What started with a petition to save one building is poised to morph into a full-blown movement protesting developments that significantly would change the urban landscape of Roosevelt Row.
Though some are preparing pop-up art experiences for Super Bowl fans who visit Roosevelt Row, arguably the best-known arts district in metro Phoenix, others are planning to stage very visible protests.
At the heart of the controversy are plans by two developers -- Baron Properties and Wood Partners. Both plan to tear down existing structures to make way for multiple-story housing developments.
On January 15, the city of Phoenix granted demolition permits for two buildings owned by Baron Properties.
One is located at 222 East Roosevelt Street, which houses GreenHaus gallery and boutique, which is relocating to Portland in February. It's also home to interior murals by Ted DeGrazia, and the exterior Three Birds mural by Lauren Lee that provides pride of place and helps with way-finding during monthly metro Phoenix art walks dubbed First and Third Fridays.
The other is located next door at 1002 North Third Street, which is an office complex that once served as headquarters for the Church of Scientology in Phoenix. Nobody seems broken up about losing that one, which looks sorely out of place. But they're hardly keen on what will be going up in its place.
Where these two buildings once stood side by side, Baron Properties plans a four-story residential complex called iLuminate with 111 units and underground parking for 146 -- plus a ground level leasing office, fitness center, and common area.
Across the street, on the south side of Roosevelt Row, there's an empty lot where they plan to build a second multi-family housing structure called Linear.
Wood Partners, which has national offices in 16 cities including Phoenix, briefly shared news of its development plans in Roosevelt Row during a January 5 meeting of the Roosevelt Action Association -- which include residential developments in two locations.
One development, dubbed Alta Fillmore, will be located at Seventh Avenue and West Fillmore Street. The other is planned for the space bordered by Fourth and Fifth Streets as well as Roosevelt and Portland Streets.
It's this development that's currently drawing the most ire as many community members lament the future loss of vintage homes, small businesses, and a pop-up arts space.
This site currently houses the Canvas development that's home to Paz Cantina and 3rd St. Sushi & Bar. The first has walls decked out in paintings by Lalo Cota and other local artists, and the latter has an exterior mural painted by Jesse Perry.
It's also the site of two vintage homes. One, located at 314 East Roosevelt Street, was formerly occupied by the Wilcox family. The other, located at 420 East Roosevelt Street, recently housed the Bodega 420 market -- and features an exterior mural by Jeff Slim.
Finally, it's the site of the Roosevelt A.R.T.S. Market, where three shipping containers are transformed during special events, including First and Third Friday art walks, into pop-up art galleries exhibiting local to international works of art.
The City of Phoenix Historic Preservation Commission got involved last week, calling a special meeting to consider whether the properties at 222, 314, and 420 East Roosevelt Street might be saved using historical preservation overlay zoning, which significantly limits how existing buildings can be altered.
About 70 people attended the three-hour meeting on January 16, a portion of which the commission spent in executive session with its legal counsel. City preservation staff explained the criteria for historic preservation overlays, reviewed the history and characteristics of each building under consideration, and heard statements by the property owners before taking public comments.
Many who spoke in favor of saving the 222 building referenced its history as the site of Lounge 307, a bar and entertainment venue frequented by members of the LGBT community during the early days of the AIDS crisis.
Mike Curley, the attorney who offered remarks on behalf of Baron Properties, told the commission they'd only learned of the building's significance for the LGBT community within the past 48 hours. But that's not possible. We noted the connection in a previous article, for which Baron Properties' principal Scott Fisher provided a written response.
In the end, the six commission members who were present side-stepped the overlay issue altogether.
They voted instead on a single two-part motion instructing city historic planning staff to continue working with owners and developers to explore every possible incentive for retaining the three buildings, and to initiate community meetings in the Evans Churchill neighborhood where the building are located to consider ways to protect the community's character. It passed unanimously.
Phoenix attorney Adrian Fontes, whose law practice is based at the 420 East Roosevelt Street building, was among those who chose to offer public comment at that meeting. He's concerned that City of Phoenix decision makers aren't doing enough to preserve the city's history and unique character as new developments imbue its spaces.
He's become one of the strongest critics of planned Baron Properties and Wood Partners developments -- even putting out the call via Facebook last week to rally folks who might like to demonstrate their dismay using non-violent forms of civil disobedience.
Since then, folks who attended that meeting have started an informal "Save Roosevelt Row" campaign with its own Facebook page, where you can find information on their protest planned for Thursday, January 29. It's taking the form of a symbolic funeral procession, and begins at 5:30 p.m. at 420 East Roosevelt Street.
Many others are taking action as well, including the Downtown Voice Coalition. They submitted a letter, signed by Tim Eigo, to Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton on January 20.
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"The demise of the Roosevelt Row Arts District is at hand," it reads. "We fully support density and residential in downtown, but not at the expense of the few remaining character buildings in our neighborhoods and downtown eligible for historic designation."
The letter lists 10 city- and community-driven plans and policies, and asks whether they will be ignored. "The time to act," it concludes, "is now."