Development Boom Aims To Transform Downtown Phoenix Into An Urban Mecca

Downtown Phoenix is in the midst of a historic revitalization effort that is reshaping the skyline and generating a buzz about the area as an increasingly attractive place to live, work and play.

Through strategic growth, the once-sleepy downtown is going from dull to dynamic, waking up to a development boom.

Downtown Boom

Sara Scoville-Weaver, business development manager for the Downtown Phoenix Partnership, said 115 restaurants and bars have opened in Phoenix since 2008. “As businesses started creating really cool bars and restaurants, people started coming into downtown to visit those places, and then they also wanted to start living near them,” she said.

“We’ve seen a huge growth in restaurants over the last 10 years, more than doubling to well over 200 restaurants and bars,” said Dan Klocke, executive director of the Downtown Phoenix Partnership, adding that along with the housing units coming up “we’ve created a neighborhood again that sort of had disappeared for a few decades as Phoenix spread out and sprawled. And now we’re seeing between these incoming businesses that the huge growth in education, the influx of live music and restaurants as well as residential buildings has really recreated a downtown neighborhood and changed it pretty dramatically over the last five years.”

Fry’s Food Stores opened the doors of its 67,000-square-foot supermarket to waiting crowds on October 23, ending the food desert here. The grocery store, which has long been sought after by residents and city leaders, is part of the Block 23 development, a 230,000-square-foot multi-use development, and within walking distance of CityScape, which is the central hub of downtown Phoenix, Talking Stick Resort Arena, Chase Field baseball park and several downtown apartments and neighborhoods.

Arizona State University

Rick Naimark, senior vice president and university planner at Arizona State University, said that since the launch of the downtown Phoenix campus, ASU’s student body here has increased to about 12,000 students. The city’s light rail system has been instrumental in connecting students at ASU’s campus in Tempe with the downtown campus. “Some of the growth has been in programs we brought initially, and some of the growth has been in programs we’ve continued to bring to the downtown Phoenix campus,” said Naimark. “Generally, when we’ve located something on the downtown campus, it grows on the campus.”

Phoenix is making every effort to keep pace with the housing needs of the downtown area, according to Mackay. “Downtown Phoenix has not been lacking in affordable housing,” she said. “We call it affordable and workforce housing.” The city is striving to ensure the downtown market does not become too costly in a market where the average salary is $64,000.

Sustainable Development

Phoenix has a long-term vision to be a zero-waste and carbon-neutral city with all new buildings being carbon neutral in energy and materials by 2050. “In the near term, the city has developed a very innovative walkable urban code that improves walkability in all high-growth infill areas by requiring 75% shade around the new developments,” said Mark Hartman, the city’s chief sustainability officer. “The Planning and Development Department also provides open-source building plans and pre-approved construction drawings for a sustainable home where building permit fees are waived if you build it in Phoenix.”

The department offers an optional green construction building code. Hartman said, “The city has also made a shift within downtown to emphasize a more balanced transportation system with the current and expanding light rail line, adoption of the bicycle master plan and a form-based zoning code to emphasize street-front designs that encourage walking.”


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