You can do a lot in downtown Phoenix now, from going bowling to grabbing a cocktail at a speakeasy.
The city’s core has award-winning eateries, clothing boutiques, major sports teams, campuses for the state’s two biggest universities and a train to take you to the airport.
But while you can fill a prescription in downtown Phoenix, you still can’t fill a grocery list. That’s why when construction started on a Fry’s Food Store for the core of the nation’s sixth biggest city last week, it was a big deal.
If you are reading this from another big city, don’t laugh. It was no easy feat to bring a grocery to downtown Phoenix.
Build it, if they come
It took decades of work to land the development that will also bring 330 apartments and 200,000-square-feet of office space to Phoenix’s core.
It took tireless advocates like the former director of the Downtown Phoenix Partnership Margaret Mullen and Downtown Phoenix Inc. CEO David Krietor.
It took Arizona State University bringing its nursing, journalism and law schools downtown.
But most of all it took people moving to downtown Phoenix.
In 2014, census data showed 5,913 people living in downtown Phoenix. Projections then called for 12,000 to call the area home by the end of 2017.
Ghost town to hot spot
We must remember Phoenix is a young city that only really started to grow in the 1950s. So it didn’t have a huge downtown when the national exodus from city centers to the suburbs began in the 1980s.
When I started covering Valley real estate in the mid-1990s, downtown Phoenix streets looked deserted after 6 p.m. on weekdays.
In 1996, when I wrote about a new McDonald’s going up in an empty historic tower in downtown Phoenix, it was big news and not because the building was shown in the opening scenes of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic movie “Psycho”.
It was news because the fast-food chain had never had an eatery in downtown Phoenix until then. There hadn’t been enough people working or living in the area for a McDonald’s to make money.
About that time, downtown Phoenix was ranked as one of the cheapest big U.S. cities to park in. That was because there were so many empty lots, where people could park for free.
In 1998, the Arizona Diamondbacks moved into their new downtown stadium, and the area’s comeback began. Since then, new office high-rises, college campuses, restaurants, shops and most recently, homes have filled up those empty lots and transformed central Phoenix
Downtown not scary anymore
Mike Ebert of RED Development, which is building the grocery-anchored shopping center, told Arizona Republic reporter Brenna Goth that investing in downtown Phoenix “feels safe, smart and wise.”
He should know.
RED Development built CityScape, the first big mixed-use complex to go up in downtown in almost two decades. That project started in 2007 at the end of the boom and opened in the midst of the crash in 2010.
When I met with him a few years ago, the 1.2 million-square-foot CityScape’s retail space was completely leased by restaurants and retailers including the Breakfast Club and Urban Outfitters. CityScape’s boutique hotel the Kimpton Palomar was drawing lots of guests. And the office tower was 97 percent full.
And he was talking about how downtown Phoenix still needed a grocery. The new Fry’s development is going up next to CityScape, on a big lot that has long been a parking lot.
Thank you to the dreamers, believers, developers and new residents, who have turned downtown Phoenix into a place to live, work, play and, soon, shop for groceries.