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Valley Venue Modified Arts Battles a Big Stink

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Something smells funny at Modified Arts, and it's not just the sweaty bodies packed in to see the latest indie rock group. The beloved modest arts venue on Roosevelt Row in downtown Phoenix has been suffering with the erratic aroma of sewage. If you've been in Modified during the past week -- or indeed in the past couple years, you might have caught wind of it.

Kimber Lanning, the owner of the Modified Arts building, circa 1925, wasn't exactly thrilled to discuss the subject, but she admits there's been an issue. "It's not that I'm not aware of it. I've just been unable to find anybody who has a solution," she says.

On Saturday afternoon, a packed house gathered at Modified to watch the indie craft documentary Handmade Nation. The smell was obvious, according to several moviegoers. It's been a problem for a while, according to former Modified booker (and current New Times freelancer) Leslie Barton. She says every so often, the venue would host a benefit with proceeds going toward bathroom maintenance, among other things.

"It was always one of those things, but I haven't worked there for a few years, so I don't know who's cleaning the toilets now," Barton says. "It might also be the pipes. That building's so old."

Indeed, sewage pipe capacity has been an issue in some parts of the Valley, including Tempe. A couple of years ago, we ran a story about overflowing sewage pipes in the East Valley, with horrific scenes of toilets and sinks shooting knee-deep human waste everywhere.

Sewage capacity constraint doesn't appear to be a problem in Modified's area, according to Roosevelt Row business owners and city officials. We called Phoenix's Water Services Department on Monday, and public information officer Ken Kroski called back on Tuesday to say staff went out to Roosevelt Row after we called, and checked the area and the pipe meters, and couldn't find any issues. There were no leakages or problems to report.

If the sewage smell at Modified Arts isn't from strained pipes or a faulty city sewage system, what is it?

Kimber Lanning says she's contacted several plumbers over the years, and the problem is fumes from the pipes. "First and foremost, there's no leakage or raw sewage," she says. "It's the pipes, just fumes that come up in the evening around 6 p.m., which is unfortunately the time First Friday usually starts. By 9 p.m., the smell is usually gone."

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