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HX_Guy Feb 8, 2007 8:57 AM

Envisioning a hip downtown
Developers propose an entertainment district to liven up Phoenix

Ginger D. Richardson and Erica Sagon
The Arizona Republic
Feb. 8, 2007 12:00 AM
San Diego has the Gaslamp Quarter, Miami has South Beach and Denver has LoDo.

Now, a group of private developers wants to create a hip hangout spot in downtown Phoenix, one that rivals or even surpasses those found in some of the nation's greatest cities.

The proposed Jackson Street Entertainment District would cut a path across the southern end of downtown, stretching from Central Avenue to Chase Field, and could be anchored by the state's first House of Blues music venue.
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The blockbuster proposal is significant because it addresses downtown Phoenix's lack of full-time residents and nightlife, both of which are key to turning the area into a true destination spot. The new district, when complete, could boast comedy clubs, signature restaurants, live-music spots and art galleries, as well as office space, housing units and a hotel.

Dale Jensen, part owner of the Phoenix Suns and Arizona Diamondbacks, is one of Jackson Street's backers. He said he and his business partners decided to move forward with the idea after realizing that there was nothing to keep people downtown after a Suns or Diamondbacks game.

"The thought was, we have these two big boxes in downtown, the arena and the ballpark, but we really have nothing for people to do but go to that box and go home," he said.

Jackson Street marks the second time in recent months that the private sector has turned its attention to downtown Phoenix in a big way.

Late last year, Phoenix officials approved plans for CityScape, a megashopping, residential and retail project that will give the downtown area its first grocery store in 25 years.

CityScape, which will be just north of the proposed Jackson Street Entertainment District, is expected to complement this newest plan by providing residents and urban workers with a variety of shopping and dining options downtown.

It is expected to feature more national retail chains, while Jackson Street will focus heavily on music and entertainment venues.

Much is still unknown about the Jackson Street proposal, including its cost - early estimates have been about $300 million - tenants and effect on the surrounding Warehouse District.

Downtown residents and artists say they like the concept of an entertainment zone but fear developers will sacrifice some of the neighborhood's unique older buildings in their quest to remake the city's core.

"If we lose the Warehouse District to tall high-rises, we lose the integrity of the area," said Steve Weiss, steering committee chairman for the Downtown Voices Coalition. "We don't want to be just another generic city of tall structures."

Filling a void
The idea of a downtown entertainment district is not a new one.

Phoenix leaders identified the need back in 2004, when they adopted their strategic plan for downtown.

But this marks the first time anyone has moved forward on the concept.

In addition to Jensen, the principals behind the project are Bradley Yonover, Jensen's partner in the Arizona Grand Prix, an Indy-car-style street race that will be held in downtown Phoenix in November; Michael Hallmark, a businessman who designed some of downtown's most notable buildings, including the US Airways Center, the Herberger Theater Center and Chase Field; and David Wallach, a Chicago-based developer who is building downtown Phoenix's first high-rise condominium project, the Summit at Copper Square.

The project's developers say they believe that this is the ideal time to proceed with the plan, in part because the city has made such a huge investment in the downtown in recent years. Big-ticket projects include a new Arizona State University campus, a University of Arizona medical school, light rail, a $600 million-plus expansion of the Phoenix Convention Center and a new $350 million Sheraton hotel.

"It's just the perfect storm of events," Jensen said. "We want to make it so that no one ever comes downtown and says, 'I can't find something to do down there.' "

Unique venues
Early plans call for the Jackson Street district to include 300,000 square feet of office space, more than 1,000 housing units, a hotel, courtyards and paseos that are permanently closed to vehicular traffic, and at least 450,000 square feet of entertainment and retail space. That is nearly three times what is available at the Arizona Center, a downtown shopping mall at Third and Van Buren streets.

Developers have been tight-lipped about what tenants they are trying to lure, but people familiar with the project say principals are already in negotiations with the House of Blues.

It would be the chain's first club in the state.

"Obviously, House of Blues . . . are industry leaders in that genre," Hallmark said. "They're someone who we are talking to and are having ongoing conversations with."

House of Blues, based in Los Angeles, did not return calls for comment.

The deal is not definite, but if House of Blues was to locate in the proposed entertainment district, it would likely be one of the project's few nationally recognized tenants, Hallmark said.

Instead, the majority of the restaurants, bars and shops will be "homegrown and one-of-a-kind concepts," Hallmark said. "If you can find it somewhere else in the Valley, we probably don't want it in the district."

The area, for example, could include a comedy club and movie theater, Hallmark said. He added that he has shared his plans with Sundance Cinemas, a fledgling theater chain for independent films.

Next steps
The Jackson Street project has the potential to completely reshape what has been an underused part of downtown.

Developers, for example, would like to build new retail and residential spaces and literally attach, or "wrap," them around existing buildings, including the US Airways Center and a city-owned parking garage at Third and Jackson streets. The design plan accomplishes several things, including injecting energy into the district, narrowing streets and promoting a pedestrian-friendly environment, proponents say.

