I left town for a whirlwind week back East -- unplugged from web, email, and social media -- and returned this weekend to big news I'd missed out on: that LGO Public House was pulling out of CityScape.
Stunning, yes. But surprising? I hate to say it, but I'm not surprised at all.
Almost exactly a year ago, La Grande Orange creator Bob Lynn told me of his plans to open a 3,000-square-foot modern chop house at the under-construction Downtown Phoenix mixed use complex. Since then, LGO has been key to much of the excitement about CityScape's restaurant lineup.
Who cares if the only dining options thus far in the now partially-completed (and, frankly, sadly deserted) development are two chains (Five Guys and Jimmy John's), a teeny-tiny, locally owned taco shop with hardly any seating (Vitamin T), and a bowling alley (Lucky Strike)? People haven't been complaining much because they've been holiding their breath for something bigger.
The promise of LGO's cool factor was enough to get CenPho locals interested in CityScape as more than just another mall. Imagine: a hip, homegrown place to eat and drink, sort of like the original LGO Grocery & Pizzeria in Arcadia, only with a nearby parking garage!
Although I dream about having a revitalized, kickass Downtown chock full of people, all kinds of interesting shops, great entertainment, and restaurants galore, I was skeptical about the prospects for CityScape -- and yet, the fact that LGO Public House was still on track gave me some hopeful rationalization that perhaps the best was yet to come.
Now, they say the restaurant isn't happening (at CityScape, anyway, unless they can make the concept work in a different space) because of engineering issues related to the kitchen ventilation. Somehow I think that's a convenient excuse to bail on a ship that's sinking before it's barely left the port.
In general, word is not out on CityScape. Or, perhaps, those who do know about it are shrugging with indifference, not showing up in droves to eat fast food and shop at CVS.
Anecdotally, I can tell that folks from other parts of the Valley aren't aware it exists (seriously, I've gotten quizzical looks from people in Tempe and Chandler), or maybe even confuse it with another attempt at instant urbanity, CityNorth.
There should've been a broad bombardment of publicity for CityScape, and the PR effort should be ongoing -- perhaps even relentless. I hate to say it, but the whole "if you build it, they will come" mentality is as outmoded as luxury condos and $60 steaks.
Just look at the scant pedestrian traffic. CityScape looms like a fortress between Washington and Jefferson. Much like the Arizona Center -- an earlier era's failed hope for Downtown revitalization, along with The Mercado (read this article from 21 years ago and experience revitalization deja vu) -- its design doesn't have many storefronts at the street level. You drive by and there's nothing to catch your eye, to draw you in.
Last time I stopped by Urban Outfitters, one of the few places that does open up to the street (and not that plaza inside the complex), I was literally the only shopper in the whole damn establishment. On a Friday. On payday. In the downtown of America's fifth largest city. At a time when you'd think somebody else might be looking for a cheap party frock or some lipgloss.
Now, at the top of my to-do list: finding out whether Oakville Grocery will ever materialize here. Considering that its sister biz at the Scottsdale Quarter closed last month, I'll believe it when I see it.
And when will the other planned restaurants be opening? Nobody involved with CityScape has promoted any of those spots. Chow Bella gets hundreds of thousands of hits a month and it's no secret that I dig restaurant news, so you'd think they'd keep yours truly apprised of the progress -- still, the only news that's trickled out of the fortress is a mass email newsletter with few specifics. Imagine how little info must reach the average dude on the street who isn't a restaurant reporter.
Last week, in my absence, Amy Silverman poked fun of the comical schedule of events promoting the imminent debut of the Arrogant Butcher, restaurateur Sam Fox's new eatery that's about to open at CityScape. There are ten different VIP dinners, cocktail parties, "power lunches" and happy hour events previewing the place for everyone from the D-Backs to the State Bar.
It's so over-the-top, it's truly funny -- the biggest PR push I've seen for any restaurant in ages.
And yet, it's also revealing about what an uphill battle it will be for a 7,500-square-foot restaurant to have a chance in hell at surviving in Downtown. The Fox camp, bless 'em, really does need to promote this place as furiously as possible.
Yeah, I'm laughing -- if only to keep from crying.