Downtown Phoenix Revitalization

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Kimber Lanning, Director of Local First Arizona; David Roderique, President and CEO of Downtown Phoenix Partnership; and Robert Melikian, owner of Hotel San Carlos share their views about what’s happening, and what needs to happen, to revitalize downtown Phoenix.

Ted Simons: What will it take to make Downtown Phoenix a 24x7 destination? A place that doesn't shut down when the workday ends or the sports fans go home. We are going to take a look at that issue, but first David Majure takes a look at two locations that are making Downtown a little more interesting.

David Majure: This is a tale of three cities, Phoenix of yesterday, today and tomorrow.
David Majure: It's about people taking a risk on the downtown that is, with the vision of what it can be.
[Music] Come on!

David Majure: Steve Rosenstein is in the thick of that fight.

Steve Rosenstein: I think we're the fifth largest city in America, and we don't really have the city that we deserve.

David Majure: He and his wife left Chicago, bought this downtown Phoenix warehouse and opened it as The Duce in May of 2010.
Steve Rosenstein: It sort of pays tribute to what the neighborhood was way back in the day. The building was built in 1928. Some locals refer to this neighborhood as The Duce. This was the original skid row, all legal gambling places, Speakeasies, jazz clubs, this was the rocking, roaring part of town back in the 1920's. It was also the produce district. We've combined prohibition with produce. Its freshness meets grittiness. You can experience great food, great ambience, outdoor seating on the patio, and great authentic bar with vintage prohibition era cocktails, organic liquor, fresh squeezed juices. There's a kid element to this place. You've got the old-time 1915 soda fountain. You've got R&R surplus, a clothing brand, which makes you feel like you're in a 1960s Americana era sporting goods store. It can be a lot of different things. Everybody who walks in today, they are going to experience one of the toughest workouts of the week.

David Majure: A little bit of the past is good for Phoenix's future.

Steve Rosenstein: That's why our tag line it is, it is what it was, and instead of it is what it is. I think any legitimate community-minded business for downtown Phoenix is good for downtown Phoenix, because Phoenix had been lacking that. People say there will never be a downtown Phoenix. I just show them pictures of what I had up in the bar. Back in the 1920s, 1930s, up to the 1950s, there was a strong Central Avenue, which was then center Street, had five major department stores. Downtown Phoenix was a thriving downtown.

Jeff Moloznik: Where we're at, which is Central and Washington, was really the historic center of Phoenix.

David Majure: Jeff Moloznik works for Red Developments, a company making a $900 million downtown investment in the form of Cityscape.

Jeff Moloznik: Two blocks in downtown Phoenix that we've built retail and office space on. And people can come downtown now and walk 600 feet and go across 30 restaurants and bars. Everything from Sam Fox's Arrogant Butcher, to the grocery store behind us. Just about everything you could imagine. We have 200,000 square feet of retail space. We started this project in 2005, and the idea then was to kind of recreate what we saw in downtown Phoenix in the 1920s from the maps and pictures, which had a series of shops and restaurants and bakeries and hotels tightly clustered together and accessible by a trolley car network.

David Majure: Light rail was a big factor in the company's decision to take a risk on Cityscape.

Jeff Moloznik: The state, city and county have spent over $3 billion in infrastructure and improvements completed at the end of 2008. That's the light rail, the Convention Center, the Sheraton Hotel, ASU's campus. It's pretty hard to think something tremendous isn't going to happen when that size of an investment is made in downtown.

Steve Rosenstein: Now you need the small, gritty guys like us, my wife and I, to come down and say, we're going to bring the flavor down there.

David Majure: The Duce and Cityscape have added spice to Phoenix. But if they are going to survive, downtown may still need some seasoning to transform it from a place to visit to a place where people want to live.

Jeff Moloznik: ASU's campus is already starting to lead that trend. As that population booms and grows and more activity starts to happen down here, more people are going to want to live down here. It's a quality of life issue, a lifestyle choice. People are making it conscientiously. We are contributing to that trend by bringing amenities here.

Ted Simons: Joining me now to talk about the revitalization of downtown Phoenix is Kimber Lanning, a small business owner and director of Local First Arizona. Robert Melikian, the owner of the historic downtown Hotel San Carlos, and David Roderique, president and CEO of Downtown Phoenix Partnership.
Ted Simons: Thank you all for joining us. Good to have you here.
Robert Melikian: Thank you.
Ted Simons: Kimber, let's start with a simple question: What is the state of downtown Phoenix?