But the plan faces some tough political and logistical battles.

First, developers will need the city to OK the proposal. That will likely not happen before April or May because Phoenix first needs to seek bids from anyone interested in creating a downtown entertainment district.

The group behind the Jackson Street project, however, is the front-runner because it already controls most of the land in the area.

In addition, the project's backers will need to persuade downtown artists and historic-preservation groups to buy into the idea. Some already are concerned that the proposal will result in architecturally unique properties being razed.

"If they come in and tear down a bunch of buildings, then what's going to stop somebody else from coming in and doing the same thing?" asked Beatrice Moore, one of the driving voices behind Phoenix's arts community. "I think that would set a very bad example."

Hallmark said he and his partners would go out of their way to integrate historic and unique buildings into plans for the district.

"Our intent is to preserve all of the ones that have character and value," Hallmark said.

If the process goes smoothly, parts of the new entertainment district could be open by 2009.

Vicelord John Feb 8, 2007 9:13 AM


House Of Blues!?!?!?!?!?!!?!?

If that happenes I will purposefully shit myself. I'm about ready to now at the idea of it. That is a sure way of saying "hey move your business here." It's a magnet of entertainment and will by itself transform DT phoenix into an entertainment "tempe."

HooverDam Feb 8, 2007 9:29 AM


Originally Posted by HX_Guy (Post 2619146)
The area, for example, could include a comedy club and movie theater, Hallmark said. He added that he has shared his plans with Sundance Cinemas, a fledgling theater chain for independent films.

Those two things interests me the most. The Valley only has 2 Comedy Clubs (Improv in Tempe, and the Comedy Spot in Old Town Scottsdale) one is very big (Improv) and the other is tiny (Comedy Spot), a club in between those two in size would be very nice.

We only have 2 Independent movie theaters as well (Valley Art and Camelview) and the Valley Art is only a single screen! The Phoenix area is extremely under-served in this area. I'd really like to see a 'brew and view' style theater in the warehouse district that showed independent and classic films.

PHX602 Feb 8, 2007 10:37 AM

Wow that is awesome! Thinking of the Jackson Street entertainment district and cityscape by the end of the decade makes me wet.:slob: :D

soleri Feb 8, 2007 2:24 PM

Of all the current ideas on the table, the entertainment district has the best prospects. There are a lot of moving parts here but what's great is that you don't have to build them all at once. The "market" doesn't have to be really hot, either. You can build some condos/lofts or office space when the scale is small and the demand is so-so. If there are any impediments here, I don't see them.

DevdogAZ Feb 8, 2007 3:45 PM

I think it would be great if they could create some sort of driving/parking area south of Jackson St. and north of the train tracks and then make Jackson St. into a pedestrian zone. The north/south streets could cross it, but the areas between the n/s streets, between the Ballpark and Cooperstown, would be off limits to cars.

I think the style of Jacksons on Third and Cooperstown are models for this new district. They've utilized existing spaces without tearing them down, and created both indoor and outdoor spaces. Hopefully those can stay in place and have other things spring up around them.

HX_Guy Feb 8, 2007 5:52 PM

I just read through 3 pages of comments on the Jackson St Ent. District and there is an overwhelming support from people for this. There are a few who think it's too late or that downtown is a slum, but 90% of people support this and want to see things take shape.

I hope the city and developers read articles and comments online.

Sekkle Feb 8, 2007 6:24 PM


Originally Posted by HX_Guy (Post 2619645)
I hope the city and developers read articles and comments online.

In this case, I agree. But most of the time when I see morons posting their comments on azcentral I feel like I'm going to explode in rage at their idiocy!

The entertainment district would be huge. I think it will be pretty easy for city decision makers to see how important this could be for downtown. Too bad it won't start opening until 2009. I'm impatient!

HooverDam Feb 9, 2007 2:42 AM


Originally Posted by HX_Guy (Post 2619645)
I just read through 3 pages of comments on the Jackson St Ent. District and there is an overwhelming support from people for this. There are a few who think it's too late or that downtown is a slum, but 90% of people support this and want to see things take shape.

I hope the city and developers read articles and comments online.

The people who post on AZCentral bitching about downtown give me a headache. The entertainment district is going to be built by private developers, so if you don't want any part of it- fine. If you hate downtown so much, why are you reading articles about it and crapping on other peoples excitement? People need to learn either just ignore downtown if its not their thing and enjoy living in Gilbert, or take pride in downtown and try to make it better.

EDIT: If anyone saw the actual paper version of the warehouse district story, they had some cool (but small) new renderings.

kevininlb Feb 9, 2007 5:09 PM

image of jackson street?
Hey, anyone have a copy of the rendering of Jackson Street Entertainment District that was in yesterday's Arizona Republic? It's a fantastic drawing, with the W in all it's hoped-for future glory. And JSED looks great. I've been searching all over the web for it, thinking I'd post it here, but I can't find it.

