Despite the noise of new construction in Roosevelt Row, one developer has been strangely silent about a project that’s been years in the making.
Work is clearly underway on a new building on Fifth Street, just south of Roosevelt Street. But Desert Viking, the real estate development firm that announced plans for a mixed-use project in the area back in 2016, isn’t sharing details about what’s under construction, or other plans for moving the project forward.
Desert Viking, which is headed by Niels Kreipke, announced plans for a revitalization project called The Blocks of Roosevelt Row in October 2016. Those plans included renovating the former Flowers building on the south side of Roosevelt Street east of Fifth Street, which has since been completed.
The building once housed galleries that were forced to close or relocate after losing their leases. Back in October 2016, Kreipke told Phoenix New Times that former tenants of that building would be invited back once work was finished on another building going in behind it. That’s where construction is happening now, but it’s unclear whether it will include any arts spaces.
The company also stated that it would be renovating and expanding several existing bungalows, while preserving their character and charm. Instead, Desert Viking demolished a bungalow at 915 North Fifth Street in November 2018, getting the required permit from the city only after the demolition was completed.
There’s another bungalow in the mix as well; it's located at 909 North Fifth Street. Phoenix granted Desert Viking a conservation easement on both the former Flowers building and that bungalow back in July 2017. Basically, the developer got funds for property improvements in exchange for city limitations on how those properties could be developed.
Today, there are few visible signs of renovations at that site, or another bungalow at 902 North Sixth Street, which Desert Viking claimed would be part of The Blocks project. The Sixth Street bungalow was once home to the Roosevelt Growhouse community garden that’s relocated twice in the aftermath of losing that space.
Desert Viking announced early on that The Blocks project would be completed in three phases, starting with renovations to the former Flowers building. The second phase was set to include a new building at the site where construction is currently underway, plus the two bungalows on Fifth Street.
In July 2017, Kreipke told New Times the company hoped to complete the second phase, including transforming the 909 North Fifth Street bungalow into a restaurant, by the end of that year. The third and final phase called for renovating the Sixth Street bungalow. At this point, only the Flowers building renovation has been completed.
Meanwhile, it appears that community members haven’t been apprised of Desert Viking’s current plans. Often, those things happen through community meetings held by local neighborhood associations, which are open to the public.
But updates have been scarce, according to Andie Abkarian, president of the Roosevelt Action Association. Jeff Sherman, who chairs the Downtown Voices Coalition, says his members are also wondering what's happening with The Blocks project.
Jim McPherson recalls the Evans Churchill Community Association supporting the project in March 2017, based on the information they had at the time. "Thereafter, we saw less and less of Desert Viking representatives at ECCA community meetings despite repeated requests by ECCA officers and others in the neighborhood for updates," McPherson told New Times in a recent email.
Even the city's historic preservation commission has asked Kreipke for updates, on both Desert Viking properties and meetings with community members. Kreipke was scheduled to present those updates during the commission's June 17 meeting, but didn't attend the meeting.
Last November, Kreipke told New Times they’d nixed plans for putting a three-story building on Fifth Street, opting instead for a single-story building with a mezzanine. “There will be retail and an art space,” he told New Times. “The art space will include studios, but we’re still trying to define it.”
Desert Viking posted plans and renderings on its website, with the caveat that they're subject to change. An online leasing brochure still lists the target completion date as early 2019. New Times repeatedly has requested information from Kreipke, but Desert Viking has yet to share its current plans.
Now, people who’ve stared for months at chain link fencing and construction screens on Fifth Street south of Roosevelt Street are left to wonder which promises Desert Viking will keep, and what will become of the street that looks like just another step on the road to gentrification.
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