The very, very, very slow rebirth of downtown Phoenix
If you're familiar with downtown Phoenix over the past forty years, you would be amazed at what has happened to it in the last decade. At the risk of sounding like the Chamber of Commerce, it's been reborn. There's much going on there nowadays, like ASU, the Light Rail, I could go on and on. And it's been a process of rebirth that has taken a LONG time.
As near as I can figure, downtown Phoenix started to slide into, uh, less-than-desirable status at about the same time that places like Uptown Plaza, Park Central, and Christown were built, that is the late 1950s and early '60s. I collect old photos of Phoenix and downtown was a happening place right up through that time. People shopped there, and the sidewalks were crowded. Traffic must have been terrible, and I suppose that not being able to find a parking spot drove people away from shopping downtown. If you look at photos of Uptown Plaza, the first thing you see is a GIGANTIC parking lot (nothing impressive by today's standards, but it must have been wonderful to see back then). And in my opinion, the name "Park Central" included the word "park" for a reason - if you've ever driven around looking for a parking spot (I used to live in California) and then worried about a parking meter expiring, you know how nice it is to have free and convenient parking. And, by the way, Christown was a completely enclosed air conditioned mall. That had to be a little slice of heaven to people in Phoenix in the 1960s.
I actually visited downtown Phoenix in 1978. I had moved from Minneapolis, where downtown was a place to go, and I was appalled. If you want to get a feel for how run-down downtown Phoenix was by the 1970s, just watch the 1977 movie "the Gauntlet". The director needed a background that was as terrible-looking and seedy as possible, and instead of building an expensive set in Hollywood, it was just shot in downtown Phoenix.
When I started working for Bank One in 1993 in what is now called Chase Tower, downtown Phoenix was still a pretty scary place. Yes, some new buildings had been built, but mostly downtown was empty at night. I left there at the end of the work day and drove back here to suburbia. I do remember seeing a building named "Renaissance" and I knew that there were people who hoped to bring downtown Phoenix back.
If you haven't been to downtown Phoenix in the last few years, be prepared to be impressed. Yeah, I know that I sound like one of those old-time "boosters" for a town. And I've always liked downtown Phoenix, even when I had to hang my head a bit about stuff. But now I couldn't be prouder.
Image at the top of this post: the Sheraton Grand Hotel in 2017, Van Buren and 3rd Street, Phoenix, Arizona
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Posted by Brad Hall