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Historic downtown Phoenix warehouse on track for rebirth as farmers market

[Source: Emily Gersema, The Arizona Republic]

Many visitors to downtown Phoenix rarely step south of the railroad tracks.

But near the backsides of US Airways Center and Chase Field, visitors who do venture there will find streets lined with old brick and brownstone warehouses.

Several of these centenarian structures are vacant and decaying, their walls coated with the grime of neglect and age. A few have been preserved and reopened, such as the Duce restaurant, bar and clothing store near Central Avenue and Lincoln Street.

A Phoenix man obsessed with history, Michael Levine, 41, is determined to save the properties. He bought and preserved the fruit-company building that the Duce occupies.

Now, he is devoting a few weeks to restoring the original facade of the old Phoenix Feed & Seed Co. warehouse near Jackson and Second streets.

Levine said he hopes the building will get more recognition when Arizona celebrates its centennial next year. He is finishing his first phase of renewal for the building, which was constructed sometime around 1900-05.

A full preservation effort will cost about $2 million, which he cannot afford on his own.

Last week, Levine was seen standing on top of a lift, aiming the long nozzle of a pressure washer to blast each brick with 250-degree water at 1,000 to 1,500 pounds of pressure per square inch. Grime and crusts of old paint streamed down the building’s face into puddles on the old seed store’s dock.

Each blast exposed more of the building’s history. Signs had been painted and repainted over each other.

“Phoenix Feed & Seed” of the early 1900s became, in the 1940s, “Arizona Paperbox Company,” where workers manufactured the lightweight paper boxes that bakeries used for packing doughnuts, turnovers and other pastries.

“This building predates the railroad in Phoenix,” Levine said, recalling that the first tracks in Phoenix were laid around 1926.

Levine, who grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., got the building listed on the Phoenix Historic Property Register in 2004, a year after he bought it. He has scoured old newspaper articles and photos to piece together details of its former owners, tenants and uses.

The building was sold in the 1940s to Monty Mansfield, a Tucson businessman who spearheaded an airport authority in Tucson.

Although Levine often looks back, he also looks ahead.

He said this building will go through another personality change. Within the next year, Levine wants it to become the home of a farmers market, flanked perhaps by a cafe or other eatery. He already has cleared an initial hurdle: Last week, he received approval from a Phoenix Zoning Adjustment hearing officer for the market.

Couple take chance on 1928 warehouse in downtown Phoenix

R&R Surplus interior, Phoenix Warehouse District

[Source: Randy Cordova, Arizona Republic] — Steve and Andi Rosenstein have a photograph they like to keep close at hand.  The young couple in the photo, taken 23 years ago on a vacation in Jamaica, are standing atop a 30-foot-high bridge, about to leap into the chilly waters below.  The twosome seem to be equal parts excitement and nerves.  “We had no money, no kids, no marriage, but we knew we were a good team,” Andi says now, examining the snapshot.  “It was symbolic because we were jumping off at that point in our lives,” Steve says.  “It was symbolic of a change that we were making in our lives.”

That “change” was the couple’s decision to open a business.  The result: The clothing line Fitigues, a popular casual line of clothing that earned coverage on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and eventually grew into a national chain that the couple sold to Chico’s for just less than $10 million in 2006.

But the symbolism holds for the couple today.  The Rosensteins are in their 40s, the parents of two healthy boys, ages 12 and 16.  They live in Scottsdale’s posh D.C. Ranch neighborhood and spend summers at a waterfront home in Michigan.  But the couple are not content to sit back and reap the rewards of a job well done.  Instead, they’re embarking on an adventure that could change the face of downtown Phoenix.  And although some people may think they’re crazy, the two are firmly committed to making this leap.  “We believe in this project,” Andi says.  “This is not a hunger driven by a financial motivation.  This is driven by the passion to create something special.”  [Note: To read the full article, visit Couple take chance on 1928 warehouse in downtown Phoenix.]

Jackson Street Entertainment District on shaky ground

Rendering of proposed Jackson Street Entertainment District

[Source: Jan Buchholz, Phoenix Business Journal] — A blockbuster plan to create a downtown Phoenix entertainment district is in jeopardy as the lender filed a notice of trustee sale on several of the properties involved.  At the same time, three major Valley high-rise condo projects are poised for major court dates that could dramatically affect their future viability.

ML Manager LLC, the company created to administer the loans of Mortgages Ltd. following its Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization, filed a notice of trustee sale March 17 on several parcels that would have formed the core of the proposed Jackson Street Entertainment District.  The auction is scheduled for June 17.  SOJAC I LLC, headed by former co-owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Dale Jensen, was the entity that borrowed $24.2 million from Mortgages Ltd. in February 2007 to purchase properties on Third, Fourth, Buchanan, and Lincoln streets.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

A fish farm in downtown Phoenix? Apparently roe.

[Source: Nicole McGregor, 12 News Today] — These days anything one can do to make a buck, is a good thing, right?  That’s exactly why Malcolm Marr and German Hernandez decided to start their own fish farm… at the bottom of a 1923 building in downtown Phoenix.

To understand how they got there, let’s stroll down memory lane a bit.  The building, long ago was the home of a printing business called Imperial Lithographics.  Owned by Marr’s wife’s family for more than 40 years, the business was then sold until those tenants vacated it several years later.  And so the 70,000 square foot building at the corner of 4th Avenue and Madison sat.  He wanted to turn the real estate into something spectacular but when the market took a dive he decided it wasn’t the time.  So he rented out some of the space, even put a snack bar in it to accommodate some of the employees across the street who work at the jail.

