Over the past two years, amidst all the new buildings popping up, Downtown Phoenix has quietly become a leader in promoting adaptive reuse. Adaptive reuse is the process of tailoring old structures for purposes other than those initially intended. As old buildings outlive their original purposes, adaptive reuse offers a process to modify these buildings for new uses while retaining their historic features. As a result, an old warehouse may become an apartment building, or a rundown church may find new life as a restaurant.
By taking buildings that are either historical, dated or in older, established areas of the city and ensuring their presence long into the future, adaptive reuse is one of the ultimate expressions of sustainability. Not only does this take advantage of materials that are already there (which is environmental and economical), but it also respects a city’s history and plays an important role in community revitalization. Adaptive reuse also demonstrates that old buildings make great places for new ideas. As the famous urbanist Jane Jacobs said, “Old ideas can use new buildings, but new ideas need old buildings.”
The city’s Adaptive Reuse Program began as a pilot program in April 2008 to streamline the process of modifying older buildings for new business uses. In addition to adopting the International Existing Building Code, the city offers guidance, expedited time frames and reduced costs to individuals and companies looking to “recycle” older buildings for new business uses. Program participants can save between two weeks to three months time and $2,000 to $40,000 during the development process. In September 2009, the program won a “Crescordia” in the “Livable Communities” category at Valley Forward’s Environmental Excellence Awards. The Crescordia, named for a Greek term meaning “to grow in harmony,” is the highest honor awarded in each category.
This issue is important to the city, because as Mark Leonard, Director of the Phoenix Development Services Department explains, “Adaptive reuse preserves our history, helps small business owners be successful, creates unique restaurant and business settings for all of us to experience and it’s environmentally friendly.” Mayor Gordon concurs, noting in a 2008 speech, “Historic buildings are a critical part of what makes the Phoenix skyline truly our own, truly unique.”
One example of adaptive reuse that will be familiar to many DPJ readers is modifying a historic, single-family residence for use as a restaurant or business. Some notable participants in the program include Tuck Shop (2245 N. 12th St. in Coronado), The Lost Leaf (914 N. 5th St. in Evans Churchill), The Paisley Violin (1030 NW Grand Ave.) and Hula’s Modern Tiki (4700 N. Central Ave. in Uptown). In total, the program has supported 30 total adaptive reuse projects in the past 18 months, although a few of them did not proceed past plan review due to the economy.
Earlier this month, based on the recommendations of a Development Services Ad Hoc Task Force, council unanimously approved expanding the Adaptive Reuse Program. During its deliberations, the task force looked at the existing program’s experience to date, as well as best practices from other cities, and came up with what may be the most comprehensive adaptive reuse plan in the country.
The expanded plan now includes buildings constructed prior to the year 2000, increases the size limits from 5,000 square feet to 100,000 square feet and allows for occupancy change flexibility. This expansion of the program provided increased opportunities to rezone, reuse and revitalize vacant strip malls, big box centers and other blighted community areas and keep them out of the landfill.
Special thanks to Jim McPherson (Arizona Preservation Foundation), Kimber Lanning (Local First AZ) and Denee McKinley (City of Phoenix Office of Customer Advocacy) for their assistance in researching this article.
It’s a common refrain in the Valley that we have “no history.” This perceived lack of lineage has been used to justify the demolition of countless commercial and residential buildings, even entire neighborhoods. One area that has largely been spared from the wrath of the wrecking ball is Lower Grand Avenue, stretching from Van Buren Street to the I-10 freeway overpass.
Beneath its sometimes gritty façade, Grand Avenue has a long and storied past. Since the mid-1990s, this history has been dusted as many buildings are reverting from industrial uses back to the original small retail and offices that once lined this important connector to Wickenburg, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. An important factor in this renaissance has been the many innovative commercial adaptive use projects in the neighborhood. New owners have preserved parts of the existing vintage structures while making necessary concessions to the realities of modern life. The result is a varied collection of shops, galleries, cafés and living spaces scattered throughout the neighborhood.
Iconic urbanist Jane Jacobs famously said, “New ideas must use old building.” This adage is well exemplified along Lower Grand. The adaptive use of older commercial buildings has been an important factor in nurturing the small business community, particularly the arts. Many small, entrepreneurial businesses are attracted to the funky storefronts, affordable studio spaces and overall neighborhood character. Several of the gallery spaces have passed from artist to artist over the years, maintaining the affordability and fostering a new generation of creative minds.
On September 26, a handful of these adaptive reuse projects will be highlighted during the Grand Avenue Festival. During the morning, tours of six buildings are scheduled as part of the day’s many festivities. Tour stops include the following:
Tilt Gallery: This house, on the southeast corner of 10th Avenue and Fillmore Street in the Oakland-University Park neighborhood, was built in 1905. It was built of cast concrete blocks, fabricated from molds to resemble quarry stones. It was converted to an art studio and photography gallery in 2005. The current tenants Michelle and Melanie Craven contributed substantial sweat equity towards renovating the building, including stripping and refurbishing the hardwood floors, installing slate flooring in the rear of the gallery and planting desert-friendly plants in the previously all-dirt yard. Today, Tilt Gallery is a contemporary fine art gallery specializing in historical to alternative photographic processes and mixed media projects. The gallery features local, national and international works by emerging and established artist.
