Can Phoenix’s Sunnyslope Community Become A Tourist Destination?

By Christina Estes
Published: Wednesday, October 31, 2018 - 5:05am
Updated: Wednesday, October 31, 2018 - 11:29pm

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Dozens of new restaurants have opened in Phoenix this year. But there is one place attracting some extra attention — not just for its food, but its location.

Little Miss BBQ sign
Christina Estes/KJZZ
Locally-owned Little Miss BBQ will open its second location on 7th Street, south of Dunlap Avenue in Phoenix.

Preparing To Open

Scott Holmes is a man on the move.

“Want to do a tour real quick?” he asked.

Four years after Holmes and his wife, Bekke, opened Little Miss BBQ near 44th Street and University Drive in Phoenix — where customers often wait in line for hours — they’re preparing to fire up the smokers at a second location.

“This is really, really a cool spot,” Holmes said. “It’s got the waffle concrete ceiling to it.”

Scott and Bekke Holmes Little Miss BBQ working
Christina Estes/KJZZ
Scott and Bekke Holmes prepare to open their second location for Little Miss BBQ.

Built in the 1960s, it originally housed a bank. Then a shoe store. Then a check-cashing business. It sat vacant for a few years before the Holmes bought it. Reactions generally fall into two categories.

“We get the, ‘Oh my gosh, Sunnyslope. Isn’t that a terrible area?’” said Bekke Holmes

“Other people get super excited because they live or work right around this area,” said Scott Holmes.

Workers hoist a cheery yellow and turquoise sign that fronts 7th Street, south of Dunlap Avenue. Little Miss BBQ, which came in second in Yelp’s 2018 national ranking of top 100 places to eat, will soon open in central Sunnyslope.

What Is Sunnyslope?

But the area is much bigger — stretching from roughly 19th Avenue to 16th Street and from Northern Avenue to Cactus Road.

“People have conceptions about Sunnyslope that are wrong,” said Councilwoman Deb Stark, whose district includes Sunnyslope.

“It really is, to me, a nice part of the city because it does have a mix of income and mix of people,” she said. “It has diversity.”

The diversity is evident in a retail center parking lot at Central and Dunlap avenues. There are brand new SUVs, 10-year-old cars and a couple pushing a shopping cart filled with personal belongings.

An analysis of census tracts shows median household incomes in Sunnyslope range from $25,000 to $88,000 a year. Homes are valued at less than $50,000 to more than a million.

“I just love the fact that we see it all,” says Caroline Lobo.

She and her husband live and work in Sunnyslope. Their home sits at the base of North Mountain, where they regularly hike. His business sits along Hatcher Road, where Lobo says there’s much to be done. She’s president of the newly formed Hatcher Urban Businesses, a group called "The Hub."

“We’ve got over 200 businesses out there,” she said.

Lobo thinks Hatcher Road from 19th Avenue to Cave Creek Road can become a hub for businesses, arts and culture. But first they need to address social services.

“These services are needed,” she said. “But there’s a way in which it can be integrated within the fabric of our neighborhood and have a positive spin to it.”

Sunnyslope’s Past and Future

Sunnyslope first attracted sick people about 100 years ago. Many set up tents and hoped the dry, clean air would improve their health. John C. Lincoln, whose wife was diagnosed with tuberculosis, donated money that led to a medical center named after him. Today, Sunnyslope still has the hospital — along with a food bank, a dining hall and homeless shelters.

“If there was a way for us to design some spaces where transients could be on the side, whether it’s some seating areas which are away from the purview of people driving up and down the street, they still feel that there’s a place for them to relax before they make their next move,” she said. “So, looking at ways in which it’s not so harsh of an environment, that you either come and just go, but there’s a place for them to feel that mental relief before they head to their next destination.”

As an architect, Lobo thinks small pocket parks and shaded areas can help. Much of the groundwork has been laid. The city, working with businesses and residents, formed a special zoning district to attract creative uses and encourage flexible designs. That was just before the Great Recession.

Now, Lobo hopes a strong economy and new community group will spark more action. They have Councilwoman Stark in their corner — specifically, the five point intersection at Dunlap Avenue, 7th Street and Cave Creek Road.

“You know I don’t know whether it’s artwork or landscaping or whether we try to create more of a pedestrian node,” she said. “There’s so many cars that go by that every day, there’s got to be a statement that says, ‘You’re in Sunnyslope.’”

Just south of the intersection, back at Little Miss BBQ, Bekke Holmes hopes the talk is a taste of what’s to come.

“We can’t wait to be, hopefully, the neighborhood joint, but also a destination for tourists and out-of-towners,” she said. “And we want to see Sunnyslope thrive and revitalize and become what we know it can be.”

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