By The Arizona Republic
Glendale just took a step toward revitalizing its historic downtown district.
The City Council approved a $331,000, three-year contract with the Glendale Chamber of Commerce for a downtown manager starting July 1. The manager will attract new businesses and act as a liaison between downtown business owners and the city's economic developers.
The city's quaint downtown is home to numerous local restaurants and shops along brick-lined sidewalks on Glendale Avenue, but it's been in search of an identity to pull it all together and attract more visitors.
City officials have discussed different revitalization efforts before — such as creating an entertainment district to attract microbreweries last September. Robert Heidt the chamber's president and CEO, supported the idea at the time.
But the chamber has its work cut out for them if business owners have anything to say.FacebookTwitterGoogle+LinkedInA look at some downtown Glendale businesses Fullscreen[Cuff, a New American bar in downtown Glendale, also]Cuff, a New American bar in downtown Glendale, also acts as a venue for stand-up comedy Perry Vandell/The Republic.
Fill in the gaps
Sonny and Jan Strunk, who have owned and operated Evening Shade Antiques for 28 years, said Glendale doesn’t care about its downtown. Sonny Strunk points to several vacant buildings on 58th Avenue south of Glendale Avenue that the city bought nearly a decade ago.
“They buy them up and then they just sit,” he said. “And they don’t make the town look very good.”
Andrea Shobe, owner of the '50s-style Hop Stop Diner, also said the city needs to fill the empty buildings it owns.
“Why are they empty? They need to put something in there. I don’t care what it is — they need to put something in there," Shobe said.
But she recognizes that revitalizing the area isn’t that simple. One building used to house a dry cleaner and would require an expensive chemical cleanup before the property could attract prospective businesses, she said. If Glendale doesn't think the cleanup is worth the cost, the city could at least add an attractive facade, she said.
“If you can’t put something in there, make it look like it’s cute,” Shobe said.
Vision for mom-and-pop shops
Whether or not the city fills the vacant properties, Shobe said a downtown manager is integral to the area’s revitalization because most businesses lack the resources to promote their interests.
“It’s going to take somebody who has the time to work on the big picture,” she said. “A lot of us are small mom-and-pop stores here, so we don’t have the time or we don’t have the affordability of hiring extra help.”
Shobe said she hopes the manager will research how other cities improved their downtown areas and discover what types of businesses Glendale’s downtown is missing.
Business owners agree change is needed, but differ on what the final product should be.
The Strunks recall when people would flock to downtown Glendale for its antique stores before the 2008 recession struck. They acknowledge they can't do anything about a fading interest in antiques but hope the city doesn't try to become something it isn’t.
“It used to be a thriving downtown,” Jan Strunk said. “We had over 40 stores, and now they want to make it a Scottsdale.”
Ken Brown, co-owner of Drawn to Comics, said he’s concerned Glendale will try to transform downtown into another Westgate. The Bcity should expand upon the area’s “quirkiness” to cultivate an experience that attracts families rather than party-goers, he said.
“If you make (downtown Glendale) into an entertainment district, it’ll just change the vibe down here completely,” Brown said. “And then once the next new hot spot comes, then downtown Glendale will be migrated, just like Westgate was migrated.”
Bring back the festivals
James Quintana, co-owner of tea and cookie shop Coyote Oatie, said he is OK with more bars and entertainment venues as long as they don't take over the area.
While plenty of business owners have new ideas for the city, most suggest bringing back what was lost — downtown festivals.
Glendale still hosts popular downtown festivals, such as the Glendale Chocolate Affaire and the Glitter & Glow Block Party, in the winter. But business owners complain about the loss of other events, such as the jazz festival, that attracted visitors during the quieter summer months.
Chris Chang, co-general manager at Cuff restaurant, said the city needs to have a more consistent special events schedule — such as downtown Phoenix’s First Fridays — instead of hosting most events during the winter.
“The summer is where we struggle,” Chang said. “And a lot of businesses ... either close for the summer or they ... accept that they’re in the red for the summer, and I think those are things that maybe the city could focus on more.”
Brown said part of the work has to come from the downtown businesses, many of which close their doors at sunset.
“The hard thing down here is, we’re 110 degrees from May to August or September,” Brown said. “And so this park here is awesome, but it’s hard to get people to come out during the day. So if it is a nighttime type of thing, it’s like, ‘What can you do to convince the rest of the businesses to be open for nighttime things?' ”
Quintana echoed the desire for more festivals, which encourage local businesses to cross-promote each other, but also wants the city to better advertise the events it already holds.
The city should simplify the process for businesses to host downtown festivals, Shobe said.
“When we put on festivals down here, there are so many (city) departments that you have to go through just to get one little festival done,” she said.
Several business owners also complain about homeless people wandering through the downtown area.
The police department and courthouse are downtown, bringing homeless people to the area, Chang said. When they leave either building, they have to walk through downtown Glendale to reach the nearest bus station.
Shobe said she wants the city to help its homeless, though she didn't know how it could do so.
She also worries that the light-rail station expected to open in 2026 near downtown Glendale will shuttle in more homeless people than paying customers.