Phoenix Rising Tour Company lets customers explore downtown by foot, bike or trolley

Jill Johnson gestures while narrating a trolley tour. (Kara Carlson/DD)

Phoenix native Jill Johnson said she never thought much of downtown Phoenix until she started working on ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus in 2008. But Johnson said seeing Civic Space Park come together, including the installation of the well-known public art sculpture “Her Secret is Patience,” changed her outlook.

“I knew in that moment something great here was going to bubble up,” Johnson said.

She questioned why downtown Phoenix, unlike other major cities, had no tour. Her company, Phoenix Rising Tour Company (PRTC), is now offering an answer, and the ability to showcase downtown.

“It has been really fascinating to see the work of passionate community members come together to build what (downtown) looks like now,” Johnson said. “It would not be what it is without the dedication and hard work of people who believe in this city. That’s really what this tour is about, to bring their hard work to life and to showcase it to people who are unfamiliar with it.”

The tours are designed to showcase the community to downtown residents and visitors alike, by trolley, bike or walking. Each tour features a different theme to cater to different interests.

The Trolley Tour is centered around history and culture, while the Downtown Art and Mural Bike Tour shows attendees downtown art using the city’s Grid bike-sharing program. A coffee crawl takes residents on tastings at local coffee shops while walking through downtown culture. The company also recently started a history-focused walking tour.

PRTC gave its first tour at the beginning of this month. Johnson said the company, which she co-founded with Natalie Young and Denise Minter, has officially been open since 2015, but it’s been a work in progress for many years.

Before starting PRTC, Johnson served as program manager for the downtown branch of ASU’s Barrett, the Honors College, during which she often gave tours of the campus area.

“People are just excited to see downtown Phoenix,” Johnson said. “The best compliment we can get is from locals saying, ‘I never knew that.’”

The History & Culture Trolley Tour talks about the origin of Phoenix, starting with the Hohokam native tribe through modern day. Johnson narrated a trolley tour Saturday with the help of Minter and Young. The tour snaked its way through downtown and the surrounding areas including the downtown core, Grand Avenue, the historic Encanto neighborhood and the Arizona State Capitol. The fully-narrated tour discusses the history and future of downtown with stops at Grand Avenue’s Hazel & Violet printing company and the Arizona Capitol Museum.

Johnson said the tours attract locals as well as people from across the country, and a few international visitors too.  

Trolley tour attendee Peter Gage said the tour, which was the company’s fourth ever, was exciting, and he only wished the two-hour tour was a little slower.

“We just thought it would be fun to take a tour of the downtown area because we like tours and that was what was here,” Gage said of him and his wife, both visiting from the Omaha, Nebraska area.

“Probably most people don’t even realize most of this is here,” Gage said. “That’s true in our Omaha area.”

Johnson said the emphasis on each tour, whether it be trolley, bike or walking, is to encourage people to come back in some way, such as for First Friday, or to visit different areas of downtown.

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