Downtown Scottsdale Is Rebranding — Sort Of

People who attended the Scottsdale brand reveal got branded giveaways.
People who attended the Scottsdale brand reveal got branded giveaways. Lynn Trimble

For several years, the City of Scottsdale has been working on "Downtown Scottsdale 2.0," a plan to improve downtown and bring more people to the area. As part of that plan, city officials decided to create a new brand for downtown.

And now, we know what brand they’ve chosen.

It’s Old Town.

The city quietly revealed the plan on Wednesday, January 24, during a gathering of mostly city officials and downtown merchants at the Saguaro resort. In coming weeks, they’ll continue the brand’s soft launch with a new website. However, negotiations for the URL they want are still underway.

The formal launch is slated for April, which means people have plenty of time to wonder what in the world city officials were thinking.

The Old Town moniker is nothing new, of course. But now, the city is applying it to the whole of downtown, citing research they commissioned that says it’s the name most residents and visitors are already using for downtown.

And they’re planning to spend $200,000 to market that brand, with half the money coming from Scottsdale’s general fund and the other half from a hotel bed tax, according to the January 24 presentation by Karen Churchard, tourism and events director for the city.

click to enlarge Part of an ongoing exhibition at Western Spirit: Scottsdale's Museum of the West. - LYNN TRIMBLE
Part of an ongoing exhibition at Western Spirit: Scottsdale's Museum of the West.
Lynn Trimble
The downtown area is roughly bounded by Chaparral Road to the north and Earll Street to the south, as well as 68th Street to the west and Miller Road to the East. Scottsdale Road cuts right through it running north and south.

Years ago, before Lisa Sette Gallery and Bentley Gallery moved to Phoenix, downtown Scottsdale included a thriving arts district. Research shows arts and culture still brings people to the downtown area, according to city officials. But so do shopping, nightlife, and Western charm.

So the city is sticking with the Wild West, a concept that’s particularly problematic when you consider the intersection of western expansion with the destruction of indigenous communities. Clearly, frontier romanticism is still alive and well in Scottsdale.

By choosing Old Town, the city is continuing to cling to its Old West heritage. The city has long billed itself as “the West’s most Western town.” It's still home to the Parada del Sol, a horse-drawn parade launched in 1953. And it welcomed a new museum, Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West, in 2015.

But the Old Town brand connotes more than Western heritage.

It implies that the city, already stereotyped as a place where old people go to retire, favors the old over the new.

That’s certainly the case when it comes to transportation. Even as surrounding cities including Phoenix, Tempe, and Mesa, have embraced light rail, Scottsdale has opted to focus on cars, buses, and trollies. There’s talk of creating a bike culture, but that’s a stretch considering the fact that citizens are complaining about new bikes for hire dotting the urban landscape.

The choice of Old Town also suggests that events like Canal Convergence, a multiday event that brings light-inspired visual and performance art to the Scottsdale Waterfront, are just a fluke.

Scottsdale Public Art, part of a nonprofit called Scottsdale Arts that’s not operated by the city, founded the event in 2014. And it has plans to expand Canal Convergence to a 10-day affair taking place every November, which means Scottsdale will join the ranks of cities like Amsterdam and Berlin, which already anchor tourism with a light-based festival.

By choosing the Old Town rebrand, the city is signaling that Canal Convergence is the exception rather than the rule. Thankfully, we’ve yet to see giant light-infused cowboy boots suspended over the canal. And it’s possible that future Downtown Scottsdale 2.0 initiatives will bring the arts into greater focus.

But for now, the city is choosing Western mystique over contemporary culture.

Old Town, indeed.
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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