Lady Sings the Blues--Again
Whoever whispered, "Build it, and they will come," obviously wasn't speaking to Andrea Zuhri-Adams.
In 1993, Zuhri-Adams, an African American, was recruited by Phoenix city officials who wanted a minority-owned business in the ground floor of the city parking garage at 333 East Jefferson, just east of America West Arena.
Sixteen months after Zuhri-Adams opened All That Jazz, a Southern-style grill and jazz club in the shadow of the emerging Bank One Ballpark, her business is in financial shambles.
Although the restaurant is located on the ground floor of a parking garage, Zuhri-Adams says her biggest obstacle is getting access and parking for her patrons. Ballpark construction and traffic snarls created by events at America West Arena are the culprits, she says.
If she can just hang on until 1998, when the domed stadium will open, Zuhri-Adams will have one of the hottest restaurant spots in town. But she may not make it. She filed for bankruptcy in May.
And Zuhri-Adams claims the city officials who initially wooed her now are giving her the cold shoulder--and she is convinced it has something to do with the color of her skin.
Phoenix officials say that's ludicrous, and note that they have tried to help the restaurant survive.
But Zuhri-Adams has sought help from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The Reverend Oscar Tillman, president of the local NAACP chapter, says he's disappointed by the lack of response to Zuhri-Adams' concerns. Tillman says he had to call Phoenix City Councilman Cody Williams three times before receiving a call back, and that still Williams has done nothing. Williams, the council's only African American, could not be reached for comment.
Tillman says he's spoken repeatedly to city officials, including Phoenix City Manager Frank Fairbanks.
"You have people like Mr. Fairbanks, who I respect, and who I think is really trying to work the situation, but then he has idiots--and I repeat, idiots--under him, that's constantly causing problems," Tillman says. ". . . They have done everything possible to make life miserable for her [Zuhri-Adams]."
On the contrary, claims Dave Krietor, director of the city's Community and Economic Development department. Krietor says, "We've bent over backwards to help her be successful there."
Since the city recruited Zuhri-Adams in 1993, Krietor says, it has made improvements to the building for her, helped her get financing, deferred her rent and, until September, hadn't collected a dime in rent or utilities.
Zuhri-Adams still owes the city about $22,000, Krietor says, including October's rent.
Meanwhile, Zuhri-Adams is looking for an attorney to represent her in a lawsuit against the city for lost business, but says she's been unable to find one locally who doesn't have a conflict of interest. So Zuhri-Adams has written to Johnnie Cochran. She's spoken with his legal associates, and is waiting to hear back.
"If I was a white male here owning and operating this business, I would not be treated that way," she says. ". . . I don't expect them to stop construction on the ballpark. All I'm asking them to do is be fair to my business. Compensate me for the sales that I'm losing!"
Zuhri-Adams says she believes city officials are hassling her in an effort to get her to abandon her restaurant, perhaps to make way for a sports bar.
When New Times first reported Zuhri-Adams' woes ("The Hard Hat Cafe," November 2, 1995), loud construction right outside the restaurant's windows made it barely habitable, and barricades out front on Jefferson Street blocked access to All That Jazz.
Business finally picked up in February 1996, when sidewalk construction was finished and the barricades were removed, making the restaurant more visible. But Zuhri-Adams was experiencing yet another inconvenience, she says: parking problems.
People were making dinner reservations, but they weren't showing up. Zuhri-Adams says she discovered that--although spaces for All That Jazz were supposed to be reserved in the parking garage, even on nights of arena events--her patrons were having trouble negotiating traffic diversions to get to the restaurant.
She was furious when she learned that downtown streets were blocked to southbound traffic as a method of controlling arena traffic.
"I grew up in New York," says Zuhri-Adams. "I went to the Knicks games in Madison Square Garden. I couldn't imagine them closing down Seventh and Eighth streets, and the businesses suffering, because of people coming out of the Garden."
Those patrons who managed to get through traffic barricades were turned away at the parking garage, she says.
"It's almost as if it's a conspiracy," Zuhri-Adams says. "They're [city officials] saying that they're helping, but the policemen are waving my patrons on, saying, 'You can't park here, passes only.' . . . But I go up and confront the policemen about it and they say, 'Oh, no, we're being more than accommodating toward your patrons.' They're not."
City Manager Frank Fairbanks says, "We have talked repeatedly to the police department and the police officers to try to give [restaurant patrons] special access to their site."
But, he adds, "I think the simple truth is that when the Suns game gets out . . . anybody going into downtown is going to be a little bit inconvenienced."
He adds, "To a certain extent, it's an unsolvable problem. One car that's trying to go against all that traffic--that's real hard."
Last November, New Times reported that the Downtown Phoenix Partnership, Inc.--a member-financed, pro-development agency--had not contacted Zuhri-Adams to offer assistance. But after the article was published, Zuhri-Adams says she heard from John Augustyn, the organization's operations manager.
He says, "I think we have responded to all of her issues. She has my phone number at home . . . and if she has a problem, she calls me, and we get it resolved as quickly as we can."
Zuhri-Adams says she has contacted Augustyn many times, and he has often responded to her concerns. But she complains that lights from nighttime stadium construction remain so bright, her customers can't see the band perform. And she still finds barricades in front of her restaurant. (Augustyn insists the barricades would be gone as of press time, Tuesday.)
Zuhri-Adams closed All That Jazz for three weeks recently, to revamp the menu and decor. The white-tableclothed tables were stripped and painted with funky purple and black designs. The Caribbean-themed menu was switched to more casual, Southern fare, and the prices were lowered.
Business was great when the restaurant reopened, Zuhri-Adams says--and then more barricades appeared. So business dwindled, and the city continues to ask for its money. Zuhri-Adams still wants to negotiate.
Phoenix's Dave Krietor says, "The one thing that we can't do for somebody is to run their business.