Sprawl capital Phoenix, Arizona discovers downtown revitalization via adaptive reuse

Old buildings have a story to tell, even in Phoenix, Arizona, long (and still) a poster child of ugly, out-of-control suburban sprawl.

The story of Federal Pizza on Central Avenue, a restaurant that opened five years ago in a 1950s building, began with a surprise. When the restaurant’s construction team started to dig up the floor of what was the First Federal Savings and Loan to add plumbing for the bar, they ran into a problem.

There was an inch-thick plate of steel on the floor that they had put in there on the perimeter of where the vault was originally, because they didn’t want someone to tunnel up and underneath the building and get into their vault,” said Lauren Bailey, co-founder of Upward Projects, the restaurant group that owns Federal Pizza.

The new design retained the steel floor. Each opportunity to place a modern twist on a historic building brings unexpected results, both good and bad. That’s part of the excitement, she said.

Bailey and her business partner, Craig DeMarco, are among several Valley developers focusing adaptive reuse: a practice well-established throughout the world, but relatively unknown here in the Phoenix area. But that’s changing fast, as the city begins to discover modern, more-enlightened planning approaches.

Examples include the $80 million renovation of the Hotel Valley Ho in Scottsdale; Culinary Dropout at the Yard, which reused an old industrial brick building in Phoenix; a 1946 schoolhouse that’s now home to a wine bar and a restaurant.

Most recently, the repurposing (into a concert venue and restaurant) of the Phoenix Motor Company building in downtown Phoenix is underway.

It’s this really neat space, a real treasure,” redeveloper Charlie Levy says of the old auto dealership. “The inside is really great. There’s a beautiful bow truss ceiling and it has great brick walls. I think downtown’s growing tremendously and [there’s a need] to have a music venue for a band that might be a little too big to play Crescent or Valley Bar” (which he also owns).

Photo of Phoenix Motor Company building, circa 1939, courtesy of the McCulloch Bros./ASU Libraries Digital Repository.

See Cronkite News article by Graham Bosch.

See Phoenix New Times article by Benjamin Leatherman.

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