devil makeup designsp>The Grand Avenue Festival, the annual culture, arts and music showcase happening Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. could mark the beginning of a new era for the district. Five years ago, the first festival was celebrated in what seemed like a promising time for the businesses of the area.
In 2008, Grand Avenue was taking steps toward a renaissance. Robert Graham, the principal architect of Motley Design Group, said he remembers the enormous momentum Grand Avenue had when the preservation design company moved to the area in 2010.
"You could feel that something was getting ready to happen on Grand Avenue," said Liam Murtagh, who worked at Jobot Coffee and Dining and now owns Bragg’s Factory Diner.
Then, the recession hit and took its toll.
Businesses began closing down all along Grand Avenue, unable to keep afloat in a failing economy, Graham and Murtagh said. The excitement and promise of Grand Avenue dissipated, and it wasn’t long until the newly-adapted hotels and auto-shops-turned-galleries on the avenue emptied out and went up for sale again.
Beatrice Moore said she purchased many of the properties that lost tenants due to the recession. Moore is a local artist, head of the Grand Avenue Merchants’ Association and a major proponent of Grand Avenue’s success.
Moore, who also runs Kooky Krafts Shop, chose other local artists to fill the empty storefronts. In the aftermath of a financial downturn, a new economic ecosystem began to develop.
"The makeup of Grand now is really more conducive to affordability, and most of the artists we know need affordable housing," Moore said. "Affordable housing is not a dirty word. Grand does have a pretty strong art component, but just like everywhere, if it gets expensive, artists can’t stay there."
Murtagh said Moore’s status as an artist allowed her to populate Grand’s empty buildings with fellow artists. The properties on Grand Avenue were the plots that were affordable at that time.
Bragg’s Factory Diner opened its doors this spring attached to Bragg’s Pie Factory’s main building. The space also houses a gallery and other boutique-style businesses that are quickly becoming characteristic of Grand. Murtagh lauds the area as a place for “cool, eccentric businesses” and said it is highly “artist-driven.”
Yet business owners and community members don’t say Grand Avenue is a full-on arts district quite yet. Both Moore and Graham said the area is “unbalanced” in terms of the businesses open and the accessibility of the shops. Former auto parts stores and newly-opened art galleries sit side-by-side.
While it is easy to walk from one Grand Avenue store to another, Graham said reaching Grand Avenue isn’t as easy as getting to other parts of Phoenix. He said those who want Grand Avenue to become a prosperous and local-centric area have to encourage businesses, organizations and communities to house themselves there.
"If we want this kind of neighborhood, small-scale and people-oriented," Graham said, "it has to be us expounding that vision and beating the drum for it, saying ‘If this is the kind of thing you’re interested in, we want you.’"
Graham also said it is not just businesses that populate the only major diagonal street in Phoenix - there is a residential component as well. It needs to be easier for pedestrians to access Grand Avenue businesses safely in order for them to profit, he said.
Moore shares this holistic view of Grand Avenue - one that focuses on both customers and freedom for businesses. For years, Moore described, profitable businesses were rare on Grand because of fast highway traffic and the lack of on-street parking.
"About the time the freeway came, the on-street parking disappeared," she said. "It was overnight."
Grand Avenue’s status as part of U.S. 60 meant traffic often moved too fast for cars to slow down and pull into the adjacent parking lots, and a lack of crosswalks made businesses virtually non-accessible for pedestrians, Moore said.
But that is starting to change. New Complete Streets initiatives are placing crosswalks, bike lanes and the long-missed on-street parking. The bike lanes and parking are expected to be completed by the fifth annual Grand Avenue Festival on Oct. 19, Graham said.
Along with his work with Motley Design, Graham heads the Grand Avenue Rail Project. Graham said he sees a streetcar system as a method of making not just Grand, but all of downtown as accessible as possible. He said he hopes to eventually make the area even more pedestrian-accessible, linking the Metro Light Rail and Grand Avenue with the streetcar lines.
"Our cities, in the last fifty years, have been designed primarily for cars," he said. "(Public space) is not just for cars. It’s for people and storm water and landscape and transit, so let’s try to attain a better balance of those."
Ruben Gonzales, who moved his apparel store and artists’ workshop 11th Monk3y Industries from the Roosevelt Row area to Grand Avenue in September, said making the Grand Avenue area both visually appealing and pedestrian-accessible should be a top priority.
Gonzales said bike racks that double as art would be a welcome addition to the area.
"The plain loop ones are fine. They work," Gonzales said. "But when you have artists who are willing to make visually-appealing racks, why not take that route? When an area is visually stunning, (its businesses) take off on their own."
As a new addition to the Grand Avenue area, Gonzales said he appreciates the audience his art and products are reaching. He said those who visit 11th Monk3y at its new location are “more of a buyers’ group” than the smaller groups he saw on Roosevelt Row.
"First Fridays is a bit chaotic, mostly kids rushing and not really looking," Gonzales said. "Here, not one of (the customers) seemed like they had to run in, take a look and rush out. Around 80 percent bought something."
The move also made Gonzales feel as though he will be able to leave a legacy on Grand Avenue. The number of high-rise buildings on and around Roosevelt Row, including Roosevelt Point and the ASU buildings, concerned Gonzales.
"Here, everything is at a certain level," Gonzales said. "We don’t have to worry about our space being demolished in order to put up a big building.
"Grand Avenue seems like it would have awesome stories if it could talk," he said. "I want to be one of those stories ten or twenty years down the road."
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