Campus has limited effect on surrounding businesses

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Hsin, a Chinese restaurant, opened Wednesday on the first floor of Taylor Place along North First Street, making it the latest business to attempt to capitalize on potential revenue from students of the young ASU Downtown campus.

Ben Juang is the co-owner of Hsin, which does not accept Maroon and Gold Dollars or Sun Dollars but is open daily until 9 p.m. He said he hopes the restaurant will provide a homey atmosphere for students.

“Most of the students staying at the Taylor Place dorms or the apartments are away from home, so I hope we can provide our best service or friendly environment to them to have them feel more comfortable,” he said.

When the Downtown campus opened in 2006, businesses in the area were told to expect increased sales due to an influx of people generated by the university’s presence. While most businesses have benefited from the Downtown campus, ASU’s economic impact in downtown Phoenix has been limited by the current economic recession and by students’ slow adaptation to the area.

Sid Ismail, owner of the Flag World and Sports World retail stores at the Arizona Center, said the campus does provide additional customers but not consistently.

“I don’t expect too much out of students anyways because students have limited funds,” Ismail said, explaining that students generally only visit his stores near the beginning and ends of semesters. “They have enough money for their housing and food and that’s about it.”

Ismail, who offers discounts of 10 percent to students, said he believes more students will shop from his stores as the economy improves and the campus grows. But for now, he said, the business they bring in is just bonus and not something to depend on.

“Anything we get from the students is like icing on our cake,” he said.

David Roderique, president of the Downtown Phoenix Partnership, said the addition of the Downtown campus’ students and faculty is a significant addition to the market place, but he also said it is important to inform those people about the available shopping options surrounding them, which they do through their Copper Square Ambassadors.

The Copper Square Ambassadors “try to maintain a very strong presence around ASU and be able to give advice on ‘Where should I go for lunch?’”  he said.

Roderique said some of the beneficiaries of the Downtown campus’ consumer activity are retail stores that sell products attractive to students, rentals near the campus and restaurants.

Majerle’s Sports Grill, located on North Second and East Washington streets, has had success with the student population by participating in events at the Downtown campus, Manager Kristi Jo Bushong said.

Though Majerle’s originally expected more business from ASU than it got at first, Bushong said the restaurant has successfully gained customers by going to the Downtown campus continually and “being very persistent on making sure that they know that they get a (20 percent off) special deal when they come here.”

Majerle’s has also been able to hire students as part-time employees because of their efforts, Bushong said.

“We’re extremely flexible with their schooling because, I mean let’s face it, their school is the most important (priority),” she said.

Movie theater AMC Arizona Center 24 has also benefited from the students of the Downtown campus since its opening in 2006, said Andy DiOrio, manager of corporate communications for AMC Theatres.

DiOrio said by offering discounted ticket prices to students on Thursdays and a consistently enjoyable experience, the theater has been able to weather the recession and the Downtown campus’ growing pains.

“Guests, no matter what, want to be entertained at an affordable price,” he said.

DiOrio, who said the theater has seen increased attendance for action and horror films since the campus’ opening, said the continued growth of the Downtown campus is important to the theater, but he said it’s more important that AMC continue to provide a quality service for the students.

“We want to provide an escape for students,” he said. “As long as we continue putting product that the students want to see and also provide an overall experience for them that they enjoy, that will definitely bode well for AMC.”

Downtown Phoenix also benefits from Tempe students coming downtowns through the use of Metro light rail, said Dennis Hoffman, a professor at the W. P. Carey School of Business.

“You got the Downtown campus and the Tempe campus, through access to light rail, having an impact, I think, on retail, restaurants, and night life activity in downtown Phoenix,” he said.

Noe Ivan Padilla, owner of the Sky Lounge nightclub that offers 18 and over nights on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays and is located near Majerle’s, said Phoenix’s night life has grown with the arrival of students.

“Downtown used to be dead,” he said. “Now even weekdays there’s some business down here.”

Deputy City Manager Rick Naimark said many businesses that opened in downtown Phoenix before the construction of the campus have had to adapt from exclusively serving a business community to also serving a student community.

Retailers and restaurants have retooled “either the timing of when (their services are) available or the prices or different offerings just to help make sure they’re serving their potential customer base in the best way possible,” he said.

Naimark said the student presence has increased the vitality of the area, and sales-tax statistics show the campus has had a positive economic effect on downtown Phoenix.

“The biggest impact to the city is that our sales receipts in the downtown area have gone up pretty dramatically over the last two years as ASU’s campus has developed, despite the fact that sales taxes are generally down city-wide,” he said.

Mexican restaurant El Portal, located along North Central Avenue at the Walter Cronkite School, gets about 70 to 80 percent of their sales from students, Owner Earl Wilcox said. Initially, however, it attracted fewer customers than it had hoped for when it opened in spring 2009.

“As ASU goes on into the future, in the next three years, we think that business is going to get better for us, but we quite frankly expected more,” he said.

Wilcox said El Portal’s sales have steadily improved since its opening, and it is now making profits he is satisfied with. He said El Portal will optimistically continue to ride out the recession and wait for more students to attend the campus and explore its surroundings.

“The university is new, there’s still a lot of construction going on …  but I think once we get over the recession and with the experience that we’re having and the community gets to know the Downtown campus, I think it’s definitely going to improve for the best.”

Contact the reporter at salvador.rodriguez@asu.edu

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