Here's What's Going on with the Firehouse Art Space in Roosevelt Row

How the Firehouse building looked in early 2016.
How the Firehouse building looked in early 2016. Lynn Trimble
Changes are coming to the former Firehouse art space located at 1015 North First Street in Roosevelt Row.

Artists Michael and Joanna Lee 23 (who use the last name 23 because Michael is fascinated by the number) are in the process of packing up and vacating the building. "We plan to be out by the end of the month," Michael says.

In 2001, they started leasing the building, where they founded an arts and music venue called The Firehouse.

Back in February 2016, they announced that Theodore and Ethel Matz, who own the building through a family trust, had put it up for sale.

Hoping to raise $500,000 to buy the building outright rather than making payments over time, the 23s launched an online Go Fund Me crowdfunding campaign. The campaign has been active for 17 months and has raised a total of $2,918 from 54 people.

During that time, they changed the way they used the space. The former gallery space near the front entrance became home to Joanna’s Strive Dreams business, which specializes in henna designs. The back space became a music venue called The Outer Space.

And now they're getting ready to leave, because it looks like the building will soon be sold.

"We have two or three names of possible buyers, but they all have contingencies," Theodore Matz says. "There's no contract in front of me, but I think we could close in 90 days."

Paul Borgesen III and Justin Horwitz of SVN Commercial Real Estate Advisors in Phoenix are handling the sale. Recently, they oversaw the $1.5 million sale of Combine Studios at Third and Garfield streets, where ASU Art Museum continues to operate its Project Space and artist residency program.

"We're talking to a couple of groups, but nothing is officially tied up yet," Borgesen tells New Times on Wednesday, July 12. "Ideally, we'd like somebody to take it and use it for what it is," he says. Even so, Borgesen recognizes the property could be demolished to make way for another building.

Michael and Joanna aren't the only people affected by a possible sale. Several artists also live in rooms located off a hallway that connects the front and back portions of the building. “The artists are looking for affordable artist housing downtown,” Joanna says. Her plans include operating Strive Dreams as a mobile business, at least temporarily.

The couple already splits time between Phoenix and Miami, Arizona, where they’ve spent a decade working to build a thriving art scene. At this point, Michael says, the plan is to focus on their Miami art venue, which has residence, gallery, and studio space.

But that doesn’t mean they’re leaving Phoenix behind.

“We’ll still be involved in the Phoenix arts scene, but probably not hold a venue,” Michael says. “Without a lot of money, it’s hard to hold a street address.”

Even so, they’d like to find a new Phoenix space one day.

“Once we’re more fortified in Miami, we’ll push a venue in here,” he says of future Phoenix plans.

“We’ve been connected with hundreds and hundreds of artists through the years, and we can’t just abandon them,” Michael says. “We want to be a ladder out of this town and support the people that are here.”
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Lynn Trimble is an award-winning freelance writer and photographer specializing in arts and culture, including visual and performing arts
Contact: Lynn Trimble