Roosevelt Row Plans For Its Future

February 21, 2014

(Photo by Annika Cline-KJZZ)
A CDC banner asks for suggestions in improving the area.
(Photo by Annika Cline-KJZZ)
Short Leash's Sit..Stay restaurant
(Photo by Annika Cline-KJZZ)
Sit..Stay restaurant with the Short Leash food truck in the background.

Ten years ago, Greg Esser said Roosevelt Row was a blighted, unsafe area. Today, it is a hub for artists, small businesses and downtown residents, and in 10 years, he said, it could be much more.

Esser is vice president of The Roosevelt Row Community Development Corporation or CDC which released its vision for the arts district on Friday. Esser said this vision started with a simple call for ideas at the end of 2012.

"We posed the question to the community, if there’s one thing you could change to make this a better community, what would that be?" said Esser.

The question can still be seen along the Row, posted on signs directing people to fill out an online survey. They also sent out returnable postcards to residents. Esser said they got about 300 cards back and double the amount of survey responses.

This turned into a checklist, called Teddy’s List, named after the street’s namesake, Theodore Roosevelt. Teddy’s List has some checks on it, plant 100 shade trees, revise the master plan for Hance Park. But, there is a lot left to do. The goals are to make the area more walkable and fill it with mixed-use development.

"And that can be in the form of open public spaces, more pocket parks, performance venues," Esser said.

If you walk down Roosevelt Row near Third Avenue, you will pass Short Leash hot dog eatery, a restaurant that started out as a food truck. The downtown area was home to the food truck, and owner Brad Moore decided he wanted the permanent location to be here too.

"We’ve gotten to know all the people that live and work and play in the area, and so it’s kinda been our home since we started, and this is the area we wanted to be long term," said Moore.

Keep walking past Short Leash’s purple façade, and you will see some vacant lots and empty buildings in between the small businesses. Moore said it would help the current businesses if these spaces could find tenants.

"It creates a little difficultly because there’s lapses in activity, so the connectivity’s not always there," said Moore.

Accomplishing this and other goals requires a close relationship between the public and private spheres. The city of Phoenix Office of Planning and Development said the city is already working closely with the neighborhood. City officials said big events like "First Friday" need their help to move heavy traffic and keep the hundreds of pedestrians safe.

Sustainability advocate Leslie Lindo spearheaded the steering committee for the community survey. She said the city seems eager to listen to community input, but this only goes so far.

"I would say at the end of the day it’s about what is from their perspective more economically feasible for the area. So it’s a little bit more difficult for us with the larger development projects," said Lindo.

For example, many community members such as Esser spoke out against the proposed development of a new Circle K on Seventh and Roosevelt Streets, but so far the project is still moving ahead. Still, Lindo hopes the new plan will help them accomplish long-term goals with the city.

"The most important business that we need is a grocery store. That’s really what’s gonna make it a neighborhood and keep people from having to have a car," said Esser.

As more people move in to the area, the CDC hopes to keep real estate affordable. One strategy is giving the owners of art spaces a tax incentive. It would work like the current property tax freeze for historic buildings that allows people to live in and care for historic homes without the worry of increasing taxes. Another idea exempts original art works from sales tax.

If you visit or live around the downtown area, you can still take their survey online, or you can view the CDC's visioning project.