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Reactivating the Warehouse District in downtown Phoenix

rail depot building
September 29, 2014

Last spring, 16 graduate students from ASU's School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning set out to create a reactivation plan for the City of Phoenix's historic, but endangered, Warehouse District. 

Eager to participate, Eva Olivas, CEO of the Phoenix Revitalization Corporation, also issued a warning: “We’ve been studied to death. Enough.” Another, Tim Sprague, principal of HabitatMetro and developer of Oasis on Grand, said his philosophy was to “capitalize on something already there."

And the key advice came from Lauren Allsopp, faculty associate and the students' instructor for the course: “retain and enhance social equity; create real strategies; and find funding sources to make them implementable.”

Embracing these thoughts, the graduate students set out to revitalize the district just south of downtown Phoenix – with boundaries that run from Jackson Street south to Grant Street, and east to west from 7th Street to 7th Avenue.

Building on local efforts

Decades have seen buildings in the Warehouse District demolished, as well as resident cultures and communities dispersed in favor of sports venues and their infrequently used parking lots. There are over 30 historic buildings remaining in the district, and over the years, the buildings have served as meat packing plants, ice factories, brick factories and laundries, among other uses.

David Calverley, owner of Bentley Projects on the southern edge of the district, approached Arizona State University last fall for help. He says he craved positive change and real action to take place in the district, and therefore spent the entire spring semester supporting the students and their success by introducing key players, local businesses and residents.

“His services and passion for lasting, positive change – including the loan of Bentley Projects for class presentations – were invaluable,” said Allsopp.


“It takes a village,” said Rod Ambrose, program developer with UPI Education, at a community meeting Allsopp organized in February in order for the students to get to know the stakeholders – which included those in Central City South, immediately south of the Warehouse District.

That "village" was expanded to include an advisory board (created by Allsopp), made up of Phoenix leaders such as Don Keuth, president of Phoenix Community Alliance; Harry Garewal, CEO of Trin and Associates; guest lecturers such as David Adame, chief operating officer of Chicanos Por La Causa, Inc., and Larry Ortega, senior vice president of Colliers International; and critical city employees such as Michelle Pierson with the Community and Economic Development department.

“I wanted to give the students every opportunity to meet the various players involved in the future of the Warehouse District so their Warehous District Reactivation Plan would be the last ‘study,’ and a very implementable document,” said Allsopp. “The purpose of the plan is to move beyond analysis and discrete academic studies to provide practical, implementable ideas for the district’s future growth and sustainable development.”

The students addressed some of the long-standing economic, environmental, aesthetic and developmental challenges of breathing new life into the area.

Strategies included converting discontinued rail cars into cafés, turning Lincoln Street into a "complete street" to appeal to pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities, and establishing a culinary institute as a work/learn feature that would help address the district's status as a food desert.

“The students’ initiatives are designed to strengthen the local micro-economy, improve the visual appeal of the area, and create the conditions where greater social equity can be realized while improving the visible stewardship over the physical environment that exists today,” said Allsopp.

Next steps

Since the class ended last May, work has continued and positive momentum has been building. Business owners, led by Steve Rosenstein, owner of The Duce, have created a network among themselves while working closely with the mayor of Phoenix to establish a sense of place.

Brad Jannenga, president of WebPT, has created a virtual connection for the community using Flowdock. Then, shortly after the fall semester began, Allsopp met with Shade Shutters, a postdoctoral research associate with ASU’s Program for Social Dynamics and Complexity, and Philip Allsopp, a senior sustainability scientist at ASU, to discuss next steps.

Soon after, on Sept. 10, Jonathan Koppell, dean of ASU's College of Public Programs, and key colleagues within the Office of the Dean, met with all three of them.

“This is an important project for Phoenix," Koppell said. "Next step is to move toward implementation. To go beyond pictures and visioning – critical though they are at the beginning – we need to draw on the full capacity of the university. In the case of the Warehouse District, we should involve several of ASU’s programs, including arts, law, design, public policy, business, GIOS and health sciences.”

Allsopp agreed: “The amount of local, community and ASU support has been amazing. The report wouldn’t have been a success without the many, many people who graciously gave their time toward an important area of Phoenix. I hope my students and I remain heavily involved as the momentum continues and the plan potentially becomes a strong, public program for ASU.”

For more information, contact Lauren Allsopp,