Despite local reaction, demolition of downtown spots is cyclical, community leaders say


Photos by Sarah Jarvis

The recent demolition of the South of Roosevelt (SoRo) galleries and GreenHaus buildings for the development of apartment complexes has sparked a range of responses from downtown residents — including a mock funeral procession for the arts community — but a neighborhood leader said these types of trends are cyclical.

GreenHaus and the Hubbard Dianetics Foundation building, both located on Roosevelt and Third streets, and the SoRo building on McKinley and Fourth streets were all demolished this month. Greg Esser, Roosevelt Row CDC co-founder and board member, said the demolition of SoRo and GreenHaus is tragic and unfortunate, but the overall urban mix of downtown is no different than it was 10 years ago.

“Spaces will evolve and come and go,” he said. “We want to sustain the culture where art is an essential element of the character of this area, whether that’s through adaptive reuse and preservation of existing buildings or incorporation into new development.”

Related: Adaptive reuse keeping city’s past intertwined with its future

Spaces like the DeSoto Market and Phoenix’s first Jewish Orthodox Synagogue, which was recently acquired with restoration plans from Michael Levine, show that there are people who believe in the character of the area and are making investments to sustain that character, Esser said.

He said preservation is not mutually exclusive from residential spaces, and that Roosevelt Commons on Sixth Avenue and Roosevelt Street is a good example of that.

Esser said the heart of the matter lies in the rezoning of the area around Roosevelt in the 1970s that he said encouraged private, high-density development. The buildings that existed around Roosevelt before then were not ideal for that kind of zoning, which translates to the demolition of these older buildings we see today, he said.

He said Roosevelt Row has promoted a number of policy tools that could help foster and sustain the arts community in the long term.

“At the end of the day, it is still ultimately the decision of the private property owners and the developers whether to respond to and interact favorably with the character of the area or to come in and work on their own projects without regard to the values and character of the area,” Esser said. “There’s no policy that can force someone to be a good developer… or to prevent bad development from happening if it’s within its existing entitlements.”

Dan Klocke, vice president of development for Downtown Phoenix Partnership, said people should take a step back and look at the larger picture in these situations.

“This is nothing new,” Klocke said. “It happens pretty much in every city anywhere where there are real positive economic movements.”

Klocke said the more people there are downtown, the more businesses will have the opportunity to grow and be sustainable. There are around 9,000 people living in downtown Phoenix, smaller than many other downtowns in the U.S., meaning it is harder for businesses to last, he said.

He said the live-work units on the ground floor of the apartments that will replace the SoRo building will help balance out the loss of the art and retail spaces there.

Nancy Hill, owner of the Hazel & Violet letterpress company, spent five years in a 550-square-foot unit of the SoRo building. She said she heard rumors and saw someone measuring the building before the building owners approached her with formal paperwork.

“I have so many specific needs for this shop that I had to just move when I found a place,” she said.

Hill said she has been in her new space on Grand Avenue and Pierce Street — which is about three times as large as her unit in SoRo was — since May.

She said she misses the big windows of SoRo, and remembers when the building was called .anti_space about six years ago. Business hasn’t changed much for her since leaving the building because her product is mostly sold by word-of-mouth and social media rather than street sales, she said.

Hill said two of the galleries that occupied SoRo have yet to open elsewhere, but the independent retailers were all able to find spaces to continue their work in or near downtown.

“That particular building was not in great shape,” she said. “But we all found a place to land.”

Correction: March 26, 2015: This article has been amended to show the correct intersection of the Roosevelt Commons apartments.

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