Downtown Tempe launch yields mixed reactions
The Downtown Tempe Authority launched a new logo for the former Mill Avenue District last week, a move that received applause and criticism from locals and business owners.
The move received quick online backlash from a community who felt like they were being exploited by the rebranding effort, including people who live in the neighborhoods west of Mill Avenue, part of the area the rebrand includes.
Ethan Singer, an ASU alumnus and owner of a Tempe tattoo parlor, called the effort “gentrification” for the people that were already living there, and worried that he and his neighbors would be pushed out of the area if property values rise with an influx of higher-end businesses.
“I’ve seen zero connectivity to the community and city,” Singer said in an email. “They think they can bring in some adviser and team to make it into something it isn’t.”
Singer said he and his community are skeptical of the rebranding claims and that he has been angry about the effort since learning about it.
“We have a very responsive, civic and open community here,” Singer said. “We never tried to set some trajectory of who can live here. When you walk down the street, you see all ethnicities and all manners of sexual orientation, old and young, family and single without children. It’s a varied and amazing community for decades since I’ve been here.”
Tempe City Councilmember Kolby Granville said he understands the wish to keep Mill Avenue the way it used to be but said it is not economically sustainable anymore.
“A lot of the people who are reacting negatively want Mill Avenue to be the way that it was 30 years ago, but it’s not that way anymore, and it will never be that way again,” he said. “Candidly, I wish it could be that way again too. I wish Long Wong’s was still on Mill, and I wish Changing Hands bookstore was still on Mill, but (city) councils before us decided they wouldn’t be, and they won’t be there again.”
Granville said he supports the effort to expand the downtown feel from Sun Devil Stadium to Farmer Avenue and wants Tempe to be a place that people are wiling to drive from other cities to visit.
“Do I think we’re all of a sudden going to call it ‘downtown Tempe’ instead of ‘Mill Avenue?’ No,” he said. “But I do support making a walkable, shaded downtown area that expands past Mill Avenue. If you only have a downtown area that stretches one mile on one street, that creates economic limitations.”
Tempe resident Krista Sanchez said in an email that people who live in downtown Tempe feel like they have been ignored through the rebranding process.
“Tempe doesn’t see us as their future, and we are,” she said. “It almost seems like they would rather have people come in from other places than to build up what they already have.”
Kate Borders, president and executive director of the Downtown Tempe Authority and leader of the rebranding effort, said her goals are exactly the opposite, and she does not want to alienate the people who live there.
“I truly love the downtown area, and our intent is nothing but to be inclusive and change the negative perceptions that exist about this wonderful, vibrant community,” Borders said. “The character that makes downtown unique is exactly what we want to preserve.”
Borders said her team’s effort is to bring visitors and Tempe residents to downtown Tempe, more than to just Mill Avenue.
“Our end result is always the businesses,” she said. “All of our events have the same type of mission, to showcase the businesses.”
Borders said when she first started the effort, she talked to businesses in the downtown area not connected to Mill, and said they wished there was more of a push for businesses that are not on Mill.
“Our district extends from College (Avenue) to Farmer (Avenue) and from University (Drive) to the lake,” Borders said. “We want to make this a place where people love to be.”
Borders said community voices need to be heard, but she worries misinformation can lead to anger from current residents.
Ty Largo, the creative director of Awe Collective, the public relations firm handling the rebrand, lives in the neighborhood in question and said his neighbors should voice their concerns but make sure they are directed at the right people.
“Everyone’s voices need to be heard, and they are important concerns,” he said. “But people need to make sure they are directed to the right people and done in the correct manner.”
Not all downtown Tempe residents oppose the rebrand, said Brandon Casey, a Tempe resident. Casey said he thinks it’s time for Tempe to grow up and for a more adult culture to be present in downtown.
“When you look at all major metropolitan areas, they have a club scene like Mill Avenue, but they also have a more adult, sophisticated scene,” Casey said. “More jobs are coming to Tempe, and with more jobs comes more buildings. We can’t have a million Zia Records.”
Tempe resident Lisa Saylan said she has lived in Tempe for 10 years and is excited for the change.
“I support the rebrand emphatically,” she said. “I am not a fan of the logo, but I think the idea is good. I don’t want to have to go to Scottsdale or Phoenix to hang out with people my age. I want to live in a place with higher property values and be able to go out to different places.”
Saylan said she supports the mix of bar culture and sophistication that she hopes the rebrand will bring.
“I still like to go to El Hefe and those places,” she said. “But I just went to the new Postino, and I think it’s fun to have a city that has everything.”
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