As an independent chronicler of all things downtown, DPJ takes a comprehensive approach to covering the urban living movement in Phoenix and, with this Conversation series, spotlighting the people who make it move.
“We need to do a better job of leveraging it all.”
Jeri Jones is a relatively recent transplant to Phoenix. After 20 years in Denver, Jones moved to Phoenix as the CEO for employer and individual business (the commercial and business program) for UnitedHealth Group only two years ago. She came to town just as the company was consolidating its workforce from five locations to two, including the main location at CityScape in downtown Phoenix. Still based in Phoenix, she moved into a new regional position with UnitedHealth to run their Medicaid program across the West about six months ago.
The consolidation made UnitedHealth one of the largest employers in downtown. Jones mentioned that initially the employees were not sure about the move. “People were a little nervous about moving downtown,” she said. “It took a little bit to win the hearts and minds of our team that it was going to be a good move, and a lot of fun.” To make the transition easier, UnitedHealth worked with local businesses to engage employees through activities like scavenger hunts that helped familiarize them with downtown. “Now that it’s been a year and a half,” said Jones, “everyone loves it.”
“We need to give people more options for living downtown; options that appeal to a broad spectrum of people.”
She values the impact that changes to downtown have had, including the building of the stadiums, the growth of downtown restaurants and businesses, CityScape and the building of the light rail. During her time in Denver, she watched that city go through many of the changes Phoenix is experiencing now. “I watched the same thing happen in Denver,” she said. “Before the light rail you would go downtown and there would be very few people on the street. Then came the light rail, which made it so easy to go downtown, to go to events.”
From Jones’ perspective, downtown now needs to go to the next level. “We need to give people more options for living downtown; options that appeal to a broad spectrum of people. We need to continue to combine residential with park-type areas. If people are going to live downtown, they need more green areas, places to be where they don’t have to feel like they are in a concrete jungle,” she said. “I feel like we are still in a little bit of a concrete jungle.”
In addition to building more residential options, and making sure there is green space, Jones believes that the key is to continue getting the word out about what is going on downtown, about what is available to see and do. “We need to do a better job of leveraging it all,” she said. “We need to be better at getting people downtown. We (UnitedHealth) do a lot of events in the evening and try to keep people down here. And with out-of-town visitors we encourage them to stay downtown, to get out and discover downtown restaurants.”
“Getting a cross segment of businesses involved in changing a city is the fastest way to do it, as opposed to just the city.”
Jones serves on the board of Downtown Phoenix Inc. and sees DPI as significant for the future of downtown because of the cross section of businesses, public sector and community leaders involved. “Getting a cross segment of businesses involved in changing a city is the fastest way to do it, as opposed to just the city. It seems like some of the previous attempts by different groups with different visions got a lot accomplished, but I am hopeful that having the umbrella of DPI over it all, bringing more diversity to the process, will make a difference.”
She singled out Dave Krietor, CEO of DPI, for his outstanding work bringing people together. “We have a lot of work to do and we have a great group of people. I love how Krietor is bringing all the different aspects of the neighborhood together. Sometimes I feel we’re not moving fast enough.”
As a resident of North Central Phoenix, Jones feels connected to downtown both through her work and her leisure activities. She enjoys the theater, eating out, concerts, and shopping downtown, and was almost tempted to strap on skates at the temporary CityScape ice rink this winter.
As to her role on the DPI board in particular, she says, “Hopefully, my role is to provide a different view because I didn’t grow up in it. Plus, coming from Denver and bringing a sense of what I witnessed there. Also, as one of the largest employers in downtown it’s important that we continue to get our employees more involved in downtown.”
It is clear that she has both a personal and a professional passion for downtown, and for what a vibrant urban core can mean to a city.
DPJ’s Wire series delivers news and information straight from the source without translation.
Valley Metro Rail Connects Riders to Arts and Culture Destinations
Light rail connects people to arts and culture. From puppet theatres and intimate jazz venues to big-name shows at US Airways Center, residents can feed their artistic appetites beginning with a train ride. Explore the cultural playground that exists along the light rail line, from popular venues like ASU Gammage and Phoenix Center for the Arts to unique destination gems like the Great Arizona Puppet Theatre and Eisendrath House.
This weekend is the perfect opportunity to use light rail to explore arts and local culture. Artlink Inc.‘s 26th Annual Art Detour is March 8-9. This is the longest running community arts event in downtown Phoenix with more than 100 arts destinations located within walking distance of light rail. A complimentary shuttle will also be available. “Detour-ists” are invited to visit artists’ private working studios not typically open for viewing, explore Pop-Up Gallery exhibits exclusively planned for Art Detour, and discover the colorful mural scene on walls and buildings throughout the downtown area.
The new Valley Metro Arts & Culture Guide features 50 cultural destinations located along the light rail line. The guides will be available at all of the shuttle locations during Art Detour. Riders can also find them at many chambers of commerce, libraries and online at valleymetro.org.
