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Art is Roosevelt Row's identity. But a restaurant boom is reshaping the neighborhood

On a sunny afternoon in January, Carla Logan chatted with customers lingering after lunch at her downtown Phoenix restaurant Carly's Bistro. Laughter floated through the space decorated with canvases and framed work from local artists. Behind the bar, a large painting annotated with the words "Food, Spirits, Art" aptly described both the restaurant and the Roosevelt Row arts district it sits within. 

Little did Logan or her customers know that in just a few short months, socializing over a beer on a warm afternoon would feel like a distant memory as the coronavirus pandemic shuttered restaurants and bars around the country.  

Before the pandemic, Roosevelt Row was growing fast as restaurants and bars sprouted on what seemed like every corner.

But it hadn't always been that way. 

When Logan and her husband, John, opened Carly's in 2005, it was one of the only restaurants in the city blocks that make up the Roosevelt Row area.

"We saw a need," Logan says. "Almost everything else were galleries."

The couple had been a part of the local arts community prior to opening their restaurant in the heart of the art district. Before opening Carly's, John Logan lived and played music at Thought Crime, an artists' collective located near Central Avenue and Roosevelt Streets run by an artist who goes by Michael 23.

It served as a dual purpose space for artists to live and work from 1995 to 2005, along with another gallery and collective 23 ran called the Firehouse, which was open from 2001 to 2016.

A longtime Phoenix resident, 23 remembers a time when the district was largely residential, filled with artists and house parties with art shows in the backyard. Eventually, however, both of his galleries were forced to close when the buildings that housed them were sold, he says. 

"We put 20 years into downtown Phoenix and most of our efforts have been bulldozed," he says.

The closure of 23's artists' collectives is just one example of how much Roosevelt Row has changed in the past 15 years. At least five galleries have closed within the last five years alone.

But the loss of art spaces doesn't mean Roosevelt Row is shrinking. Thanks to events such as the First Friday art walk, the visibility of the area has only grown in recent years with high-rise apartments, restaurants and bars opening from Seventh Street to Seventh Avenue.

Many developers and restaurateurs were drawn to Roosevelt Row by the opportunity to capitalize on the area's reputation as Phoenix's trendy and independent art district. But the shift is leaving some longtime residents less than optimistic about the future of the arts along Roosevelt Row. As more restaurants open, more art spaces close.

Some worry efforts to preserve the area's reputation may not be enough.

Mark Stapp, the Fred E. Taylor Professor in Real Estate at the W. P. Carey School of Business at ASU, has lived in Phoenix since 1978 and has studied the real estate development of downtown extensively. He describes the designation of Roosevelt Row as an arts district as its brand.

"The problem with branding Roosevelt Row as an arts center is that if you can't keep that promise, the brand becomes hollow," Stapp says. "It becomes an entertainment district with an arts veneer on it to keep the image."

Left: A dust storm hits in 1971 in this photo looking south over the Roosevelt Row area. Top right: Third and Roosevelt Street as seen in 1967. Bottom right: The view looking north from Washington Street and Central Avenue in 1988. Left: A dust storm hits in 1971 in this photo looking south over the Roosevelt Row area. Top right: Third and Roosevelt Street as seen in 1967. Bottom right: The view looking north from Washington Street and Central Avenue in 1988. Left: A dust storm hits in 1971 in this photo looking south over the Roosevelt Row area. Top right: Third and Roosevelt Street as seen in 1967. Bottom right: The view looking north from Washington Street and Central Avenue in 1988. The Republic

The recent boom of restaurant and bar openings throughout the Roosevelt Row Arts District isn't the first time the area has gone through an transformation. The area has been evolving — from a residential neighborhood to an entertainment destination — since the start of the 20th century.

The Roosevelt Row Community Development Corporation, a nonprofit organization that works to promote the arts and culture of the district, defines Roosevelt Row as the area between Seventh Avenue to the west and 16th Street to the east. Interstate-10 marks the northern barrier and Fillmore Street is the southern boundary. 

In the early 1900s, the area was largely residential. Then shops began opening along Roosevelt Street to serve the surrounding areas, including the Roosevelt, Evans Churchill and Garfield neighborhoods. In 1925, one of the area's fist shopping destinations, the Gold Spot Marketing Center, was built on Roosevelt Street just east of Third Avenue. The historical building now houses Lola Coffee and a Pita Jungle restaurant.