Geek alert: I cut out the AZ Republic rendering and taped it to my desk. I love looking at s**t like that!

PHX31 Feb 9, 2007 5:15 PM

/\ Can you scan it or take a picture of it and post it if you can't find it online?????

HX_Guy Feb 9, 2007 5:23 PM

Hmm, I wonder if I can still find a copy of yesterday's paper anywhere, maybe the gas station?

soleri Feb 9, 2007 6:11 PM

nbrindley Feb 9, 2007 6:20 PM

Wow, thats exciting looking! Fingers crossed it turns out better than Cityscape is looking (Arizona Center Redux)

HooverDam Feb 9, 2007 6:38 PM

That looks very nice, I'm glad to see they are going to wrap the parking garage in retail, and also put something along the south side of USAC (though there doesn't seem to be room)- I was a bit worried the whole Jackson St thing would feel a bit odd if everything was on the South side of the street only.

loftlovr Feb 9, 2007 7:07 PM

Thanks Soleri!
-it's about time!

BA744PHX Feb 9, 2007 8:23 PM

Now that looks nice. Hopefully it all gets done.

PHX602 Feb 9, 2007 11:31 PM

I really like how this project will connect life along with cityscape to the Luhrs area. Is it just me or is the SACS like 400 feet tall in this rendering?

JimInCal Feb 10, 2007 1:31 AM

Thanks for the scan Soleri!

PHX602, The Summit does look huge here... due to it being the nearest thing in the rendering. I love the lofts and retail wrapping around the existing arena garage. I know they plan to narrow the streets to create developable (is that a word?) real estate and make it pedestrian-friendly. It's going to be exciting to see what happens with the project. This is a real opportuinity for some funky, creative reuse. Can't wait to see it unfold. :yes:

soleri Feb 15, 2007 1:50 PM

'Economics' working against downtown
Feb. 15, 2007 12:00 AM
by Jon Talton

Hearing of the latest downtown mega-project, Phoenicians can be excused for feeling like Charlie Brown when Lucy promises that this time she really will hold the football for him to kick it.

So many times before the football has been pulled away at the last minute, and we have landed on our duffs in frustration and disappointment. Will the Jackson Street entertainment district be any different?

I'm open-minded. The Jackson Street team includes a businessman with an interest in the area (Diamondbacks co-owner Dale Jensen) and a developer who is actually building something downtown (David Wallach of the Summit).
Yet they, along with the developers hoping to do CityScape, contend with the strange economics of downtown Phoenix. These dynamics have ensured that most of the projects announced with glitzy renderings and models went nowhere.

Unlike cities with successful downtowns, power in Phoenix is oddly distributed. We have few corporations expanding or relocating there. Similarly lacking are real estate players with the means and intentions to really build.

Rather than being in a helper role, City Hall has become a kind of master developer, a role city government is poorly positioned to play. Plans, studies and overlays never seem to change the blocks of empty, blighted land.

Yet behind the scenes, the city's actions have become a kind of real estate "derivative" with its own value. For example, a "player" might present a plan that requires a zoning change or special waiver on, say, height. Once approved, this change makes the land more valuable. Then the temptation to flip the land to the next "player" can become irresistible.

Yet at street level, the football has again been pulled away, and we're left upended amid the blocks of wasteland, dotted with signs promoting dead projects, in the heart of America's fifth-largest city.

Not all the deals are insincere. Among the barriers faced by developers are very high land prices (a consequence, in part, of previous City Councils zoning too many parcels for high-rise, and land bankers holding properties for unrealistically high prices). Developers are left to offer enormous condo towers with units way out of the reach of the average Phoenician.

Many of these projects can never sell beyond 30 percent of the available units, so financing fails, and flipping the land becomes the only way out.

Another strange problem is the local fetish for large, "master-planned" projects. LoDo in Denver and the Gaslamp District in San Diego are not the result of big, integrated projects. They were developed organically, a little at a time, by scores of developers and businesses.

That approach proved more doable compared with going to the capital markets for hundreds of millions in one gulp for a largely unproven downtown. And we lack an Ernest Hahn, the San Diego mall developer, who built Horton Plaza downtown, against all expert advice, because he loved his city.

We also seem to lack the ability at City Hall to do things government should, such as historic reuse. If Phoenix had been in charge in Denver, LoDo would be vacant lots.

The results so far have left downtown Phoenix competing for spec investment against Tempe and Scottsdale, and losing. I hope Jackson Street and CityScape can turn that around.

Does it matter? Yes. Competitive cities offer choices, suburban and quality urban. And the city of Phoenix risks a long eclipse if it can't fix its core.

I start to wonder what would happen if the city would simply say: No more deals. We'll fix historic reuse and code impediments to doing business downtown. No more teardowns. And higher taxes for empty land.

Other than that, let the market work on a thousand parcels of land.

Reach Talton at Read his blog at

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