Phoenix is the sixth largest city in the U.S., but a casual visitor may not be able to garner that from one visit to the Valley of the Sun. Sure, the greater Phoenix metropolitan area has it all — sports, museums, an incredible array of restaurants, nightlife, freeways, skyscrapers and unparalleled desert beauty.
However, these amenities are literally all over the place.
Scottsdale has the luxury and the nightlife, Glendale has the sports, Arcadia has the financial district and, like every city, downtown Phoenix has the towers.
For the past few years, downtown Phoenix has been trying to create a legitimate downtown atmosphere, but the results have been inconsistent at best. A struggling nightlife has been aided by ASU’s Downtown campus but crippled by a lack of business open late enough to cater to a college audience.
However, the city of Tempe is trying something new. In recent years, Tempe has become an increasingly self-sufficient metropolitan sphere of its own. Building on its history of being a college town, Tempe is already equipped with all of the assets to grow into a full-fledged city.
Mill Avenue has seen an influx of Scottsdale-esque bars, and W6 has given the city a skyline, as well as some celebrity partygoers. Perhaps most important to Tempe’s success, however, is ASU’s ridiculously high student body, which provides the city with a young, diverse and stable population.
Tempe has been thriving lately, and in an attempt to capitalize on that momentum, the city of Tempe and ASU have revealed plans to expand the Mill Avenue District down to College Avenue. The new College Avenue Commons, which will serve as a host to a new ASU bookstore and be the home of the sustainable engineering degree, will be paired with an overhaul of the street itself, featuring a walkable plaza and, hopefully, a fountain.
In addition to all of this, Tempe announced that a unique dining experience would be added on College Avenue, one featuring the beloved Postino Winecafé, to be built in the old Art Annex Building.
Lovers of bruschetta and exposed brick rejoice! As if the allure of Postino wasn’t enough to warrant excessive celebration, yet another high quality Arizona coffee brewer, Royal Coffee Bar & Roasting Company, will move in right down the street. The College Avenue expansion also promises more high-end boutiques and shopping opportunities that, coupled with the condominiums at University House, will hopefully make College Avenue a hub of excitement and a worthy offshoot of Mill Avenue.
In addition to the College Avenue development, the vacant lot on University Drive and Ash Avenue was recently bought with plans to construct another high rise condo complex, with a grocery store on the first level.
In the blink of an eye, Tempe has made plans for high-density housing, access to fresh produce and wincafés — all major steps to the urbanization of Tempe.
These plans are all very exciting for a number of reasons, mostly because bruschetta, but in all seriousness, these announcements mean more than their individual parts. Tempe is doing something that Arizona has struggled for so long to do — build up a city in close proximity.
Critics will cry “gentrification” and cite W6’s absurdly high price tags, but at the end of the day there are, and will continue to be, plenty of reasonably priced alternatives to the luxurious options that are permeating downtown Tempe. Sure, some restaurants, stores and condominiums will have higher costs, but since when has anyone ever associated the word “winecafé” with McDonald’s prices? Luxury does come at a price, but the great thing about money is that you can choose to spend it wherever and however you want.
In a few years, when the new Sun Devil Stadium is finished and when all of the high rises and restaurants are packed with people, Tempe will feel even more like a city than it already does. As an Arizona native who has been missing that atmosphere for almost my entire life, Tempe’s transformation is something for which I cannot wait.
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