Roosevelt Row CDC Communications Director Nicole Underwood says a crucial period for the area came in the early 1970s. 

According to a book Underwood coauthored about the evolution of Roosevelt Row, Mayor Margaret T. Hance recognized downtown was in need of revitalization in 1972. As part of a push to spur growth in downtown, rezoning lured developers to build along Roosevelt Row between Central Avenue and Seventh Street.

These new projects led the area to shift from single-story, single-family residential homes and mixed-use buildings to high rise developments up to 25 stories, Underwood says.

Due to the rezoning, land prices within the district rose but many development projects fell through after an economic downturn in the early 1980s.

Roosevelt Row became increasingly full of empty lots and locals weary of developers.

Jenn Schaub, of Tempe, fire dances near Roosevelt Street in Phoenix during the First Friday Art Walk in June 2005.Deirdre Hamill/The Republic

The vacuum, however, allowed for Roosevelt Row's next life as an arts district. In the mid-1990s, cheap rent and ample empty buildings drew artists to the area, Underwood says, noting that a handful of those locals and artists were able to purchase affordable property in the area. 

In 1999, Cindy Dach and her husband Greg Esser bought a building Dach describes as "totally beat up and derelict" at Roosevelt and Fifth streets. After renovating the building, they opened two art-focused businesses inside. In 2000, they opened Eye Lounge, an art gallery and collective, and they opened MADE Art Boutique to sell gifts and art made by locals a few years later. 

"Except for Modified, we were surrounded by vacant lots as early as five years ago," Dach says.

A Valley Metro light-rail train is pictured on Aug. 14, 2019, in Phoenix.Rob Schumacher/The Republic

In 1999 Local First Arizona founder Kimber Lanning opened Modified Arts inside a building on Roosevelt Street, just over 100 feet from MADE. The art space is one of a few independent galleries that remains open along Roosevelt Row.

Artists who lived in the area began to look for a way to share their work directly with potential buyers. A group of local artists worked with Artlink, a nonprofit organization that promotes the arts community, to start First Fridays in the early 1990s — helping to introduce the area to more metro Phoenix residents.

Into the early 2000s, Roosevelt Row saw more density as growth pushed farther from the downtown core.

Then in 2006, Arizona State University's downtown campus opened and in 2008 Valley Metro Rail helped bring even more people downtown and to Roosevelt Row.

These additions pushed development in the area "in a sharper trajectory," ASU professor Stapp says.

That same year, the Phoenix City Council designated an area encompassing Roosevelt Row and the downtown portion of Grand Avenue as an Arts, Culture and Small Business Overlay District. The designation "provides greater flexibility and relief from ordinance standards to encourage adaptive reuse," according to the city of Phoenix's website. It also opened some of the area's historic buildings to be developed. 

The opportunities for development, however, made the area attractive to people outside the arts community as well. 

"With First Fridays, a lot of vacant land and public policy that supported it, all of those things make investors say, 'Huh, that's where I want to put my money,'" Stapp says.

Guests enjoy cocktails on the rooftop of the Cambria Hotel in Phoenix on Jan. 30, 2020.Thomas Hawthorne/The Republic

One of the aspects that drew developers to Roosevelt Row was its sense of place, Stapp says. It wasn't a place developers needed to convince people to visit; it already had an identity. 

As Roosevelt Row's popularity increased, luxury apartment developments opened including the Linear Apartments on the southwest corner of Roosevelt and Third streets and the Roosevelt Row Apartment Homes diagonally across the intersection.

Restaurants to serve the area followed.

But these new developments are squeezing out space for artists, Stapp says.

Kimber Lanning, Local First Arizona founder

Any downtown is strengthened by the arts community. But I don't think the arts community would come back to an area like Roosevelt Row. It's gone and it's not coming back.

"Unfortunately, those things that made it a place to begin with get displaced," he says. "Galleries, restaurants and coffee houses have a finite amount of revenue they can create."

Once the potential value of the land to be redeveloped surpasses the monetary value of the existing businesses, those businesses are pushed out, Stapp explains. 

At Modified Arts, Lanning continues to hold on to her gallery but says the community of artists that once surrounded her is no longer there.

