New artist live/work housing is coming to historic Grand Avenue, an arts and historic preservation enclave in downtown Phoenix.
The creative space will be part of an adaptive reuse project called The Armory, which comprises a full city block – between West Roosevelt and Linden streets, as well as 16th and 17th avenues. The project includes a mid-19th-century building that once housed the Arizona National Guard Armory, located at 1614 West Roosevelt Street.
The project is being developed Jay Visconti, who heads California-based Northwood Properties. He’s also principal for Arizona-based Armory Partners, which incorporated in August 2016, and bought The Armory property that same year.
“We’re planning to do artist lofts on the west side of the property,” Visconti says. “We’d like to have it open in about two years.”
The design is conceptual at this point, but Visconti plans to create an L-shaped building with about 40,000 square feet. City records list Christoph Kaiser of Phoenix-based KaiserWorks, whose other projects include a brewery planned for Roosevelt Row, as the architect.
Visconti envisions a two-story building where artists could have a first-floor studio beneath a second-story office or living space. But the spaces will be flexible, for those who just want a single area. Units will likely run 800 to 1,000 square feet.
“We’ll probably have room for about 20 or 30 units,” he says. “I’d like it to be in the $1,500 to $2,000 price point." In January, the City Council approved a zoning change for the site, clearing the way for Visconti to add the artist loft component. He’ll have to go through the city’s plan review process before breaking ground.
Recently, Visconti has been busy securing tenants for the existing building, which is nearly full. Irma’s Kitchen will be relocating to The Armory from its smaller location at 906 North 15th Avenue in two to three weeks, he says. “It’ll be on the east side where the kitchen for the mess hall used to be.”
Another major tenant is lined up, as well. A coding school called The Tech Academy will open at The Armory in about a month and a half, Visconti says. “They’ll have about 2,700 square feet on the first floor, with a private entrance.”
The building has several creative spaces. Pat and Mike Murray, a pair of multimedia artists who call themselves “the maker twins,” have a 15,000-square-foot shop on the first floor, in one of two rooms where armory personnel once stored ammunitions. Recently they designed and built a giant, illuminated dress-form sculpture installed outside the monOrchid building in Roosevelt Row.
In January, [nueBOX] relocated from Mesa Arts Center to The Armory, where they have one of the larger second-floor spaces, with large windows overlooking the surrounding neighborhood. It’s the first time the group, which specializes in developing new movement-based works, has had its own space for rehearsals, classes, and other programs.
Of course, the building also has smaller spaces used by individual artists, including McKenna Connelly, Rigo Flores, Jason Hugger, Miguel Ibarra, Aimee Ollinger, Azalea Rodriguez, and Papay Solomon. They’ll be doing free studio tours during Third Friday on March 15, as part of an annual citywide art event called Art Detour. “We have some really talented artists,” Visconti says.
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Nowadays, Visconti is working on adding more art to the space, and making The Armory a destination during First Friday art walks. “We want to begin to show art in the building," Visconti says. He’s hoping to exhibit artworks in long hallways on both the first and second floor of the existing building, and says that could be in place within a few weeks.
“I’m looking for a muralist to paint three spaces above the front door, and a sculptor to make work for two front stair landings,” Visconti says. He’s contacting artists directly, rather than issuing an open call for art.
Once the artist lofts are completed, they’ll join a growing list of developments focused on artist housing, including Oasis on Grand, which opened in 2011. Mesa Artspace Lofts opened in 2018. And True North Studio plans to bring artist housing created with Airstream trailers to Roosevelt Row.
For Visconti, the Grand Avenue area has a special charm. “I love doing business in that pocket of downtown Phoenix,” he says. “Everyone is so laid back and positive; they’re all doing their own thing instead of trying to follow anyone.”