Camelback Light Rail Corridor Shares Leading Lights & Future Opportunities

Tour attendees observe and learn about 444 W Camelback. Photo by Ryan Winkle

Tour attendees observe and learn about 444 W Camelback. Photo by Ryan Winkle

This past Tuesday, developers, brokers, business owners, architects, and urbanists gathered to see a stretch of Phoenix on the massively-successful light rail, yes, but one perhaps not on the radar of many Phoenicians.

Local First Arizona's For(u)m program partnered with LISC Phoenix and the City of Phoenix to present a tour of the Camelback Light Rail Corridor in uptown Phoenix, between Central and 19th avenues along Camelback Road--highlighting its successes in revitalization and identity-building, and opportunities for future growth and development. Spotlights on the tour included nonprofits, education facilities, office and hospitality, market-rate and affordable housing, and temporary activations emphasizing present assets and providing opportunities to existing residents, while filling gaps in infrastructure and paving the way for a new wave of investment along this vital corridor in the Valley.

Opening the tour was newly-crowned Vice Mayor Laura Pastor, who represents the Corridor, speaking of her efforts with city staff to reduce crime in the area, and make way for new investment with buy-in from the surrounding neighborhood. This point was echoed by Lisa Huggins-Hubbard of the Neighborhood Services Department, stating that "This is an array of neighborhoods that supports good development," enumerating the Medlock Place, Simpson, Westwood, Colter Street, Pasadena, Grandview, and Pierson Place neighborhoods surrounding the light rail.

The floor then transferred to Lorenzo Perez of Venue Projects, on the grounds of whose latest project we began. Known for such landmark projects as The Newton and Windsor and Churn, Perez welcomed us to his latest projects, 400 and 444 W Camelback Rd, two marquee midcentury modern office complexes, next-door to the Newton, and once part of the "Architects' Row" of Camelback, one of which designed by the locally-famed Weaver & Drover.

Though plans are still in flux for the project, Perez mentioned the demand for small, creative office space for those who have outgrown coworking, and a boutique hotel, each underrepresented in the current market, and fitting a particular niche in central Phoenix.

Onsite at the IRC Aquaponics facility. Photo by Ryan Winkle

Onsite at the IRC Aquaponics facility. Photo by Ryan Winkle

Attendees then boarded a city bus to visit the International Rescue Committee Phoenix's Aquaponics facility. Welcoming the group was Community Garden Coordinator Tristan Dunton, though Dunton's vision for the site runs far deeper than just a garden.

Originally a vacant pad with two disused buildings, Dunton and his team have added an aquaponics greenhouse and mural, and have begun prepping the site to accommodate the growing, production, storage, distribution, and sales of locally-grown food. Through the IRC's New Roots program, refugees arriving in Phoenix are trained and empowered at the site to form a hyper-local food hub, and have already formed a partnership with nearby charter school, AmeriSchools, to maximize the educational opportunities at the site.

Dunton dialogued with AmeriSchools superintendent, Gary LeBlanc, about the two's long-term investment in the corridor: AmeriSchools adaptively-reused a former office building 20 years ago, and continues as an anchor, while the IRC has built its site adjacent to the twice-annual World Bazaar, an array of refugee-owned businesses, and the most linguistically-diverse neighborhood in the Valley, on the west side of 19th Avenue where 17 languages are spoken among 13,000 residents in under one square mile.

Attendees disembark at the new site of PHX Renews. Photo by Ryan Winkle

Attendees disembark at the new site of PHX Renews. Photo by Ryan Winkle

The tour moved next to another seemingly-vacant lot on Pierson Street, recently acquired by the developer VIVO Partners. While VIVO's plans for the site are several years away from fruition, it entered a dialogue for a community garden on the site with the nonprofit Keep Phoenix Beautiful--seeing the collaboration as a pilot for the future agricultural and food space the developer is considering as part of the site.

But with the abrupt closure of of PHX Renews on Central and Indian School, plans moved more quickly.

VIVO demolished two dilapidated structures on the site, measured, and found the lot to be nearly the exact size on which Keep Phoenix Beautiful was growing on Central Avenue, creating a perfect transition site for the nonprofit, explained VIVO representative Jose Pombo. 

Situated across from single-family homes, steps away from the high-trafficked and high-density 19th Avenue, and directly adjacent to a refugee-owned market and plaza, Keep Phoenix Beautiful is currently acting to rebuild its garden beds, move its solar house, and ready the site for cultivation once more, providing community space for the veterans, refugees, and neighborhood residents which occupied its Central Avenue site.

Also at the site, participants heard from Mary Papenhausen of Zia Records, an earlier arrival to the Camelback Light Rail Corridor. At a previous tour of the area, it was Zia who had its own property deal saved from oblivion--19th Avenue and Camelback now houses one of its highest-volume locations in the state inside and adapted former pharmacy, steps away from light rail.

Max Palacio welcomes guests to Urban 188. Photo by Ryan Winkle

Max Palacio welcomes guests to Urban 188. Photo by Ryan Winkle

For the tour's final formal stop, guests arrived at Urban 188, a unique multifamily rehab near 17th Avenue, on Camelback Road. Bought filled with mold and only 30% occupied, Max Palacio has turned his first Phoenix project into a marquee effort, his focus equally on sustainability and community.

Redeveloping a massive, single-meter property, Palacio personally worked with each resident as he retrofitted the entire facility for energy efficiency with recycled stoves, A/C monitoring, and recycled flooring and countertops, and rebuilt decks throughout the complex for community gatherings like the free, weekly yoga offered to all residents. With its vintage block construction and rising location, the project is able to target middle-income employees of nearby businesses and residents of the area, standing in stark contrast to the luxury projects rapidly taking up downtown Phoenix.

Similarly just blocks from the light rail, Urban 188 sits two doors down from another ambitious project for the area, the latest permanent supportive housing facility from the nonprofit Native American Connections and supported by LISC, providing much-needed stability for residents facing increased economic pressure that comes along with light rail development.

Guests mingle at the closing happy hour at the Newton. Photo by Ryan Winkle

Guests mingle at the closing happy hour at the Newton. Photo by Ryan Winkle

With that, the bus took the tour group back to perhaps the Camelback Light Rail Corridor's first major success, the Newton, the combination bookstore, office, garden shop, restaurant, event space, and coffee and wine bar. There, guests informally discussed a selection of opportunity sites in the area, viewed zoning maps of the area, and contemplated what comes next, with community and sense of place in mind.