"Any downtown is strengthened by the arts community," she says. "But I don't think the arts community would come back to an area like Roosevelt Row. It's gone and it's not coming back."

In 2016 local artist Pete Petrisko called out the area's evolution with a street art installation of posters that read "Welcome to Roosevelt Row, Luxury Living & Good Eats District." He hung the simple white, black and red posters around Roosevelt Row to draw attention to the "arts district" title he thought had become unfitting.

Petrisko says Roosevelt Row has become an entertainment district where most visitors are drawn by the array of new restaurants. Art has become the "signature entertainment."

"Largely the visual arts have become part of the background scenery, best exemplified by the artwashing of all the walls and many of the buildings in Roosevelt Row with murals," Petrisko wrote to The Arizona Republic in an email.

People enjoy street dance and art work during First Friday Art on Oct. 5, 2018, on Roosevelt Street in downtown Phoenix,Nick Oza/The Republic

Some of the Roosevelt Row locations of galleries and collectives that have closed or moved include Thought Crime , 1Spot Gallery, J.B. Snyder's The Allery, Five15Arts, Perihelion Arts, and greenHAUS Gallery and Boutique.

Despite the closures, art is still visible throughout the district. Large murals cover buildings that house stores, restaurants and bars including Carrie Marill's black and white Bicycle Mural, which adorns the side of Arizona Wilderness Brewing Company on Roosevelt and Second streets. Tato Caraveo's vibrant, cartoon-like artwork wraps The Theodore beer bar and bottle shop, and Lauren Lee's interactive wings on the west side of the MonOrchid building almost always feature someone posing for a photo.

"The visual arts aren't gone," Petrisko wrote. "They just have a smaller supporting role in the gentrified entertainment district that Roosevelt Row is becoming."

And the entertainment district label isn't just an observation. In 2015 the city designated an approximately 1-square-mile area from roughly McDowell Road to the north and Hadley Street to the south between Seventh Avenue and Seventh Street as an entertainment district. 

The designation lifts restrictions on selling alcohol in locations close to churches, which helped jazz club The Nash operate kitty-corner from the Roosevelt Community Church. 

The Westward Ho building is seen behind a mural in downtown Phoenix on Feb. 21, 2020.Sean Logan/The Republic

Before the pandemic, Roosevelt Row was at a critical moment in the area's drastic transition from arts district to dining and entertainment center. 

New York native Phil Johnson opened Trapp Haus BBQ on the south side of Roosevelt Street between Fifth and Sixth streets in March 2018, during an initial wave of new restaurant openings in the area. Over the two years he's been open, Johnson's noticed an uptick in foot traffic. 

"When I first opened, tumbleweeds were flying down Roosevelt after 7 o'clock," Johnson says.

Phil Johnson poses outside Trapp Haus, his barbecue restaurant on Roosevelt Street in downtown Phoenix. The restaurant serves TK THK. Phil Johnson poses outside Trapp Haus, his barbecue restaurant on Roosevelt Street in downtown Phoenix. The restaurant serves TK THK. Phil Johnson poses outside Trapp Haus, his barbecue restaurant on Roosevelt Street in downtown Phoenix. The restaurant serves TK THK. Thomas Hawthorne/The Republic, courtesy of Phil Johnson and Dominic Armato/The Republic.

He wasn't the only business owner drawn to the area during the growth spurt.

At least three new restaurants and four new bars were expected to open within a square mile of Roosevelt Row in 2020. While some of those projects were put on hold due to the pandemic, other new projects are starting to come to life. Josephine, a French-inspired global restaurant, and Coup de Grace, a cocktail bar next door, opened for business in January on Portland Street, one block north of Roosevelt Street.

Last year, The Theodore beer bar and bottle shop, Arizona Wilderness Brewing Company, Italian restaurant and music venue Dvina Modern Fare and fast casual Mexican restaurant Taco Boys opened. They joined The Churchill, Taco Chelo and Trapp Haus BBQ, all of which opened in 2018. 

Since the beginning of the pandemic, at least seven new restaurants, bars and breweries have announced plans to open soon.

Despite the growing competition, Johnson says he's not worried. 

Before opening his barbecue restaurant, he worked in construction and was project manager on the Portland on the Park Condos and the FOUND:RE Hotel, both within the Roosevelt Row district. 

