Longform

The Devil Went Down to Phoenix

Page 6 of 6

Development attorney Grady Gammage, who was involved on the SoBa side of the Tempe arts project, is skeptical that ASU will be what ultimately saves downtown Phoenix. If Tempe is any example, it certainly won't be the only thing, he says.

"The only businesses that thrived from students living there is a row of places to eat and drink beer," Gammage notes.

He's right. That, Mill Avenue has.

But most people agree downtown Phoenix wants something more. One of ASU's greatest chances to prove itself is with its proposed civic space downtown, an almost three-acre area bordered by Central and First avenues, which the university has $30 million in bond money to develop. The space is supposed to be a gathering place for students and professors, as well as people who live and work downtown. It's a great opportunity for the university to develop something unique for the Valley. Or not.

"I'm not sure they're ready for their civic space to be Washington Square," says Gammage.

Probably not. As of right now, plans for what the space will look like are pretty up in the air, though everyone seems to agree on certain basic ideas. It must have shade — lots of it — and some kind of water feature. In the middle of the space will sit the historic 424 building, left intact more because the city fought for it than because ASU cares about historic preservation. Already, old buildings like those housing the Jungle and Kings Cocktail have been torn down to make way for university buildings.

If an e-mail Reiter sent Richard Stanley, senior vice president and university planner, in May of this year about the civic space is any indication, the attitude toward saving and reusing old buildings is pretty arrogant: "The key images at the moment of the Civic Space as it relates to the Jungle are attached," he writes. "I think this small powerpoint shows in no uncertain terms the impossibility of leaving those structures in place. 424 was a huge concession. Enough I think."

Yet in spite of its reputation, there's no doubt that ASU's presence in downtown Phoenix will do something. It just can't be the only entity the city counts on for help.

Perhaps Gammage's hope for downtown Phoenix is most realistic. Though it lacks the optimism city employees and university flacks try to sell, he does recognize that ASU, and all the other projects slated for development, will help in some way.

"Downtown Phoenix is bad enough," Gammage concludes, "that any presence will help."


Next week: Urban gurus from Jane Jacobs to Richard Florida say it's essential to preserve old buildings, but Phoenix does little to encourage indie businesses to come downtown and open shop in a place with some history. Also: a peek at the future cityscape.

Read the whole series online.

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Megan Irwin
Contact: Megan Irwin