And then one of his tenants, Hernandez, brought him an idea.  Hernandez’ father started a fish farm in Mexico a couple years ago and liked it.  With little overhead he had a thriving business.  So Hernandez did more research and found the United States liked Tilapia and the hardy fish was paying off.  In 2005, the U-S imported $350 million of the little guys.  So Hernandez and Marr decided to take a chance.  [Note: Read the full article and watch the video segment at A fish farm in downtown Phoenix?  Apparently roe.]

The mayor (of Sacramento) speaks out about downtown Phoenix

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Sacramento Mayor (and former Phoenix Suns player) Kevin Johnson

From an article in the Sacramento Press about the possibility of a new sports arena in downtown Sacramento… “[Mayor Kevin] Johnson also pointed to his time as an NBA player, which he said he doesn’t talk about a whole lot.  ‘I lived in Phoenix when there was no arena downtown, and I was also part of a team that helped bring an arena downtown,’ Johnson said.  ‘Phoenix was a ghost town, much worse than Sacramento.  If you go to downtown Phoenix now, it’s a whole new town because of the catalytic impact that the arena had [on] downtown.  I think the year was 1993; if you look at what has transpired over the last 16 years, [it proves] that [an arena] can galvanize a downtown community.'”

Downtown Phoenix high-rise’s woes may hurt other area condos

[Source: Jahna Berry, Arizona Republic] — Financial woes at a luxury downtown high-rise could hurt property values at similar central and downtown Phoenix condominium complexes.  Last week, the lender for the Summit at Copper Square took the first step toward foreclosing on 74 unsold units in the multicolored tower near Chase Field.

Scottsdale’s Stearns Bank Arizona issued a notice of trustee sale, which says the units will be sold to the highest bidder on Oct. 14.  While a notice of trustee sale doesn’t always end in foreclosure, it’s a signal that the developer is having financial problems.  If the bank does foreclose on the units, those unsold condos in the 165-unit building will be sold at a discount, said Diane Drain, a Phoenix attorney.  She likened foreclosures to a “black mold” that lowers property values within the building.  And, “if you have several condo developments around it, and they are all in hot water, the black mold seeps out more and more and more,” she said.

The Summit at Copper Square opened near Chase Field in 2007.  The condominium complex at Jackson and Fourth streets hit hard times after the Valley real-estate market tanked.  The developer has struggled to make debt payments because it has been able to sell only 91 units.  The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation shut down the developer’s bank.  And he credit crisis has made it difficult for W Developments LLC to restructure its debt with its new lender, Stearns Bank Arizona.  The notice of trustee sale says the loan principal is for $44 million.

Developer David Wallach said that loans for the project totaled about $64 million.  The developer paid $40 million and as of last year, they owed about $28 million, including interest.  Wallach said that his firm is working to avoid foreclosure.  “Smart developers look at all options,” he said.

The Summit’s immediate financial problems will probably not impact the fortunes of downtown Phoenix or Wallach’s plans to help build a proposed Jackson Street Entertainment District, a cluster of restaurants, nightclubs and music venues, he said.  [Note: Read the full article at Downtown Phoenix high-rise’s woes may hurt other area condos]

Barter for art at Art4Barter, Icehouse, downtown Phoenix, July 11

377[Source: Roosevelt Row CDC] — On Saturday, July 11, from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m., Art4Barter will be coming to the White Column Room at the Icehouse, 429 W. Jackson St. (historic Warehouse District).  This traveling project allows artists to trade their art for goods and services rather than money.  The exact service or good that the artist requires will be labeled next to their art.

The curator, Antonio Puri, is offering to barter a work of art with institutions that will host the exhibition.  Art4Barter hopes to inspire people to trade with artists, musicians, writers, dancers, and other creative minds and to reconfigure their ideas about the value of different services.  For more information about the event, click here.

Jackson Street Entertainment District seeks Phoenix City Council support

[Source: KTAR Radio] — The Phoenix City Council was to vote Wednesday on a 12-acre entertainment district near Chase Field in downtown Phoenix.  The Jackson Street Entertainment District would cover an L-shaped property in the city’s warehouse district — on Jackson from First to Fourth Streets and along Fourth Street from Jackson to Lincoln Streets. “The idea is to create a focal point, a walking environment — large sidewalks, outdoor cafes, restaurants, nightclubs,” said attorney Larry Lazarus, who represents the developers.  The project could include up to 1,000 residential units.

The entertainment district, near Chase Field and US Airways Center, has been on the drawing board for a couple of years and Lazarus said now is the time to move forward with plans.  The developers want certain assurances from the city to help attract tenants and financing.  “No money is coming from city funds,” Lazarus said.  “There will be infrastructure changes that will need to be made later on down the road and we will be working on a development agreement with the city of Phoenix.”  He added, “We just believe that, when the recession is over — and it will be over some day — that this will be the focal point for the next big development.”

Although downtown Phoenix has numerous restaurants, Lazarus said, “You don’t see them when you walk out of the convention center and you don’t see them when you walk out of the ball park.  What we want to do is really create what we’ve called the ‘bug light’ — attracting people.”  The project would take five to seven years to complete, but some businesses could open early next year.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Will trains be silenced in downtown Phoenix?

The City of Phoenix is proposing a “quiet zone” for downtown Phoenix’s Warehouse District. They need federal approval to do so.  Retail businesses and condo owners complain about the noise, but others worry about safety.  Click here for KPHO Television’s video report.

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