Kimber Lanning: It is growing, fast becoming vibrant. I think we've seen a shift from focusing on the large projects to focusing on what I call the fine-grain stuff. That's a wonderful welcome. We have a lot of small thriving businesses filling in the blank space, if you will, what people sometimes call the missing teeth. There's a lot of vibrancy going on a great opportunity a great time for local entrepreneurs to move in downtown.

Ted Simons: A great time for downtown Phoenix?

Robert Melikian: It's getting better. We have blocks that are unwalkable. It's not conducive for people to stroll, which I think is the test of a successful downtown.

Ted Simons: Is that how you see it, as well? Good stuff here, not so good there? Is there a patchwork happening here? The state of downtown Phoenix.

David Roderique: There is. There's no doubt downtown is evolving dramatically. It has come so far in the past 20 or 30 years. 20 years ago you just didn't come downtown, period. There was no reason to come here. We've been in essence creating an entire downtown from scratch. And we have made huge progress but there still is a long way to go.

Ted Simons: Where is downtown Phoenix? What are we talking about here?

David Roderique: In terms of --

Ted Simons: Just in terms of location. We talk about downtown Phoenix, some people think grand Avenue, some think Roosevelt Road, others think the ballparks. Where is this vibrancy happening?

David Roderique: I think most would define downtown as 7th Street, 7th Avenue, and probably have I-10 to the tunnel, and that area certainly has pockets. As you reference, there is a patchwork that has developed. Some areas are clearly growing; others still need a lot of work. Again, we've made a lot of progress in the past 20 years.

Ted Simons: The question is where is downtown Phoenix, I asked because it seems like in other downtowns there's a focal point whether it's a massive park or a structure, government or private or otherwise. Is that still missing in downtown Phoenix? Do people know what downtown Phoenix is?

Kimber Lanning: I think that -- you know, that's an excellent question. I do think a lot of people that live in the outlying suburbs don't necessarily know what downtown is. But we're 500 square miles, which I think in itself makes us an unusual city. I think it's fairly obvious when you get down here. What I like about the time in Phoenix's history right now is the neighborhood is now emerging. Whether it's Arcadia or Garfield or erosion veldt or uptown, people are starting to use these terminologies to define themselves. I think that shows that we're graduating into the next phase of a growing city.

Ted Simons: There is a graduation process a maturation process going on here?

Robert Melikian: There is. But I consider with the heat that we have in the city, downtown is a smaller area. We have to get people going into the area between 7th Street and 7th Avenue, Van Buren to Jefferson, and get people used to on a regular basis going to these places. When you want to go strolling in the evening, you don't consult a schedule. You go to the Biltmore fashion park and walk around other the commons or downtown Tempe. You show up and businesses will be open on the ground floor.

Ted Simons: How do you do that, though? Do you need a park and bike paths and walkways and let in the way of traffic? How do you accomplish this?

Robert Melikian: All of those help but you need ground floor activities. The people at the Gas lamp in San Diego, very successful pedestrian oriented, they told us you need to have something every 15 feet for people to stroll. If you don't have that, even in weather like San Diego, they are not going to walk. We have not required pedestrian activities every 15 feet.

Ted Simons: Have we figured out that we live in a place where, for a few months out of the year, it's really difficult to take three steps, much less walk three blocks? Is there a way to get that incorporated into a downtown area where it's bustling and people are moving here and there, and it looks like other downtowns?

David Roderique: Clearly we're always going to be fighting a tough battle with the heat, just like Minneapolis fights with the cold in the winter. We are trying to do as much as we can. We are planting shade trees now, experimenting with different things. There's now a solar-powered air conditioned light rail stop that recently opened down by the ballpark. So we're looking at different ways we can enhance the environment. But I agree, you absolutely need to have things on a regular basis, and that fine grain is what's critical to attracting people to downtown. Adding those small outdoor cafes and shops and restaurants and so on. That's really what we're focusing on in the coming years.

Ted Simons: Is that what you see, as well? Again, the idea of just shade, of something to do and to get out of the heat. Done gone it, right now it's hot outside.

