Culture News

Here's Everything We Know About the Blocks of Roosevelt Row Development Coming to Downtown Phoenix in 2017

Desert Viking is the latest real-estate development firm to stake a claim in downtown Phoenix's Roosevelt Row, an area that has been named one of the nation’s best neighborhoods and art districts.

Desert Viking announced on October 19 plans for a revitalization project called The Blocks of Roosevelt Row. It's slated to open in fall 2017, according to Desert Viking principal Dan Noma Jr.

The Arizona-based real-estate development firm has already completed several adaptive reuse projects in the Valley, including renovating more than a half-dozen buildings in historic downtown Chandler, and the historic Gold Spot building that's home to Pita Jungle and Lola Coffee on Roosevelt Street and Third Avenue.

Roosevelt Row is bounded by Seventh Street and Seventh Avenue, roughly between Fillmore and Moreland streets. The Blocks project will transform two blocks along Roosevelt Street at Fifth and Sixth streets through new construction and adaptive reuse of properties it purchased from the Pappas family.

The transformation will include adaptive reuse of the Flowers building, located on the southeast corner of Roosevelt and Fifth streets, plus expansion and renovation of several existing bungalows that, per Desert Viking, "preserves their character and charm."

It's unclear at this point how current tenants, including Roosevelt Growhouse, will be affected while these changes are taking place, but Desert Viking says all current tenants have been invited to be part of the Blocks project. 

The bungalow that previously housed Think! Graphics, which caught fire in late August, will be torn down to make way for a new three-story building that will include retail, office, and gallery space. 

The end result will be a mixed-use development that includes restaurants, bars, a rooftop entertainment space, communal patios, market-style retail spaces, and creative office space.

“The idea is to create a very cool, eclectic place where the community can collaborate and mingle with the local arts scene,” Noma says.

The Flowers building, which has a mural by El Mac and Augustine Kofie, is home to Flowers Beer & Wine. Previous tenants, including Five15 Arts and Lotus Contemporary Art galleries, had to leave the building at the end of August so Desert Viking could undertake renovations.

Five15 Arts plans to have space in the Blocks project, but the collective will hold exhibitions at Phoenix Center for the Arts in the interim. Lotus Contemporary Art moved to Scottsdale’s downtown arts district. It's likely that Flowers Beer & Wine will be able to stay in the building during renovations, says Niels Kreipke, Desert Viking founder and principal. 

“We’re inviting former tenants to return once we finish the new building behind Flowers,” Kreipke says. He expects that building to include at least eight art galleries, and says they’re already in discussions with possible tenants, but can’t reveal details until contracts are signed.

“We just felt that with everything going on in downtown Phoenix, somebody should step in and preserve the character of these two city blocks,” Kreipke says. Without sharing specific names, he praises the long-term efforts of people who've made Roosevelt Row a thriving destination. 

Those people include Kimber Lanning, founder of Local First Arizona, and several others. Lanning moved the Wurth House from one side of Roosevelt Street to another to save it from demolition, and she's working now on raising funds to renovate and repurpose the home.

Several longtime Roosevelt Row artists and business owners worked for two years to create a Business Improvement District, which would be able to use extra taxes collected by the City to provide additional services beyond those the City provides. Often BIDs help fund safety and beautification measures that improve the area for residents, business owners, and visitors.

But Roosevelt BID efforts are currently stalled, because of legislation signed by Governor Doug Ducey in January, which retroactively changes how BIDs get created and approved. Last month, the City of Phoenix actually sued the State of Arizona hoping to undo that legislation, or at least remove the retroactivity piece that affects Roosevelt Row.

It’s one of many recent changes and controversies concerning Roosevelt Row.

During spring 2015, Colorado-based Baron Properties began construction of its Linear and iLuminate multilevel apartment buildings near the intersection of Roosevelt and Third streets. Baron held its iLuminate grand opening on October 12.  

Baron faced community backlash after announcing its plans, which included demolishing two buildings. One building, located at 222 East Roosevelt Street, formerly housed the first gay drag bar in metro Phoenix, and was the site of murals by Lauren Lee and Ted DeGrazia.

Earlier this year, Lee created an installation comprising three birds in flight for the west-facing exterior wall of iLuminate. In September, Baron Properties funded a $5,000 Baron Prize for the winning artwork in Artlink’s 2016 juried exhibition, for which monOrchid gallery owner Wayne Rainey submitted a large-scale photo of the buildings that were demolished.

Other developers, including Phoenix-based Habitat Metro, headed by principal Timothy Sprague, have had more success integrating their developments into downtown Phoenix communities. Later this month, Habitat Metro opens its FOUND:RE Hotel, which promises to feature works by local artists and has its own in-house curator to plan rotating exhibitions for its dedicated gallery space.
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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