"I was here two years prior just observing all of the future projects coming in," he says. "Being a New York guy, I wanted to be downtown. I know how busy it's going to get and I know what busy people need."

The Monorchid in Phoenix on Jan. 30, 2020.Thomas Hawthorne/The Republic

But as developers continue to buy up property in the area, independent business operators who own the buildings that house their cafes and shops on Roosevelt Row are becoming increasingly rare.

Desert Viking, an Arizona-based development company, has been instrumental in reshaping the area. The company owned and renovated the historic Gold Spot Marketing Center in the early 2000s and now owns the building that houses Trapp Haus and Taco Chelo, as well as another behind it.

Desert Viking has big plans for its property on Roosevelt and Fifth streets. In 2014, the company bought two blocks of land in order to restore three bungalows and build a new three story building. All of the buildings are planned to be mixed-use developments, including bars, restaurants and retail space.

Roosevelt Row as seen from the rooftop of the Cambria Hotel in Phoenix on Jan. 30, 2020.Thomas Hawthorne/The Republic

Tap That Downtown, a self-pour craft beer and wine bar, is scheduled to open this fall in the bungalow next to the new build. As of October, the newly constructed building next door sits vacant.

Phoenix-based real estate and development company True North Studio is another key player in driving dining and entertainment growth on Roosevelt Row. The company owns large swaths of the Roosevelt Row arts district.

When it moved into the area, True North Studio based its operations out of MonOrchid, an iconic white brick building in the heart of Roosevelt Row. 

The company bought the building in February 2019 from artist Wayne Rainey, who had owned it since the late 1990s. True North moved its headquarters upstairs above MonOrchid's gallery space, a coffeehouse, restaurant and two full-sized studios. True North then bought the coffee shop and restaurant, Be Coffee and The Dressing Room, in August 2019 when the former owners moved their business to the warehouse district south of downtown. 

While headquartered at MonOrchid, True North Studio completed its build out of the Ten-0-One building on the corner of Roosevelt Street and Central Avenue. The company's offices recently moved into the newly renovated space. 

Between the company's business partnerships and land holdings, True North Studio's reach in the Roosevelt Row area continues to expand.

Public records from the Arizona Corporation Commission show True North Studio and companies tied to True North Studio Founder and Principal Developer Jonathon Vento own more than 20 properties between Central Avenue and Seventh Street and Moreland and Fillmore streets.

Artwork hangs in the lobby of the Cambria Hotel in Phoenix on Jan. 30, 2020.Thomas Hawthorne/The Republic

The company leases space to a handful of those properties to new and established businesses including The Nash, The Theodore and the new CAMBRiA Hotel, plus soon-to-open destinations including Punch Bowl Social and Luckys.

It owns restaurants Josephine; Poppy; and From The Rooftop, a pool bar at the CAMBRiA.

True North also plans to redevelop the historic Knipe House property, expanding it into a mixed-use village including a four-story office building, among other projects. 

But despite the magnitude of True North's influence, the company views itself as having a positive impact on local arts, Dorina Bustamante, director of community development at True North Studio told The Republic.

Bustamante says each of its projects will incorporate art and that the company is dedicated to helping foster the arts community throughout the district.

"It's not our goal to make the arts district anything other than what it is," Bustamante said just prior to the pandemic. "It's thriving."

As restaurants were allowed to reopen in May, visitors and staff at The Churchill in downtown Phoenix stayed socially distanced and wore masks. As restaurants were allowed to reopen in May, visitors and staff at The Churchill in downtown Phoenix stayed socially distanced and wore masks. As restaurants were allowed to reopen in May, visitors and staff at The Churchill in downtown Phoenix stayed socially distanced and wore masks. Eli Imaldi/The Republic

If developers were putting Roosevelt Row on the fast track to becoming metro Phoenix's hottest dining destination in early 2020, the future of the area is now much less certain. 

In the first few months of the year, new restaurants and bars were opening at a fast clip with more developments in the works.

Then the coronavirus pandemic upended things. Students at ASU's downtown campus departed. Restaurants switched to takeout and bars shut down. Concerts, conventions and ball games were canceled. First Friday went virtual.

As the effects from the pandemic continue through the summer and into fall, Stapp says the long-term impact on Roosevelt Row is up in the air. 

