Public's opinion sought on converting shipping containers into commercial spaces

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A shipping container painted like a watermelon by volunteers during “A Day for Downtown” last Saturday is designed to serve as a business space on Roosevelt Row by April 2013. (Annika Cline/DD)

Roosevelt Row Community Development Corp. has made its New Year’s resolution – place six businesses into 40 feet by 8 feet by 8 feet repurposed shipping containers along Roosevelt Street by April 2013.

When Roosevelt Row CDC received an ArtPlace grant in June, the organization decided to use part of the grant to convert old shipping containers into commercial spaces. Now the organization is calling for ideas from the public, said Greg Esser, a Roosevelt Row CDC board member. The public can submit their suggestions on rooseveltrow.org, Esser said, by clicking on the call for ideas page that was set to launch Tuesday.

Though the use of the containers has not been determined, the first shipping container has already found a home on the A.R.T.S. lot at Fifth and Roosevelt streets. Volunteers recently painted the container to look like a watermelon during the 13th annual volunteering event called A Day for Downtown.

“A lot of people think (shipping containers) are ugly,” Esser said. “We’re focusing on how they can become aesthetically enhanced.”

Esser said the organization plans to work with local artists to beautify the containers, and model them after similar projects in other cities including the Proxy Project in San Francisco, which currently rents shipping containers out to food vendors.

This brings to mind a similar fixture of downtown Phoenix already in place – food trucks. Brad Moore, owner of the Short Leash hot dog food truck, and chair of the Phoenix Street Food Coalition, suggested that food truck businesses could use a shipping container for additional dining space.

In fact, Short Leash already has already created a similar concept on Friday nights with their event called Sit, Stay, with a permanent location near Central Avenue and Camelback Road.

“For us, what we try to do is develop a lot of consistency,” Moore said. “It’s a chance to slow the pace a little.”

Short Leash features a larger menu with items like entrees during Sit, Stay nights. A shipping container diner could create a similar atmosphere, but Moore said the containers might ultimately best serve retail businesses.

Chris Petroff, co-founder of Seed Spot, a Phoenix incubator for new social entrepreneurs, said the shipping container buildings could be great for small startup businesses; not only for the space value but also for their uniqueness.

“The curiosity factor would attract more foot traffic,” Petroff said.

He also said this type of space would work well for some of Seed Spot’s own entrepreneurs, like SitGREEN Furniture, a company that makes and sells eco-friendly chairs, or Boogüd, a bamboo bike company.

The ultimate goal of the containers, Esser said, is to temporarily reactivate the lots. He said Roosevelt Row CDC is looking at other vacant lots off of Roosevelt Street as well, including one at Central Avenue and Indian School Road that is also home to a recently approved urban farming project.

“We’re really taking a liability and turning it into an asset,” he said.

Contact the reporter at ascline1@asu.edu