly Community Coffee on Saturday, May 10, 2008 from 8:30 a.m. until 9:30 a.m. at Palette, 606 North Fourth Avenue, at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Fillmore.  The Mayor’s guest, Phil Richards, Chair of the Phoenix Parks and Preserves Board and Initiative campaign, will provide information about the Initiative, also known as Proposition A, which is on the May 20, 2008 ballot.  Following will be Q&A and a “meet and greet” with Mayor Gordon.  Click here for more information.