Is the closing of Jobot Coffee in December the canary in the coal mine for the Roosevelt Row Arts District? While this closing was mostly a result of a dispute about rent, I see this as a regrettable result of costs going up for the long-time businesses and artists in our arts district downtown.
This is an area that was recognized in recent years as one of America’s best arts districts. But recently, the changes have been so drastic that people are questioning the future of arts in downtown.
As you drive south on 3rd St from McDowell, you no longer see the mish-mash of small structures and lots that used to be home to the arts. Now, you are met with a veritable canyon of apartments, which serve as a sterile gateway to downtown. They lack the affordable store-front space necessary for artists to thrive. They are over-built (there has been a 6 to 1 ratio of apartments to owner-occupied condos developed in Phoenix over the last two years), and they are too expensive.
We’ve also seen these developments squeezing local favorites. Art Haus is gone. The building that replaced it, with the help of APS almost unilaterally vetoed in-progress modifications by monOrchid to install a roof-top bar by moving electricity cables (unannounced) from one side of the dividing alleyway to the other. The wires would be a hazard to anybody seeking to enjoy a roof-top space because they are now within arm’s length reach of the rooftop space. So those plans were scraped and that money was lost.
It further hurt the community that, in a fit to undermine an arts district improvement plan that they saw as too personally expensive, a few businesses and their lobbyists at the Arizona Legislature torpedoed the plan while also making similar community improvement plans around the state virtually impossible.
So, this and other developments beg the question: can an arts district survive its own popularity? We know that three major groups drove the development of downtown over the last 20 years, making it a viable spot for ASU and others to expand. Those groups were the LGBT community, the arts community and historic preservationists.
Is it destined that any area that becomes popular like this will ultimately move out the people who made it popular? If so, where will they go? This thought has brought some of my friends to tears, who have worked for years to make downtown great. What of their vision, of the blood, sweat and personal treasure that they poured in to this area? Does it now belong to out-of-state apartment investors?
Or, is it possible as some of my friends maintain, that the city can support local artists and their business models?
Watch for public conversations about this in 2017. I don’t know yet where they will come from or who will lead them. But, I promise to report on them when they evolve. Could the canary in the coal mine spur positive changes?
We need to find a response to this trend as a community, or face losing that which makes us unique.