Row on the Row

Written by Mackenzie McCreary Category: Valley News Issue: May 2014
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Phoenix City Council approves low-income housing in the Downtown arts district, leaving some local business owners bristling.

First Fridays are loud.

The monthly art walks in Downtown Phoenix draw a cacophonous crowd, sometimes in the thousands, along with bands blaring music through amps, vendors loudly hawking their wares from sidewalk setups, and food truck chefs calling out orders. These raucous events can be heard blocks away and are revered by many locals as a prime attraction for out-of-towners.

But some people say that Roosevelt Row – a haven for emerging artists and the heart of Downtown’s art walk action – may be in danger. “They are going to kill this neighborhood,” Wayne Rainey, owner of MonOrchid gallery, says.

“They” are Phoenix City Council (PCC), and Rainey’s metaphorical killing field is a city-owned lot at Roosevelt and Second streets, where a small park with public art currently neighbors MonOrchid. In January, PCC approved the sale of the lot to private developer Roosevelt Housing Associates. RHA’s proposal for the lot won out over three others (see sidebar), and will transform an historic building adjacent to the lot, known as the Knipe House, into a craft brewery, and build age- and income-restricted housing with 80-85 percent of the units requiring at least one person to be 55 or older and not exceed an as-yet-undetermined income level.

Opponents of the development worry the residents of the apartments will complain about the noise and traffic on First Fridays, diminishing the art walks and possibly even leading to their demise. There have been disputes between city-dwelling seniors and artists before. In 2006, Tera Vessel closed her nursery, Tera’s Garden, after occupants of the Salvation Army Phoenix Silvercrest Residence complained to the city that the plants on the sidewalk in front of her business, formerly at Fourth Avenue and Fillmore Street, were a nuisance. She was cited for overgrown plantings, and city workers cut down the offending botany over her objections.

The development will take years to complete; renovations on Knipe House are slated to start this year, and apartment construction begins in 2015. City council members say the completed development only stands to enrich the area.

“My vision for Downtown is that, within the next 10 years or so, we should have 6,000 more families moving into the Downtown area,” says Councilman Michael Nowakowski. “These are active-age people who are now living their dreams... They want to live somewhere where it’s vibrant.” Nowakowski defines “active-age people” as seniors who need affordable housing. He also says he sees these people as supportive of the arts district.

PHMPF04Councilwoman Kate Gallego also voted for the proposal and says it will expand housing options for people other than the college students in the area: “I really want to see more people living Downtown and I think our Downtown has a lot of amenities that are attractive to people, but there’s not a ton of housing levels at all incomes available right now.”

Apartment residents will be required to sign a waiver acknowledging the noise. Rainey says the waiver is “not practical” and won’t matter once police are called.

Local business owners are also concerned about the development’s age restrictions. Many facilities near Roosevelt cater to seniors, from assisted-living resources like A Place for Mom to low-income housing in Westward Ho. Some question why the venture should exclude a group that also needs low-income housing: artists. “It seems very restrictive and we’ve worked very hard to develop a neighborhood that is inclusive,” says Dayna Reed, co-owner of GreenHAUS gallery.

“I don’t think the city was listening to the people who were wrapped around the project,” Dayna’s partner Cole Reed says.

“They are staking the lives and investments of a lot of people that have worked very hard in Downtown to make it what it is,” Rainey says. “It’s not their bet to make. ”

The Other Proposals
A breakdown of the three pitches passed over in favor of Roosevelt Housing Associates.

RowTwo Residences – DAVIS/RowTwo
Local architect Mike Davis’ proposal centered on rehabilitating Knipe House to qualify for a historic preservation grant. Davis also proposed housing without age and income restrictions.

Urban Sol Development
Proposed building a full-service grocery store within walking distance of most housing developments Downtown. The proposal also included market-rate condos and a Caribbean-themed restaurant to be operated out of Knipe House.

Rainey Development LLC/Butler Housing Company Inc.
The proposal submitted by MonOrchid owner Wayne Rainey and developer Reid Butler included a live-work-flex space for artists, a rooftop cinema above MonOrchid and housing for moderate-income residents. The Knipe House would become a supply hub for food trucks.