Architecture and Design

Everything We Know About Ro2, a New Development Coming to Roosevelt Row

Lynn Trimble
Looking north towards the Knipe House, which will be part of the new Ro2 development in Roosevelt Row.
A new multiuse development called Ro2 is coming to Roosevelt Row, the downtown Phoenix arts district located in the Evans Churchill neighborhood.

It’s being developed by True North Holdings, a Phoenix-based company with offices at the monOrchid building on Roosevelt Street. True North Holdings is headed by Jonathon Vento, who formed the real estate development firm in Delaware in 2016.

Vento conceptualized the Ro2 project, along with Wayne Rainey, who founded monOrchid, and Mike Davis, who owns property at the corner of Roosevelt and Second streets, where a temporary park is currently located. Moving forward, Davis will work on architecture and design. Rainey will curate the project's arts and cultural components.

Phoenix City Council approved the development on Wednesday, November 29. It's called Ro2, because it will be located on Second Street just north of Roosevelt Street, says Ryan Kerr, development manager for True North Holdings.

The developer was selected through a request-for-proposal (also called RFP) process. The city issued an RFP in June to develop seven lots of city-owned land along Second Street. They're located just south of Hance Park and Burton Barr Central Library, which is temporarily closed due to storm-related damage in July.

Turns out, True North Holdings submitted the only proposal, according to city records. Although it owns other property in Roosevelt Row, this will be its first development in downtown Phoenix.

The developer is purchasing these lots from the city for just over $3.5 million. That’s the full appraised value, according to materials city staff prepared for the City Council.

More than $2.5 million of the money Phoenix gets from the sale will go into the downtown community reinvestment fund. And $1 million will go into the general fund, the materials also note. 

The preliminary plan approved by the city council includes a four-structure project with 305,000 square feet of commercial office space, as well as 77,000 square feet of retail space. That plan also includes 32 residential units and 1,200 parking spaces.

One 19-story building and two five-story buildings are part of that plan.

Plans typically get modified to a certain degree early in the development phase, Kerr says. So, the final plan may vary somewhat from the initial one, within the requirements specified by the city.

The developer and the city have six months to work more on plan specifics, and sign related agreements. The city has several stipulations in terms of timing for moving the project forward.

True North Holdings has to secure its first building permit within 18 months. Once that first permit is issued, the company will have 36 months to complete the project.

“We want to break ground next year, and finish construction in two or three years,” Kerr says.

To help them accomplish it, the company hired Dorina Bustamante as a consultant. She’s a consultant who's long been based in that neighborhood, where she’s been involved with several community redevelopment projects.

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Looking north along Second Street, where the new Ro2 development will be located.
Lynn Trimble
The lots purchased from the city are located on the east and west side of Second Street, south of Portland Street and north of Roosevelt Street. All but one of those lots is currently empty.

The historic Leighton G. Knipe House, which was built as a family home in the early 20th century, sits on a lot on the east side of the street. The city is requiring that developers begin by renovating and preserving that house, Kerr says. Bob Graham, an architect who's been heavily involved with past Knipe House renovations, is leading that effort.

Knipe House has a complicated history in Roosevelt Row. After an arson fire in 2010, city efforts to restore it were scuttled by delays and limited funding. In 2014, the house was slated to become a craft brewery and restaurant as part of a mixed-use project called The Row, but that never materialized.

Conditions at the Knipe House are far different now.

That's because Roosevelt Growhouse, a community garden founded by Kenny Barrett and Kelly Placke in 2008, relocated to the Knipe House lot in February. The City of Phoenix granted Roosevelt Growhouse temporary use of the lot after the garden lost its former home on Sixth Street to a different mixed-use development project.

Now, Roosevelt Growhouse will remain at Knipe House, becoming the first tenant for the Ro2 development. Once Knipe House is renovated, it will be used for retail space, education programs, and community events.

Other Ro2 tenants will be announced once formal agreements have been signed. Vento envisions a rich mix of creative entrepreneurs working in diverse fields such as fashion, film, technology, and visual arts.

The Knipe House is one of three buildings that will comprise an area developers are calling Knipe Village. The other two, which are being built as part of the project, will sit directly north of monOrchid and the adjacent park.

Those new buildings are slated to include offices for creatives, artist housing, retail spaces, restaurants, and galleries. Each is expected to be five stories high.

“We want artists to come back into the neighborhood,” Bustamante says. “Spaces will be priced so they’re affordable for creative entrepreneurs.” At this point, those prices have yet to be determined or announced.

Several art spaces have closed or relocated in recent years as development has ramped up in Roosevelt Row.

The GreenHaus art boutique and gallery once located just east of monOrchid closed in February 2015, before the building that once housed it was demolished to make way for a new apartment complex developed by Denver-based Baron Properties.

Five15 Arts and Lotus Contemporary Art closed in August 2016, after the building that housed them was sold to Chandler-based Desert Viking, which is creating a multiuse development called The Blocks of Roosevelt Row. Lotus Contemporary has since relocated to Scottsdale, and Five15 Arts will move to Chartreuse gallery in the historic Grand Avenue arts district in March 2018.

To assist with creating affordable artist housing, True North Holdings hired ArtSpace, a Minnesota-based nonprofit specializing in adaptive reuse and new construction of artist live/work spaces.

Typically, they work with cities to build developments such as ArtSpace Mesa Lofts, which will open next year in the East Valley. But in this case, ArtSpace will simply be consulting.

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Looking towards monOrchid and the park on the southeast corner of Roosevelt and Second streets.
Lynn Trimble
Another building, which will include creative office and retail space, is planned for land across the street, on the west side of Second Street. It will sit along Second Street north of Carly’s Bistro and The Nash.

They’ll incorporate other components into that 19-story structure – including parking, a public amenity deck, restaurants, and a vertical farm created with multimedia artist and fourth-generation farmer Matthew Moore.

In 2011, Moore worked with fellow artist and wife Carrie Marill on adaptive reuse of a Roosevelt Row building that became an artist residency and project space for ASU Art Museum. They sold the building for $1.5 million earlier this year.

Developers plan to incorporate numerous shade elements in Ro2, as well as pedestrian alleys, and art ranging from murals to kinetic sculpture. Both rooftop and ground-level floors will be "activated," Kerr says.

“We’re balancing innovation with historic preservation,” Vento says of the Ro2 project.

Bustamante agrees that it’s a compelling mix. “We hope to be the new standard for how development gets done downtown,” she says.

Editor's note: This post has been updated to reflect that Dorina Bustamante's business is based in Evans-Churchill, but she does not reside there.