Sorry, We're Closed

Downtown businesses are struggling to stay afloat

Housing developer Eric Brown, president of Artisan Homes, has received $2.8 million from the city in the past three years and is working toward opening a new residential building in the next year. But even he recognizes it's not enough.

"I think more needs to be done."


Tom's Tavern, when it's busy, during the lunch hour.
Emily Piraino
Tom's Tavern, when it's busy, during the lunch hour.
Michael Ratner, one of the owners of Tom's Tavern. His restaurant is one of the few downtown to stay open past five.
Emily Piraino
Michael Ratner, one of the owners of Tom's Tavern. His restaurant is one of the few downtown to stay open past five.

"Sports facilities do not create a 24-hour city," says Bruce Allen, senior development manager with the Portland development commission. "And some people would say they create nothing but dead zones."

In the past, Phoenix has tried to encourage diversity by building large facilities such as America West Arena and Bank One Ballpark, then seeing how many independent restaurants and small businesses build nearby.

This plan worked well in Denver. Many officials there consider the opening of Coors Field in the mid-1990s to be an important step in Denver's transformation into the urban model it is today -- a place where roughly 75,000 people live, work and play.

Phoenix officials hoped to do the same with Bank One Ballpark. Initially, it worked. The total number of business permits in downtown grew to 277 in 1998, the year Bank One opened. But by December of 2002 there were 238 in downtown, 10 fewer than in 1997.

Mark Russell's Oregano's, one block north of the sports arenas, didn't benefit from night games when he served dinner. "Not at all," he says. "We were busier when there weren't any games down there."

During the first two games of the 2001 World Series, David Soltys, owner of Focaccia Fiorentina at 123 North Central, opened his restaurant for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But he saw very little foot traffic. Over that weekend he made only $200 in sales.

That's because the sports facilities are designed to keep people inside -- and off the streets where they might wander into one of Soltys' restaurants. But the arena and ballpark serve dozens of different kinds of food and drink, including alcohol.

Not much of an incentive for restaurant and club owners to open places downtown.

"There's nothing going on," says Daniel Malventano, owner of Daniel's Italian Cuisine at 4225 East Camelback. He thought about putting in a restaurant downtown but decided against it.

Aside from the coffee shops, bookstores and small bars that play live music, Malventano contends a restaurant needs traffic -- and other restaurants nearby. He says a successful restaurant needs people in cars or on foot who decide to have dinner at your place, rather than the one across the street, or the fast-food joint a block over. These people do not have a restaurant in mind when they set out. They're simply hungry, and walking or driving in the direction of food.

Michael Ratner points to American shopping malls as proof of what Malventano is talking about. "All you have to do is walk through a mall. It succeeds because of diversity," he says.

Other cities have succeeded in transforming what had been sluggish, sometimes abandoned downtowns into bustling cores that combine chic, sought-after living with an eclectic mix of shops, restaurants, bars and nightlife.

In Denver, downtown warehouses were turned into lofts, a 14-block outdoor mall was put in and a $40 million amusement park was built. But Rich Grant, director of communications for the Denver Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau, says one thing's often overlooked: parking. Coors Field holds 50,000 people, yet there are only 5,000 places to park.

The lack of parking forced people to use Denver's nascent light-rail system to get to the game. And after it, "you had 50,000 people walking back and forth," Grant says. "Overnight, there were 80 bars in the area."

This foot traffic brought in retail of all kinds, from large chains to small shops. "Some people said [the city] was crazy [for not building more parking]. But that's the secret to its success," Grant says.

Phoenix, it would seem, has already missed that opportunity. Downtown is awash in parking spaces, thanks primarily to the mammoth parking structures built to accommodate America West Arena and BOB.

But there are other things that can be done, Phoenix restaurateurs and retailers say. It's time to invest in the small business owner.

In Denver, John Hickenlooper, now the mayor, opened the Wynkoop Brewing Co., the state's largest brew pub, in the heart of downtown in 1988. He paid $1 per square foot in rent because the city core was not a sought-after business location. To help him along, the city gave Hickenlooper a $125,000 loan. "Government isn't the solution to everyone's problems," Hickenlooper says, "but it's got to be the catalyst."

The city of Portland long ago adopted zoning regulations requiring the ground floor of all downtown buildings "to be devised for active uses," Portland's Bruce Allen says. Most often, this means retail at street level, retail further encouraged by downtown Portland's pedestrian-friendly 200-by-200-foot city blocks.

In downtown Houston, which is currently in the throes of revitalization, there's roughly $295 million in the state's governor's fund for economic development. The money is being used to lure companies to relocate to Houston. The city also provides land development space for small businesses free of charge or at a cost below market value.

There are, of course, other things to consider, too: Portland is bound naturally by an ocean, by rivers, and by hills. Denver decades ago passed the Poundstone Amendment, which forbade the city from annexing more land.

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
6
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
2 comments
patientlywaiting
patientlywaiting

I'm not sure I agree with the reason why Daniel Malventano of Daniel's states for not expanding in the downtown area. I think he couldn't afford to expand, PERIOD! I've been waiting months for payment of an invoice (which, by the way, is under $150.00). He must have fallen into dire financial straits, poor fellar.

patientlywaiting
patientlywaiting

I'm not sure I agree with the reason why Daniel Malventano of Daniel's states for not expanding in the downtown area. I think he couldn't afford to expand, PERIOD! I've been waiting months for payment of an invoice (which, by the way, is under $150.00). He must have fallen into dire financial straits, poor fellar.

 
Phoenix Concert Tickets
Loading...