Click here to download the Arts & Culture Guide.
Image courtesy of Valley Metro
DPJ’s Wire series delivers news and information straight from the source without translation.
Valley Metro Asking Students to Design Bus and Light Rail Train Artwork
Calling all high school students with a flair for art! Valley Metro is kicking off the 14th Annual Design a Transit Wrap Contest, asking students to create original artwork with a positive transit theme. The winning design will be featured on a bus and light rail train wrap for an entire year.
1. Download the contest flyer, art template and application.
2. Use the art template to create an original design.
3. All entries should feature a positive transit message.
4. Submit artwork by February 14, 2014.
The Design a Transit Wrap contest is part of a larger effort to spread awareness about the benefits of public transit. Click here for more information on Valley Metro’s education programs.
Don your favorite holiday pajamas and hop aboard Downtown’s own Urban Polar Express – the METRO Light Rail – to Civic Space Park Friday, Dec. 6 for a FREE double-feature holiday movie showing under the stars.
Grab your friends and family – and a blanket or two – to see Polar Express and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation on the big screen in the big city. Bring kids big and small for free hot cocoa, crafts and photos with Santa. (Photos are free – you can take your own or download one from Downtown Phoenix’s Facebook page.)
Food will be available for purchase.
If You Go
Where: Civic Space Park
When: Dec. 6 at 6 p.m.
Light Rail Stop: Van Buren and Central or Van Buren and First Avenue
Polar Express: Starts at 6:00 p.m., rated G
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation: starts at 8 p.m., rated PG-13
Last week DPJ provided a step-by-step overview of the process behind the choice of Roosevelt Housing Associates (RHA) “The Row” proposal for developing the property along 2nd Street north of Roosevelt that also includes the historic Leighton G. Knipe House. City staff has requested that the Downtown, Aviation and Redevelopment Subcommittee recommend City Council authorization to enter into a development agreement with RHA.
There was some initial community concern raised regarding aspects of “The Row” proposal, so staff’s initial recommendation to approve was withdrawn from the Subcommittee’s November 6 meeting agenda.
As stated in an updated report submitted to the Subcommittee, this gave both city staff and RHA time to meet with representatives from the community to gain input and answer questions about the project. In the past month, they met with community groups, including the Downtown Voices Coalition, Evans Churchill Community Association, and Garfield Organization. Additional meetings were held with the leadership from Roosevelt Action Association, Roosevelt Row Community Development Corporation, and the Roosevelt Row Merchants Association. The City also responded to and offered to meet with individuals who contacted the City directly regarding the proposed development.
Following a dialogue with City staff and RHA at their neighborhood meeting, the Evans Churchill Community Association drafted a letter of support for the project, stating, “In a neighborhood that is both vibrant and in transition, such as Evans Churchill, careful consideration is needed to prepare a development that contributes to the community in a meaningful way, is financially sound, and can be successfully accomplished. The Roosevelt Housing Associates proposal meets those objectives. We look forward to engaging with the developer to ensure their project brings maximum benefits to our neighborhood and the surrounding downtown community.”
Based on the feedback, RHA agreed to make several changes to their proposal to enhance its appeal to the community and help integrate the project successfully into the existing neighborhood. The changes include:
1) develop approximately 15-20 percent of the units as market rate, with no age or income restrictions, creating a diverse, mixed income project;
2) require all tenants to sign an affidavit acknowledging they are moving into a vibrant arts district;
3) develop the street-level units as live-work artist studios;
4) actively market the project to artists; and
5) dedicate a portion of the common area space for local artists to prominently display their works.
Pending City Council authorization, City staff and Roosevelt Housing Associates will continue to work with neighborhood groups throughout the design process.
Event Parking Concerns
Another pressing concern for the community surrounding the proposed development was the need to develop additional public parking solutions to support the increasing number of events and other activities in the area. To ameliorate this concern, City staff have made a recommendation that the net proceeds from the sale of the property be applied to the planning and development of a district parking solution for the Evans Churchill/Roosevelt Row area, east of Central Avenue and north of Roosevelt Street. City staff will work with the community, property owners, business owners and stakeholders in the coming months to evaluate and develop options, and will return to the Subcommittee early next year with specific recommendations to address the parking issue.
The Downtown, Aviation and Redevelopment Subcommittee will meet again on Wednesday, December 4, to review the changes to the proposal and make a recommendation to the whole council to proceed with negotiations with RHA on the development of the proposal. The meeting is open to the public.
If You Go
What: Phoenix City Council Meeting of Downtown, Aviation and Development Subcommittee
Where: Phoenix City Hall, 1st Floor Atrium, Assembly Rooms A, B, & C, 200 West Washington Street
When: Wednesday, December 4, 9:30 a.m.