The Cool Index

Page 7 of 9

Dach unlocks the door to the future Sixth Street Studios, a space that looks unfit for a crack house. She's thrilled, because they just found oak floors under the cruddy linoleum. Dach offers a tour, pointing out where she can picture cubicles for the members of a writers' collective, although first the space will be used for a gallery. In some rooms, you can smell sewage.

A year and a half ago, Dach got scared when a car slowed down outside eye lounge. Now it's a developer in a BMW, writing down the address.

She and Esser are really excited. "You won't recognize this street in a year," Esser says.

In fact, only two months later, on the first Friday in October, Sixth Street Studios is completely transformed. The wood floors gleam, thanks in part to performance artist Julie Hampton, who silently scrubs them in her contribution to the group show "You STILL Draw Like a Girl," curated by Sherrie Medina and showcasing some of the best local artists around.

A month after that, a huge empty lot across the street from the galleries is cordoned off, no longer available for parking, the future site of high-end lofts. Esser and Dach have mixed feelings about the project. And they still have mixed feelings about Phoenix.

So, they're asked on that hot Saturday afternoon in August, do you still think about leaving town?

"Every day," they say in unison, laughing.

Beatrice Moore thinks about leaving Phoenix, too, for opposite reasons. The last thing she wants is for this city to be cool.

In some respects, pardon the pun, Moore is the grande dame of the downtown Phoenix art scene, presiding over a cluster of buildings on Grand, around 15th Avenue. At 52, she is older than most of the other creative entrepreneurs in town. And she doesn't welcome change.

On a recent wet Tuesday, Moore sits on a couch in her studio, "Weird Garden," a converted motorcycle shop, and shoves brightly colored pieces of chenille pipe cleaners into a Styrofoam ball. This project, "Winter Wonderland," is a break from the difficult work of painting. Moore's almost neon paintings cover the brick walls, and her elaborate wedding cakes -- one covered in devil-faced rubber ducks -- crowd the corners, leftovers from a past art exhibit in her Stop 'n Look gallery on Grand Avenue.

There are women in Scottsdale who would spend hours and pay a mint to achieve Moore's unstudied chic. The artist looks like one of her own creations in layers of lacy pink and cream on top, with cut-off gray sweatpants and flip-flops with socks.

You can't get to Moore's studio on a rainy day without getting your feet muddy, and that's fine with her. Moore doesn't welcome the Scottsdale crowd down here. She settled on Grand after development downtown pushed her west, and she and her partner, Tony Zahn, started buying buildings in 1992. They had come to Phoenix in the mid-'80s from Idaho by way of Europe because they liked the name, as well as the isolation.

"There was also a challenge here to make something happen," she says. Today, they house 20 artists in low-income studios, and when they're done rehabbing their 12 buildings, they'll have room for 10 more. They also own the space that houses the Bikini Lounge, a run-down tiki bar now wildly popular with the First Friday crowd.

There's talk of coffee bars and boutiques, which horrifies Moore. She's worried developers will come in and snatch up old buildings and drive up rents. To that end, she's considering creating a trust that will care for her property when she's gone. Moore likes Grand Avenue exactly as it is.

Beatrice Moore may not be interested in high-end cuisine, but many people consider it the mark of a city's success. Used to be, a foodie couldn't find a crumb in downtown Phoenix. Chef Eddie Matney ventured the closest, to Seventh Street just south of Camelback, but after a few years he gave up on downtown and settled in near the Biltmore.

That is changing, with Silvana Salcido Esparza's Barrio Café, Johnny Chu's Fate, and Ruby Beet Gourmet, which recently opened in Heritage Square, across from Pizzeria Bianco.

Chris Bianco started it all, of course, leaving the comfort of Town & Country on Camelback shopping center to come to downtown Phoenix, before the ballpark, before the new town homes, before any signs of life.

He gets a pretty good deal on rent from the city, but Bianco says that doesn't reflect the hundreds of thousands of dollars it cost to relocate his business and make tenant improvements to a falling-down building. Even though, until Pane Bianco, he's always worked in tiny spots, for Chris Bianco, it's all about space. He fell in love with the Heritage Square location, and he had to be there.

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Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at amy-silverman.com.