Two Historic Downtown Phoenix Buildings Sold Amid Preservationist Concern | Phoenix New Times

Preservationist Confusion and Skepticism Swirl Amid Historic Building Sales on Grand Avenue

The Paper Heart and Tuft & Needle's headquarters recently changed hands.
Robrt L. Pela
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The owners of Tuft & Needle, one of the Valley’s most recent big-deal success stories, may have inadvertently caused some confusion with its real estate dealings here. A recent announcement that the company had sold its Grand Avenue corporate headquarters and retail showroom building had locals wondering: Was the mattress powerhouse relocating? Downsizing?

Neither, it turns out, is true.

The 36,000-square-foot historic building, formerly the O.S. Stapley hardware store at 701 North Grand Avenue, was never owned by Tuft & Needle. The property was purchased in 2012 by SimonCRE, a Scottsdale-based developer. The owners renovated the space exclusively for Tuft & Needle, a Phoenix-based e-commerce and mattress company founded by Daehee Park and John-Thomas Marino. The company’s lease was sold along with the building, and Tuft & Needle will stay on as tenants there, having relocated its showroom from Grand to Scottsdale last year.

“It sounds like the building was attractive to the investor because of the high-quality adaptive-reuse renovation that has taken place there,” says Beatrice Moore, a preservationist and the director of Grand Avenue Arts and Preservation. “It’s [a renovation] that underscores the beauty and importance of this vintage property.”

Further confusion — and some disappointment from local art-community types — came with news that the old Paper Heart building at Grand and Polk streets was also recently sold to SimonCRE by Tuft & Needle co-founder Park. Local artists looked forward to the rumored renovations and whispered plans for adaptive reuse of the former Quebedeaux Chevrolet showroom.

But assumptions by local arts-district denizens that the Tuft & Needle owners had big plans for Paper Heart were premature.

“We just bought it to protect it,” T&N publicist Brooke Medansky told New Times last year about the building. “We have so much invested in this neighborhood, and we wanted to make sure this important old building stayed safe.”
Yet whispers of a new performance venue and art gallery persisted, despite the fact that no official announcement about the fate of the 8,800-square-foot building was forthcoming from Park or from Tuft & Needle. "We just to make sure while we’re investing in this area that the other buildings are preserved," said a T&N spokesperson in an early 2017 interview with Phoenix Business Journal.

Founded in 2012 by former Silicon Valley techies J.T. Marino and Daehee Park, Tuft & Needle grew quickly into a national trendsetter, with multimillion-dollar revenues and a high retail presence. An element of the company’s profile was its investment in local businesses and in the larger interests of the startup community here. Its purchase of the Paper Heart, a former Chevrolet showroom owned by the Quebedeaux family, was seen as such an investment.

Now, though, the Grand Avenue arts community is wondering whether the Paper Heart sale is the first step in the sort of gentrification that some see as smothering Roosevelt Row, Phoenix’s other downtown arts district. Especially after SimonCRE CEO Joshua Simon told the Business Journal that “… this sale really shows the strength of the Grand Avenue District and the demand in the area. We’re hoping that this district begins to emerge as a vibrant hub similar to Roosevelt Row.”

Moore thinks historic building advocates will be glad that SimonCRE has saved the building, and seems cautiously optimistic about its future.

“This gem is a key anchor and centerpiece of the Historic Grand Avenue District,” Moore says of the Stapley structure, which sold for $8.73 million. “It’s one that the historic preservation community will strongly support moving forward.”

Paper Heart’s future is up in the air. Meantime, its owner is offering the building for lease.

“There’s a tremendous amount of potential in the Grand Avenue District, which is why we’ve invested so heavily in the area,” Simon told Phoenix New Times. “The presence of Tuft & Needle is truly a catalyst for the growth in the area. It’s incredible to see and to be a part of the gentrification and revitalization of such a unique and historic neighborhood.”

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