New businesses could arrive in Phoenix alleys

Construction backs up to this alley near the corner of Roosevelt Street and First Avenue. (Craig Johnson/DD)

Downtown Phoenix alleys could soon receive funding to provide safety for pedestrians.

The Planning and Development Department brought forth a proposal on Wednesday to transform the alleys of downtown Phoenix from abandoned areas to lively and safe areas that enhance pedestrian use of alleys.

The improvements focus on pedestrian comfort and appealing amenities that provide a sense of place and can create a gathering space. The purpose of the proposal is to change the average alley experience in Downtown Phoenix, from negative to positive.

“They [the alleys] are always a scary place when I walk by them. I’ve been to a few wine vendors in alleys in other cities and they have been some of my favorite experiences,” District 7 Councilman Michael Nowakowski said.

Multiple city departments worked with business owners, community members and utility companies to develop a pilot program for Alley Activation and Alley Abandonment requests in the downtown area. The Alley Activations would be categorized into two separate groups: Minor activations and Medium activations, according to the deputy director of planning, Sandra Hoffman.

According to Hoffman, Minor alley activation is more focused on general cleanliness and aesthetics. Minor activations would require no activation fee. Activations are “really low impact for the most part,” and would include murals on building facades, screen walls, additional lighting, temporary public seating, artwork and removable landscape pots.

“We are really trying to look at the function of the alley, and see what other kinds of activity could possibly be there,” Hoffman said.

According to Hoffman, Medium alley activations would include enhanced entrances to businesses, new micro-retail opportunities facing the alley, ornamental fencing on undeveloped lots and other visual elements. Micro-retail opportunities are undefined at this point.

“Food services are one of the largest opportunities downtown has right now.  We aim to get a lot of food services in the alleyways,” Hoffman said.

There are no fees required for Minor alley activations currently, and Medium alley activations require a fee of roughly $1,400, but not everything is set in stone, according to the director of the planning and development department, Alan Stephenson. Fees are subject to change next month when the department finalizes the proposal.

Cities around the country have taken advantage of the valuable downtown space alleys provide. Alley activations may have site-specific designs that reflect the neighborhood’s unique character, Stephenson said.

“Other cities use alleys as amenities,” Stephenson said. “It’s a loss of space downtown because there are always such negative consequences happening in alleys. We believe by re-designing these alleys, we can promote a place the community appreciates.”

The pilot program for Downtown Alley Abandonments will require increased public notification, much like the Zoning Adjustment process. The applicant will be required to alert registered neighborhood associations within 600 feet and property owners within 150 feet and hold a neighborhood meeting at least 14 calendar days prior to the scheduled abandonment hearing, Stephenson said.

The Planning and Development Department left the proposal up for discussion, and will be meeting again next month with a finalized plan.

“Downtown Phoenix needs something done. This might be it. We need something that will really liven up the area and transform the downtown that we know,” District 1 Councilwoman Thelda Williams said.

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