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From Streetscaping To Historic Redevelopment, Phoenix Looks To Revive Van Buren Street

Published: Tuesday, August 23, 2016 - 4:57pm
Updated: Tuesday, August 23, 2016 - 6:42pm
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(Photo by Lauren Gilger- KJZZ)
Sherry Rampy with the Historic Preservation Commission and Christine Mackay, economic development director for the City of Phoenix stand in the former Leifgreen Seed Company building on 4th Avenue and Van Buren Street in Phoenix.
(Photo by Lauren Gilger- KJZZ)
The Welnick Arcade Marketplace and the Leifgreen Seed Company buildings were built in 1927 and are being restored now to look like they did when they were originally constructed.

Downtown Phoenix has seen a resurgence in recent years, except one, vital part of it, according to Sherry Rampy with the Historic Preservation Commission for the City of Phoenix.

“Van Buren, actually, really is a lagging part of downtown,” she said. Rampy is a local real estate broker and is working as a consultant to help redevelop the historic Welnick Arcade Marketplace and Leifgreen Seed Company on 4th Avenue and Van Buren Street in Phoenix.

She said that developing this part of Van Buren Street will connect development that’s already taken place around it.

“You have the revitalization to the east, you’ve had some Grand revitalization, and you’ve had Roosevelt revitalized from the north, but this has kind of been a lagging area,” she said. “So, for this to become again a really, a destination that serves the entire community, really speaks of the heart of Phoenix.”

The Welnick Bros. Market was built in 1927, alongside the Leifgreen building, as a high-end grocery store. But, both buildings have been boarded up and they’ve sat empty for years, along with much of the neighborhood, according to Christine Mackay, economic development director for the City of Phoenix.

“This was all the original town site for the City of Phoenix,” she said. “So, the downtown area was where all the vibrancy happened, it’s where all the activity happened, it’s where people lived, it’s where businesses were and people shopped.”

Over time, in the 1970’s, 80’s and into the 90’s, the land became valuable and developers bought it to build high rises on it, she said. But, many of those high rises, especially in the western sections of downtown Phoenix, were never built. Developers left empty lots and vacant buildings.

“And so, over the 80’s and 90’s, this whole area just fell into … it just stalled,” she said.

But, McKay said, we’ve really seen that change in the last year, as downtown Phoenix has developed to the east of downtown Phoenix and on Grand Avenue.

“Downtown has moved from being just linear, which it had been for so long, kind of running right along Central,” she said.

Now, high density residential development is spurring growth to the west of Central Avenue.

The city is working with Gateway Community College to create a makerspace in the Stauffer Building at 6th Avenue and Van Buren. City officials have also helped two historic churches in the area get on the Historic Property Register.

There’s a proposal from the owner of the Crescent Ballroom to create a new performance venue at a property on 4th Avenue, and mattress start-up Tuft & Needle is renovating the O.S. Stapley Company Buildings at Grand Avenue and Van Buren Street.

Most of this development is being funded by public-private partnerships, according to Mackay.

Many of these historic buildings received preservation bond funds from the city so they could be rehabilitated.

The new Tuft & Needle buildings received $300,000 for four buildings in preservation bond funds, the First Baptist Church received more than $80,000 and the Welnick and Leifgreen buildings received $100,000 together, according to City of Phoenix officials.

The City is taking a broader view of Van Buren Street, as well.

The City is also working on the initial stages of a Van Buren Street Improvement project, which will focus on the eastern stretch of this roadway, from 7th Street to 40th Street, with the idea of connecting the airport to downtown Phoenix, according to Mackay.

“Van Buren is a central spine that connects the east portion of Phoenix to the west portion of Phoenix,” she said. “It’s very heavily traveled, it goes right through central Phoenix.”

The street improvement project involves changing the roadway from two lanes going in each direction to one, adding bike lanes and shaded sidewalks.

As a whole, with all of these changes, Mackay said Van Buren will look very different five years from now.

“Some of these historic buildings will no longer be vacant, you won’t see the boarded up fronts, you won’t see the bricked up fronts that happened over the 70’s and 80’s,” she said. “I think what we’ll really do is we’ll see Van Buren completely reactivate, helping the businesses that are here today and bringing new businesses into the market.”

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