Boarded-up buildings and weed-filled vacant lots were the norm in metro Phoenix’s oldest historic neighborhood not too long ago.
Now, the 100-plus-year-old Roosevelt District in downtown Phoenix has evolved before our eyes into Roosevelt Row, one of the most popular neighborhoods in not only metro Phoenix but the U.S.
The bustling Central Avenue and Roosevelt Street hub of Roosevelt Row was recently voted the sixth most popular metro Phoenix intersection by Urban Land Institute Arizona. The area didn’t even make the list 10 years ago.
Roosevelt Row garnered one of the American Planning Association’s “Great Places” designations last year – Phoenix’s first and only one.
Hotspots Rentals just ranked Roosevelt Row as the 24th “coolest” neighborhood in the U.S. based on transit, walkability, entertainment and cost of living. It was the only Arizona neighborhood to make the ranking.
Last week, plans for one of the area’s historic buildings – the Knipe House – got City Council approval to be purchased and preserved as part of a $151 million project.
In October, construction started on the 30-story apartment tower Link Phx on the eastern end of Roosevelt Row. And one of the neighborhood’s new apartment complexes, Alta Fillmore, just sold for a record price for downtown Phoenix.
“We are flooded with requests for information and development proposals for Roosevelt Row,” said David Krietor, CEO of Downtown Phoenix Inc. “The biggest challenge is not squeezing out the area’s artistic vibe.”
Walking the art walk
While we Phoenix locals love “RoRo” for its bars and restaurants, most people know the area best for its First Friday art walk.
The tour now has dozens of venues and draws big crowds on Fridays. Many of Roosevelt’s vacant lots and rundown buildings have been filled up by galleries, restaurants and bars.
The neighborhood has evolved so much in the past decade because area business owners like monOrchid gallery owner Wayne Rainey and Carly’s Bistro owner Carly Wade Logan are fierce protectors of its art scene and historic buildings.
Developers are drawn to Roosevelt Row for both.
“We have a strong desire to save properties with significant history,” said Niels Kreipke of Desert Viking, which renovated the popular retail and eatery hub Gold Spot Center at 3rd Avenue and Roosevelt. “We want to ensure Roosevelt holds onto its vast history and local business ownership.”
Last week, the Phoenix City Council approved True North Holding’s $3.56 million purchase of the city-owned Knipe House and land around it.
The developer plans to incorporate the house on 2nd Street near Roosevelt Street into an office, retail and housing development. A 19-story tower and two smaller buildings are planned for the project, named Ro2.
The 1909 Knipe House is now one of the last remaining historic buildings in Roosevelt Row that hasn’t been redeveloped.
Seeing Roosevelt Row grow
Living and working adjacent to Roosevelt Row, it’s been easy to take its rebirth for granted because I see it daily.
Recently, Roosevelt Row lost a court fight to become a business-improvement district, paid for by a new property tax. The boundaries would have stretched roughly from Fillmore to Moreland streets and Seventh Street to Seventh Avenue.
Many supporters from the city and the neighborhood are disappointed.
But Roosevelt Row’s evolution is heartening, and continues despite the loss.
Recently on my way home from work, I noticed several restaurants with crowded patios and new apartments and condominiums with people on their balconies in Roosevelt Row.
A decade ago, I would have been staring at vacant lots and rundown buildings.