David Wetta holds up a photo of a building he purchased last year for $2 million. “Is that an ugly duckling or what?” he asks. It’s the kind of 50-shades-of-beige bore your conscious mind wouldn’t even register as you cruised down Camelback Road. But Wetta could not be more thrilled about it.
He and his team tracked down a vintage postcard that revealed this building was once a babe – attractive beveling, a cascade of lava rock, a sassy, bubbles-shaped sign. “Our plan is to return it to its 1969 glory,” the former real estate broker says. “And I’m pretty confident people will get very excited.”
His development company, Wetta Ventures, could be called the Pygmalion of adaptive reuse. They reimagined Tempe Annex’s staid schoolhouse as an inviting, brick-and-wood-beamed space for Postino and Snooze. Their Old School 07 project elevated a bland church at Osborn and Seventh Street into a hot taco joint and cool retail space with a mural chronicling the corner’s history.
“What I’m passionate about is creating very unique environments for tenants and customers to have a special experience,” Wetta says. “This isn’t a real high-design approach. It’s just really thoughtful.”
He brings this same sensibility to ground-up infill projects like the upcoming restaurant pod at Scottsdale’s SkySong. The modernist glass and steel structure will resurrect the Hohokam’s legacy with green, gold and brown cement to evoke fields; a word wall cataloguing crops farmed here since 300 A.D.; and a 3,000-square-foot edible garden.
In a city where developers typically design by number, Wetta Ventures’ approach is, hopefully, a harbinger of a more thoughtful future. Why does he do it? “I consider myself to be in the service business,” Wetta says. He loves providing interesting opportunities for investors, creating jobs, adding value to neighborhoods, and building unique social settings for communities. Also, he says, “I’ve always been a champion for the underdog” – whether that’s people or ugly buildings.
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