What kind of developer are you? When you encounter that dilapidated old wooden hovel on an otherwise empty lot, do you think "MacDonalds!!" or do the wheels inside your head begin to spin with all the ways you could retrofit it into a popular night spot, replete with hot fusion cuisine and perhaps a deejay on the weekends, serving up the latest in "chill out" mood music along with the finest local microbrews? Does that burned out shooting gallery of an abandoned hotel or apartment make your heart flutter with dreams of a glorious student housing/gallery combo, ready to take advantage of the soon to be completed downtown annex of the local university? All using only the latest in "green" building techniques?
That's probably what's on your mind if you're developing here in Phoenix. Rennovation is the key to the current building cycle. What with all the doings downtown, all that beat up space south of the freeway is pretty much up for grabs these days. Or it was; you might actually be too late to get in on the ground floor. Happily, there still appears to be plenty of banked vacant lots just waiting for the right deal to come along to pry them loose from their owners. They say that development is running so rampant that Phoenix is experiencing a city-wide crane shortage.
Here at Bostworld, we've seen too many of these building cycles of come and go. It's hard for us to get too excited about them. They say it's all about attracting entertainment dollars to the downtown area. But it seems most of the money spent downtown is by enthusiast developers, who come in, knock a bunch of stuff down, put up a bunch of crappier stuff, and move on until they find another city to pick on. All this stuff about "putting feet on sidewalks" is just part of the shell game. Even the so-called "renovations" appeal to me less than what was there before. So whenever I get the chance, I like to head downtown with my camera to capture what's left, before it's all gone.
I'm not the only person on the web obsessed with Phoenix's vanishing urban terrain. Some of my favorite sites on the web include John Arthur's Sierra Estralla site, and it's magnificent history of Van Buren Avenue, Mitch Glaser's loving tribute to Smitty's Big Town, the 4-H's Club's photo archive, and the site that stands above all others in my mind, Ron Heberlee's Vintage Phoenix Photos site. Ron's pages devoted to the old Art Deco Fox Theater take my breath away. Ron's poignant description of that building's demise pretty much says it all:
The Fox theater was probably the most important building in Phoenix left in 1975 so naturally the city wanted to tear it down, for a city shoe box shaped bus terminal that lasted only a few years. There was an auction for the contents of the Fox Theater, The whole thing only brought $8,500! A chandelier that cost $8000 during the Depression brought $250 in 1975.