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Community members, city planners try to find middle ground for downtown Phoenix

Once known for its colorful arts culture in downtown Phoenix, the Roosevelt Row community has struck a new chord.

The neighborhood between Seventh Street and Seventh Avenue off of Roosevelt Street is known for its pauper-to-prince transformation, ushered in by local artists who turned a fairly gritty area into the heart of the downtown arts scene.

“I think what drew people to this neighborhood is it’s got a little bit of grit, it’s not bright and shiny on the corners, it’s got character and a bit of a funky vibe,” said Stacey Champion, community advocate and owner of Champion PR and Consulting on Roosevelt Row.

As the neighborhood gained popularity through the arts scene, it also did with another crowd — developers, who saw a lot of potential for money.

In March 2015, the neighborhood was thrown into controversy after Baron Properties demolished 222 E. Roosevelt St., a building that contained a historical mural made by the artist Ted DeGrazia. In its place, they began constructing a set of luxury apartments, iLuminate.

While Champion tried to stop the move through protest and a staged funeral for the property, the building was demolished. This lead to a new era in the arts district filled with growth, development and, in some cases, gentrification.

Since then, groups of developers have been attempting to expand the neighborhood, building a ‘Super’ Circle K and more apartments.

In May, Alliance Residential Company began plans with the City of Phoenix to build a second set of luxury apartments on the same block. 

The soon-to-be complex, which currently doesn’t have an address, is set to stretch from Roosevelt Street to Portland Street and from Third to Fifth Streets.

Phoenix City Planner Miguel Victor helped plan the 316-unit property and said he believes the property may be beneficial to the neighborhood.

“They consolidated a bunch of lots in there," he said. "They’ve been working for a while on assembling the area so they can build a project of this size. It was six or seven lots they assembled throughout. At first it was old remnants of multi-family development in this area. It hadn’t been developed for quite a while.”

Aside from empty lots, there was a small concert area for residents to gather.

He said Alliance was trying to assimilate into the neighborhood by adding stores and restaurants on the street and designating plazas and open areas where people can assemble along Roosevelt Street.

While some see the move as potential trouble, Phoenix’s Historical Preservation Officer Michelle Dodd said she believes the development may be good for the community.

Dodd said the one major goal of the city is density. For years downtown was a sort of wannabe city, with not much nightlife and community aside from the occasional Diamondbacks game. Before the development of the light rail in 2008, the city was little more than office space.

“The more people you have in the downtown area, the more you have a more 24/7 environment,” Dodd said. ”Where people are downtown, they don’t vacate the area every evening when everyone goes home from work."

She said while the Roosevelt community might evolve and change from its original community, filling up lots like this might be a way to add to the community rather than take away from it.

Champion, however, said that while development may be good, the community needs certain projects to move in, specifically ones that focus on providing affordable housing to students and artists alike.

“My concern is: What will this neighborhood look like if it’s just super blocks?” Champion said. “If they knocked everything down, knock out the two blocks we have here and it all becomes kind of super block apartments with Chipotles underneath. Would you want to live in this neighborhood? I wouldn’t.”

In that sense, both Dodd and Champion agree: the neighborhood needs more than cookie-cutter, expensive apartments.

“A mix of different levels of what people can afford seems to be the most desirable thing for the neighborhood right now,” Dodd said.

Related Links:

For Roosevelt Row, adaptive reuse an appropriate compromise

Roosevelt Row building, mural to be replaced by luxury apartments

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