How A Bus Tour Could Help Transform Phoenix Light Rail Line
Since the light rail extension opened along 19th Avenue in Phoenix two years ago residents and businesses have complained about people panhandling and trespassing.
But they’re also taking action — working with the city to create a master development plan for the area by this summer and hopping on a bus several weeks ago to show off community assets and opportunities with potential investors.
Starting With Success
The tour, organized by Local First Arizona, began with a success story at 19th Avenue and Camelback Road.
“This store always is performing as one of our top stores, one or two, number one or number two and that’s saying a lot,” said Mary Papenhausen with Zia Records.
Zia operates eight stores and moved to the northeast corner of 19th Avenue and Camelback Road in 2012.
"I think this area is poised to grow."
–Max Palacio, developer and investor
“We transformed what was a dilapidated abandoned kind of CVS situation that a corporate from not Arizona couldn’t understand,” Papenhausen said. “So, being a local business, an Arizona business, we said, this is amazing property, we’ve always been around, let’s take it.”
Max Palacio listened intently. To some, he might be considered an outsider. Palacio arrived in Phoenix two years ago with no preconceived ideas about light rail or 19th Avenue.
“I think this area is poised to grow,” he said.
The proof, he thinks, is in property his investment group bought, an older apartment complex in need of major improvements. After renovations, Palacio said the property at 16th Avenue and Camelback Road is attracting renters who once paid a lot more to live downtown.
“It takes some time to understand the neighborhood and understand the dynamics of it,” he said. “I took the time to do that. And the results have been really good.”
As the bus moved north, Pam Fitzgerald described her neighborhood around 23rd and Maryland avenues. Technically known as the Washington Park Neighborhood, residents call it a hidden gem.
“We’ve got a tennis center, a dog park, a swimming pool, a highly ranked high school and we’re right in the middle of the city,” she said. “And I still feel when I’m in my backyard I’m out in the country.”
Standing under a massive pine tree, Fitzgerald addressed a handful of potential developers. “We’re hoping to get some new investment and some exciting new life into this neighborhood.”
Next to her, Shannon McBride asked, “Particularly what would you want?”
With no hesitation Fitzgerald shouted, “A wine bar! We will support a wine bar.”
“There’s a whole bunch of us like this invested in the community,” McBride said.
McBride is executive director of 19NORTH, a collaboration of residents, businesses, schools, and nonprofits stretching from 15th to 23rd avenues, Montebello Avenue to the south and Dunlap Avenue to the north.
“What’s happening is astounding and beautiful and I feel like it’s just the beginning,” McBride said.
More people are moving in to one of the city’s most socioeconomically diverse areas. Investors are flipping 50-year old houses while developers are building lower–income apartments and selling new houses for $300,000 – $600,000.
“I’m proud to live here,” said Kerri Beaufeaux who also sells real estate in the area. Lately, she’s been keeping tabs on the northeast corner of 19th Avenue and Bethany Home Road, across from Christown Mall.
“Those of you who have been around for a while know the car wash and where the old Wineburger used to be,” she said. “That is under development.”
Details aren’t being publicly shared yet, but documents filed with the city show at least one restaurant with outdoor seating is being planned. And McBride said there’s a "really great restaurant" considering space in the 19NORTH plaza on the northeastern corner of 19th and Northern avenues.
Christine Mackay, Phoenix’s Economic Development Director, said 19NORTH will attract “some pretty significant” restaurants and retail.
“It’s taken some time as it kind of did in midtown,” she said. “We didn’t see midtown reinvent itself until the last 18 to 20 months.”
When the tour began Councilman Daniel Valenzuela, whose district covers a large chunk of the light rail extension, put it this way: “It’s a transitioning area, right? We’re not going to walk you through Disneyland today.”
That became most evident when the tour stopped at 19th and Dunlap avenues, at the public plaza where the light rail line ends. That’s where one man cursed and a few others scowled as they moved away from the light rail stop to a bus stop.
Security has been increased along the line and longtime resident Pam Fitzgerald says it’s helped her neighborhood.
“I love my house and I’m not going anywhere,” she said. “The people who shouldn’t be here are the ones that need to go.”
The tour ended at 19th and Northern avenues where Shannon McBride took investor Max Palacio inside the former Good Shepherd Home for Girls.
Built in 1942, it served as a girls’ home until 1981 and is listed on Phoenix’s Historic Property Register. McBride showed Palacio the blueprints.
“Oh wow, look at that,” he said while opening the pages. “You should frame these.”
“I know, aren’t they gorgeous?” McBride responded while pointing out arches and a balcony. “There’s just so much space.”
“Realistically thinking it could be a good opportunity if we could make things work with the current owner,” Palacio said.
He’s planning another visit to take a closer look and even though no one’s designing a wine bar yet, Fitzgerald is already celebrating.
“It excites me to see this area come back and be what it was when I first moved in,” she said.