Kimber Lanning: It is. But we have definite pockets that are completely walkable. You go to, you know, 10 months out of the year we have outdoor shows at the civic space park. People are walking and riding their bikes with their blankets out. There are definitely pockets and strings of restaurants. People can come down and see all sorts of things. We've been talking about this for a long time. We need to talk about the policies surrounding the dirt lot owners that essentially protect them. They are land banking and basically paying 15% less on their property taxes than the rest of us trying to contribute to a productive downtown. Until we start having the very hard conversations about, okay, how do we help people either sell these properties, build on these properties, what are we going to do to get them moving along? They are really holding up the process of building.

Ted Simons: That's a great point. Three things I want to get to depictly. Let's start with Cityscape. Good? Bad?

Robert Melikian: Definitely g it's an island and I wish people would go there, the bowling is terrific there. We have to build on things like that.

Ted Simons: Cityscape, what do you see?

David Roderique: I see good, as well. They could have done things, they are a little too inward focused sometimes. But overall it's ultimately I think going to be a great addition for the community. There are a lot of restaurants and a lot of activities. I really think it is going to be very positive.

Ted Simons: Can he we think those restaurants are going to last? An Arizona center or a mercado here?

Kimber Lanning: No. I don't think they will. They have reached tipping point and they have the right operators in there to take it from that. I don't want to look back at that. I think we're moving forward.

Ted Simons: ASU downtown campus: Is it just putting the life into downtown that a lot of folks were expecting?

Kimber Lanning: Yes and no. And we have a lot of bridges to build still. I think now this year is the first year we're actually starting to see more students integrate into the downtown. I think there was definitely some resistance in the beginning. I think there was a reluctance to meet downtown with open arms. A lot of that was coming from the administration, not the students. When you've got faculty projecting that downtown might be scary, the students don't know what to think. The downtown campus is safer than the Tempe campus. The reality is, dirt lots do not eadvocate to crime. We're seeing the students going, wow, there are a lot of food options down here, wow, there's a lot of things going on. I met a student who looked for a restaurant by walking east on Washington. I just wanted to hug her. You sort of have to know where you're going to go.

Ted Simons: The ASU downtown campus, is it instilling the life you expected?

Robert Melikian: Not quite. Between the promise of the ASU students coming downtown and retail catering to them, and the market correcting for people living downtown, an essential ingredient, we're getting there. Those two factors give us the best hope for retail and ground floor activity.

Ted Simons: Downtown campus, what do you see?

Dave Roderique: I think it's very positive. We're now starting to get these students much more integrated into the community. Just yesterday we led a tour for some of the new students, showed them around downtown, the different areas, and the restaurants. They are very excited about that, I think there are a lot of opportunities. It's just with you piece of the puzzle. We clearly need more residential. That's number one on our list. Bodies in downtown truly helps to create that 24/7 environment that we need.

Ted Simons: You mentioned earlier you are creating a downtown. Question: Can you create a downtown? Or is it kind of thing that needs to grow organically and then you respond to it? Can you create a downtown environment?

David Roderique: I think that's exactly what we have done. Now, again, we're not there yet. But we have created first off the major anchors that really help to support the core of downtown. The convention center, the new Sheraton, the ASU campus, et cetera. Once those things are in place, you will see a lot more of the organic growth that will happen in terms of the smaller businesses and entrepreneurs that will truly create the downtown we're looking for.

Ted Simons: We hear critics say, you can't create something that needs to grow holistically, it's artificial.

Kimber Lanning: I think absolutely there's a point there. Roosevelt row is clearly very organic. It was not created. There are pockets throughout downtown where Steve Rosenstein is down there at the The Duce, that is obviously very organic. We have done well with putting in these major anchors. But we didn't really start from scratch. Rob has been down here with the San Carlos since what year? The hotel has been there since the 1920's, right? My point being, it was there, it happened organically the first time. We rebuilt a lot of pieces of it. Some of those things existed throughout the duration. Its combination of large and small existing side by side, new and old, that's going to make downtown work.

Ted Simons: Last word - Can you create a downtown?

Robert Melikian: You give people choices and fun things to do and the market will bring the rise of the big developments. You need to give people a reason to go downtown. Start at the bottom and it will fill itself up.

Ted Simons: You say it can grow holistically, given the right circumstances?

Robert Melikian: And you can create a downtown. You can nurture it along, but it has to be holistic.

Ted Simons: Great to have you all here. Thanks for joining us.

Kimber Lanning: Thank you.

Kimber Lanning:Director of Local First Arizona; David Roderique:President and CEO of Downtown Phoenix Partnership; Robert Melikian:Owner of Hotel San Carlos;

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