Jordre Studio: This small commercial building, at 1007 W. Grand Avenue, was originally built as a corner grocery in 1928. A year later, it was operating as both J.B. Johns Grocery and R.L. Mercer Meats. Local artist Kyle Jordre purchased this newly renovated building in 2006, originally constructed of lathe and stucco with a corrugated tin roof, and now uses it as a studio to produce abstract work that includes rich, colorful fields of paint with vibrant, bold textures.
Paisley Violin and Paisley Town: This commercial building, one of the few along Grand Avenue with a partial basement, was purchased by Derrick and Gina Suarez in 2004, who relocated their successful Paisley Violin Café there from its former site at Roosevelt and 3rd streets. Standing since 1925, this brick building is the very definition of adaptive use, serving as a grocer, furniture store, tamale vendor, radio repair facility, amusement sales and finally a veterinarian before its current incarnation as a café.
In 2007 the couple relocated six small World War II cottages to the backyard of the premises. They have converted them to colorful small business venues that house a hair salon, ceramic artist, vintage boutique, yoga studio and contemporary clothing boutique, with a florist on the way.
Motley Design Group: This modest building was constructed in 1957 as a transmission repair shop and was later used as a warehouse and workshop. In 2008, it was rehabilitated as an architecture and engineering studio for Motley Design Group, best known for its work in historic preservation planning and design.
Rehbein Grocery: Located on the corner of McKinley Street and Grand Avenue, the Rehbein Grocery is an excellent example of an early 20th century strip commercial building. It is one of the best remaining two-story brick strip commercial buildings in Phoenix. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. Today, the space is home to Shop Devious and Lodge Art Studio.
Bragg’s Pie Factory: This historic 1947 cast-in-place concrete building at 1301 W. Grand Ave was originally built by Alan Bragg and his wife, Elaine, for their expanding family pie business (formerly on Van Buren Street close to the state capitol). The building reflects an international style of modern architecture popular at the time (with few remaining examples left in Phoenix). The main, 4,500-sq.-ft. room in the 15,000-sq.-ft. building is capped by a beautiful steel bow truss roof. It is now home to Sapna Café and several offices and studios, including Modern Cat, Barry Sparkman Studio and Studio 8.
Tickets are $10 per person and can be purchased by calling Beatrice Moore at (602) 391.4016 or by visiting the festival website at www.grandavenuefestivalaz.com. Tour times are 8 a.m., 9:30 a.m. and 11 am and leave from Tilt Gallery at 919 W. Fillmore St. Tickets will also be available on the day of the event at Sapna Café, 1301 W. Grand Avenue. Proceeds from ticket sales for the guided walking tours will go to the Grand Avenue Merchants’ Association.
Downtown Phoenix will be home to the city’s inaugural Jane’s Walk on Saturday, May 2, 2009. The free walking tour — part of an international annual event commemorating the birthday of renowned urban activist Jane Jacobs, who died in 2006 — will take place between 9:00 and 11:00 am. It will start, and end, at Portland Park on First Avenue and Portland Street (next to the Roosevelt and Central light rail station).
Jane’s Walk is a “street-level celebration” of Jacobs’ legacy and ideas, combining the simple act of walking with personal observations, urban history and local lore as a means of knitting people together into a strong and resourceful community through bottom-up approaches and neighborhood involvement.
Jacobs was an urbanist and activist whose writings championed a fresh, community-based approach to city building. She had no formal training as a planner, yet wrote what many consider to be the ‘bible’ of urban planning. Her 1961 treatise, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, introduced groundbreaking ideas about how cities function, evolve and fail — concepts that are now common sense to generations of architects, planners, politicians and activists. Jacobs championed the interests and knowledge of local residents and pedestrians over a centralized, car-centered approach to planning. She also promoted refurbishing old buildings instead of tearing them down and building new ones, and demonstrated the desirability of increasing the density of cities instead of sprawling endlessly outward.
Cities across Canada, the U.S. and India will also host Jane’s Walks the first weekend in May. This is the third consecutive year of Jane’s Walks in North America. So far, the walks have occurred in Toronto and New York in 2007, and in Ottawa, Calgary, Winnipeg, Vancouver and Salt Lake City in 2008. This year, the walks have spread to 41 cities, including two in India. Several cities are host to multiple walks. You don’t have to be familiar with Jacobs’ work to walk. The event is intended to be fun and participatory – everyone has a story and they’re usually keen to share it. Whether you’re a local activist, resident, business owner, politician, preservationist, or simply a citizen who loves your community, participating in Jane’s Walk Phoenix is a great way to celebrate the reemergence of downtown Phoenix as a vital urban hub, and to honor Jacobs’ legacy.
Jane’s Walk USA is managed by the Center for the Living City, a non-profit organization operating out of the University of Utah’s Department of City & Metropolitan Planning. The Center for the Living City is linked in spirit and purpose with its sister organization, The Centre for City Ecology in Toronto.