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Roosevelt Row CDC is a 501(c) 3 non-profit community development corporation established to further the unique cultural character and creative assets of the Roosevelt Row Arts District, to advocate for the continuing presence and role of the arts, particularly individual artists, and small business in the revitalization of the district, and to foster a dense, diverse, walkable and sustainable urban community.

ArtPlace spoke with Roosevelt Row interim director Cindy Dach about the politics of place and building social capital.

ARTPLACE: Have you gained any political traction with your efforts? If so, with whom and how did you do it?

DACH: Political traction is developed over time. It entails honesty, fostering trust and consistently delivering on promises and expectations. Social capital is developed through consistency and predictability. It is an on-going process of establishing and maintaining relationships and remaining true to a consistent vision or mission. We have to work with diverse stakeholders and not everyone agrees on all points all the time, so managing and working with different viewpoints and priorities is also critically important.

To start with some brief background, a decade ago, when this area was threatened with demolition to build a football stadium, we were on the opposite side of the table from our elected officials and city staff. This would have been the third consecutive time that an emerging arts area in Phoenix was displaced for a professional sports stadium. One of the unplanned outcomes of the first two displacements was that artists started purchasing properties rather than renting as a strategy to stabilize their longer-term presence. They moved into derelict, blighted crime-ridden areas because space was cheap and buildings were affordable. Two of these areas were Grand Avenue and Roosevelt Street. This created an unplanned concentration of artist ownership which I believe was a critical factor in the future success of both of these districts. Artists, together with the broader community, came together to oppose the stadium. They also learned to be political advocates. The biomedical campus that emerged in the area has been a tremendous success for downtown and for Roosevelt Row, adding science, medicine and research to the cultural mix of the area.

Fast forward ten years. Roosevelt Row and Grand Avenue both now enjoy very strong support from the Mayor, City Council and city staff. The presence of these arts districts is one of downtown’s important success stories. Last month, according to a traffic engineering count commissioned by the Phoenix Police Department, Roosevelt Row attracted a record attendance of over 49,000 visitors during the monthly First Friday artwalk.

ARTPLACE: What are some of the ways that you see that political support today?

DACH: One of the distinguishing hallmarks of Phoenix that sets it apart from other communities nationally is that we have a very accessible city government, both on the professional staff side and on the elected official side.

Under the current administration, the arts community is now at the table and an on-going part of the conversation, perhaps more than some of the old guard is comfortable with. Mayor Greg Stanton made the arts an important part of his campaign and he continues to deliver on his commitment to the arts and his leadership on behalf of the arts and cultural communities.

Roosevelt Row was recently invited by the Mayor to present our ArtPlace award and related activities to a televised City Council Policy session. At the same time, we had the opportunity to share the news about ArtPlace on Vice Mayor Michael Johnson’s “On the Issues” television broadcast.

We have also taken a somewhat unusual step in inviting the Mayor and several Council members that represent the Roosevelt Row area to serve on the steering committee for our visioning process. They are at the table with artists and neighborhood leaders to help shape, guide and review our process for community engagement and to help the community develop goals and priorities for the area. The role and participation of each member of the steering committee is a significant demonstration of support.

ARTPLACE: Are there specific ways that building political support helps you accomplish your goals for Roosevelt Row?

DACH: Community building is concurrently about fostering the big, bold vision for the future and picking up the garbage from the street each and every day as well as investing in the people committed to this place today. We benefit tremendously from an elected city leadership and professional city staff that understand the important role that artists and the cultural community play in shaping the quality of life in downtown Phoenix. They are committed partners in continuing to cultivate the arts and culture here and are part of the success of Roosevelt Row. One of the policy success stories of that partnership is the Arts, Culture and Small Business Overlay that was passed in 2008 and expanded in 2010. The overlay allows more flexibility to support arts uses in existing buildings within the district and encourages adaptive reuse.

Roosevelt Row differs from many other areas where artists contribute to revitalization. With the high percentage of artist-ownership, artists are not immediately displaced for higher-paying tenants and they have a greater stake in how the area evolves. Where we face a challenge now, across the spectrum of artists and small, locally owned businesses, is sky-rocketing property taxes. As land and property values have increased, property taxes have doubled year after year. When values plummeted in the crash, taxes remained constant or even increased. There are policy models we can look at to provide relief. Historic districts in Phoenix offer a property tax freeze as an incentive for sweat equity restoration. Kansas has similarly passed legislation to protect artists against tax increases that might otherwise displace the very engine that drove the revitalization and value increase in the first place. Building policy solutions requires support at the city, county, state, and at times, federal levels, depending on the challenge at hand. We strive to work with our partners to develop the best solutions for the benefit of the community.

The impact of our efforts was reflected recently in a comment at the groundbreaking for the new $52 million in-fill housing project, Roosevelt Point, in the heart of the arts district. A spokesperson for EdR, the financial partner for the project said, “Coming from Memphis, we understand the importance of the arts in creating the kind of place where people want to live. We’re excited to be part of Roosevelt Row and downtown Phoenix.”

PHOTO: RO2, a formerly vacant lot, serves as a community gathering point for the annual Roosevelt Row Pie Social on November 3. Roosevelt Point, a new 325-unit in-fill housing project by Concord Eastridge, rises across the street.

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