Sorry, We're Closed

Downtown businesses are struggling to stay afloat

"There isn't much going on," Albert says.

He's lived downtown for seven years and Patane thinks he's grown impatient waiting for the urban renaissance he's been promised. "I think the progression is really slow," he says, "but we're moving along."

He moved downtown because the hotel and office complex he manages is a block and a half away. Tempe got too young for him (he's now 30) and he didn't want to move to Scottsdale.

Jeff Newton
Tom's Tavern, nearly empty during the dinner hour.
Emily Piraino
Tom's Tavern, nearly empty during the dinner hour.

"There's a lot of really unique historic little pockets," he says. "I like things like that. I just thought it was cool. . . . I wanted to get in before it was beyond what I could afford."

Albert says the people living downtown want to live in an urban setting, regardless of a night life. "Everyone that's here is hoping for more, hoping that things are going to progress at a faster pace."

"It's kind of imminent that things are going to be better down here," he says. "The people who live here for more than two years . . . believe in it."


Perhaps they do. But for downtown Phoenix to one day teem with residents, more people need to believe.

It's true that 719 new residential units have been built in downtown Phoenix since 2000. But this only brings to 3,455 the total number of housing units in the downtown area, according to Tim Tilton of Phoenix's planning department.

Portland, by contrast, has roughly 15,000 housing units in its downtown, says Bruce Allen of the Portland development commission. This equates to roughly 20,000 people living in downtown Portland compared to only 7,000 in downtown Phoenix.

Denver has only 7,000 people living in its downtown, but when one considers Denver's Center City, which is within walking distance of downtown Denver, the "downtown" population swells to 75,000.

Eric Brown, president of Artisan Homes, which develops housing downtown, believes help from the city is vital for developers like him who want to bring more people downtown but are having a hard time overcoming downtown's image as a cultural and social wasteland.

Brown's current project, Artisan Village, under construction now, received $2.5 million from the city. The project, between Fifth and Seventh streets and Roosevelt and Portland, will have 105 row houses and town homes and 10 spaces set aside for retail. Brown will use the money to bring in housing slightly below market value, which is about $160,000. Units at Artisan Village start at $150,000.

"To get the residential density that everybody's talking about, you've got to have the mid-price housing," Brown says. "There's a huge demand for housing under $200,000."

Artisan Parkview, at Seventh Street and Washington, is an earlier Brown development that was designed as affordable living for working adults. The city owned the property there but sold it to Brown for $387,000 in 2001, according to public records. Using this money, Brown built 35 row houses at a cost, again, below market value. Units started at $135,000. Artisan Parkview sold out before construction began.

But it's not just the affordable housing that's appearing, slowly, in downtown.

Norman Sheldon is the developer for the Orpheum Lofts, a luxury development that will open next year and house 90 lofts across its 11 stories. It will also make room for a coffee shop, a wine bar, a dry cleaner and a grocery. Located on the northwest corner of First Avenue and Adams, Orpheum Lofts is the first luxury development of its kind in downtown Phoenix. A penthouse is available for $1.5 million.

"Oh, it's plenty risky [developing in downtown Phoenix]," Sheldon says. "But we draw on our experience and expertise from Denver."

Sheldon developed in Denver before Denver was, well, Denver.

(Now, the urban core there is filled with luxury lofts, says Kate Vincent, the housing program manager for the Downtown Denver Partnership.)

Still, in Phoenix, Sheldon needed to rely on more than his expertise to make the Orpheum Lofts work. So he turned to the city. All told, he received $2.5 million in public funds. "They were incredibly helpful and incredibly cooperative," Sheldon says.

The city is helping developers more than it has retailers because it believes downtown needs, first and foremost, residents living there.

"We really need to have a primary focus on the residential to help drive that long-term," says Pat Grady of the community and economic development department.

Adds Brian Kearney, president and CEO of the Downtown Phoenix Partnership, "We need to continue to focus on housing, get people to live in and around downtown."

Since 1997, when it gave Post Roosevelt Square $1.6 million in direct assistance and $450,000 more in city-owned land, the city has given developers $6.7 million to develop residency downtown.

Even small business owners recognize the need for downtown dwellers and don't argue with the city's decisions to put money in residential projects, rather than retail assistance.

Says Michael Ratner of Tom's Tavern, "First off, you've got to have the residents." Downtown restaurateurs and retailers say shops will open -- and stay open into the night -- if enough people are living nearby.

Still, the city only plans to participate in downtown residency projects "on a case-by-case basis," says Pat Grady.

That's far from a solid public plan to build downtown residency, something that downtown boosters say is sorely needed.

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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.

 
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