"Either we get through the pandemic and everyone says, 'OK, we're going back to life as it was before,'" Stapp says. Or, that won't happen at all.

He predicts the latter is more realistic.

Stapp predicts the virus will necessitate the creation of new business models, ones that incorporate health and wellness practices. Those models may not include previously planned developments.

"You can't have the same capacity so you can't earn as much revenue, which means tenants can't afford to pay rent. So the value of the space goes down and investors pull out," he says. 

It's also unclear how soon people will return to work or attend large events downtown. 

Cars drive passed Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. on Roosevelt Street in Phoenix on Jan. 30, 2020.Thomas Hawthorne/The Republic

"All in all, there may be a reduction in demand for downtown and investors underwriting projects may say, Let's take a pause,'" he says. 

It's impossible to predict the scope of the impact at this point in the pandemic, Stapp says. But he expects it will take about two years for downtown to return to the momentum it had in early 2020. 

The strength of the underlying economy going into the pandemic and the amount of projects that were in the works, however, give Stapp hope that downtown Phoenix will continue to grow and be desirable to inlvestors.

Entrepreneur Megan Greenwood built and opened her new brewery, Greenwood Brewing, in July on Roosevelt Row. The opening was "sink or swim" for her fledgling business, she told The Republic days before welcoming her first customers. 

She hopes Roosevelt Row will regain the momentum it had when she decided to place her brewery in its center. But how quickly the community returns, and what direction it will take once the pandemic subsides, remains unknown. 

"We are a growing city, but I also understand the hardships that everybody's been going through," Greenwood says. "In theory, yes, you want this to bounce back but in reality, people are enduring the hardest times they've ever seen."

Greenwood Brewing opened on July 18, 2020, in downtown Phoenix. Greenwood Brewing opened on July 18, 2020, in downtown Phoenix. Greenwood Brewing opened on July 18, 2020, in downtown Phoenix. David Wallace/The Republic

Even as some projects are on hold and some existing businesses remain temporarily closed, the push for saving the arts in the Roosevelt Row community remains strong. 

Nicole Underwood, Roosevelt Row Community Development Corporation communications director

Looking at Roosevelt Row and other arts districts, the only constant is change. So this is going to be a completely new landscape for us and we have to look at it as an opportunity.

Nicole Underwood finds hope in the fact that the creation of arts districts, and art itself, is often inspired by "tribulation, uncertainty and dramatic moments of change," she says. 

"Looking at Roosevelt Row and other arts districts, the only constant is change," she says. "So this is going to be a completely new landscape for us and we have to look at it as an opportunity."

As the economy and community rebuild after the initial downturn caused by the pandemic and after protests over racial inequality and police brutality swept the country, Underwood says art is one way she hopes people will reunite.

"Art becomes an avenue to reconnect with yourself first and then with others," she says. "The Black Lives Matter movement is a battle cry to hear voices that aren't heard and art it is yet another way to share your voice."

Throughout the pandemic, new murals have popped up throughout the arts district, some of which were inspired by the social movement.

Prioritizing space for new murals is part of advocating for local artists to be an "anchor not an afterthought," Underwood says. 

"I really would love to see Roosevelt Row evolve into a true place of diversity, diversity of talent, people and businesses," Underwood says, "not to be prioritized to the people with the deepest pocketbooks."

Prior to the pandemic, Cindy Dach, co-owner of Eye Lounge and MADE, remained hopeful about the recent wave of development.

"We already had developers come, build, sell and leave and that weakens our community," Dach says. "But if developers prioritize working with local chefs, that's a win for the community. I hope people at the table who are part of those discussions care enough about the community to prioritize it."

Carly's Bistro owner Carla Logan echoes her, and says it's important to pressure developers and business owners in the area to offer wall space to local artists and hire local musicians.

But even if the arts may be salvageable in the district, the people who make it are long gone, she says. 

"Certainly the artist population has been pushed out," Logan says. "But if we are going to be an arts district, we need to support the arts."

Reach the reporter at tirion.morris@arizonarepublic.com. Follow her on Twitter at @tirionmorris, on Facebook at Tirion Rose and on Instagram at tirionrose

Carla Logan stands in her restaurant Carly's in downtown Phoenix on January 30, 2020.Thomas Hawthorne/The Republic

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