By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
On October 7, the Downtown Phoenix Partnership released a study it had commissioned to compare the Denver warehouse district--Lower Downtown, or LoDo--with the Phoenix warehouse district, and about the only thing they had in common were new baseball stadiums and the word "warehouse."
Denver's buildings were mostly elegant Victorian, multistory brick factories and warehouses that in the city's early days had housed the U.S. Mint and the downtown core. The Phoenix warehouses are mostly single-story shells, which, as one owner put it, may not stand up to rehabilitation and instead may need to be knocked down.
Furthermore, the City of Denver invested millions of dollars in sidewalks and streetlights and repaving to help LoDo develop. The City of Phoenix has made it clear that it has no intention of spending money for infrastructure improvements along the railroad tracks.
And the Denver rehab was a long time coming.
"It didn't happen [in Denver] because of the ballpark," Mullen says. "It was in process 20 years before the ballpark came into being. It's unrealistic to think this can happen in the short term."
Indeed, the Denver conversion started in 1976 and the ballpark wasn't completed until 1995, when the district was already hot and humming.
"One of the problems we have here in downtown Phoenix is the loss of fine-grain development--a bookstore next to a coffee shop and three doors down you've got a brew pub or something," says Michael Dollin, coordinator of Arizona State University's Joint Urban Design Studio, who has studied the Phoenix warehouse district.
Instead, much of the rebuilding downtown to date has laid block after block of solid concrete and formal, intimidating megastructures: Civic Plaza, America West Arena, the stadium and all the parking structures in between all this did little to spawn the kinds of shops, eateries and bars that cater to someone besides conventioneers.
Even if the envisioned shops and bars on BOB's backside had a more casual atmosphere, they would have stiff competition from the very thing that would create the neighborhood. BOB, as planned, will contain nearly as much restaurant and retail space as Arizona Center, meaning that stadium patrons may just drive to the nearest parking structure, walk into BOB to eat and drink their fill, spend the rest of their money, then walk back to their cars and drive home without strolling down Jackson Street for shots and shopping.
Hope springs eternal, and so does profitability. The DPP-generated study suggests that the initial infrastructure improvements--if the city could be so convinced--take place in the three blocks closest to BOB along Jackson.
And, by no small coincidence, the shadow governors were already thinking that way.
"Margaret Mullen sat down, and Jerry [Colangelo] said, 'We gotta clean up that area. Go do it,'" one stadium-district insider says. "The warehouse district went south of the tracks, and the Margaret Mullen group said, 'Gosh, we ought to be down there because the warehouse district's our thing.' And that coincided with the Diamondbacks' efforts and some other rumors about redevelopment along Jackson Street."
The redevelopment efforts were more than rumor.
Michael Rushman, an attorney with Gallagher and Kennedy who has represented both Colangelo and the Diamondbacks, huddled with Jackson Street property owners to discuss just that.
For the blocks across the street from America West Arena, just west of the baseball stadium, Rushman proposed a master development of six-story buildings chock-full of restaurants and retail shops and offices and artists' lofts. Each of the buildings would be connected by second- or third-story walkways to parking structures across the railroad tracks to the south. Jackson Street could then provide exactly the kind of "fine-grain development" that Dollin talks about. You could live and work and play in the shadow of BOB; you could walk out its west gates after a ball game, stroll safely past clean, well-lighted businesses en route to your car. You could stop for a beer after work, buy a book or a sweater, even get a hotel room.
As lovely as the concept was, the Jackson Street property owners weren't interested. One already had plans for a 152-unit hotel, another planned a brew pub, and a third didn't want to boot out long-term tenants until he was sure the area was truly up and coming.
The discussion never got around to possible financing sources.
"The question was: What tail is wagging the dog?" says Gary Abromovitz, who owns a historic building at First Street and Jackson, "and the tail is the developer who could come in and say we'll put the money up so we can get it developed."
It might have been just the impetus the district needed.
"I got the feeling it was too big an idea for Phoenix," says Michael Dollin. "We're not Chicago, we're not Denver, we're not Baltimore. We don't have a track record for urban redevelopment."
Rushman refused to comment on why he was facilitating the discussion. Nobody from the Diamondbacks would comment, either.
But one can speculate it was to help Colangelo put allies--not to mention spiffy businesses--on his southern flank. And the parking lots Rushman suggested for south of the tracks would certainly help alleviate the parking crunch that may follow the crowds filling the stadium.