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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