THE CHANGING FACE OF DOWNTOWN CHANDLER . . . . . Agrarian to urban, sleepy to abuzz, area morphs

San Tan Brewing Company is among a cluster of 43 thriving bars and restaurants in downtown Chandler, which also boasts 20 retail stores, 12 live-music venues and stages, five arts venues, four public parks and three lodging establishments, many of which opened in the past three years.  –Photo by Andrew Lwowski for wranglernews.com

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You don’t necessarily have to be over-served at one of the brew pubs or distilleries to feel a buzz in downtown Chandler these days.

Downtown Chandler has morphed into a hub of excitement and activity where abundant parking always is free. –An Pham photo

Over the past three years, the city’s historic downtown area just south of Chandler Boulevard along Arizona Avenue has come alive. The city’s buzzword for it is a “sense of place” that appeals to West Chandler residents, who might otherwise feel disconnected from downtown, as well as to the entire city and Southeast Valley region.

The changing face of downtown bears a carefully crafted new image. It is very much by design, and it didn’t happen overnight. It had to happen in order for it to remain competitive.

Overstreet, a mixed-use office/retail building that opened in 2018, features a movie theater, ice cream shop and restaurants. –An Pham photo

Tempe had Mill Avenue. Gilbert had its Historic District and Town Hall clusters, with shops and restaurants. Ahwatukee had a similar collection of attractions, heavy on dining and night life. Wild Horse Pass on the Gila River Reservation had built a destination entertainment center.

To match that, Chandler had . . . potential.

“It was a dusty little strip with a barbershop and a couple of bars and restaurants,” said Josh Yeager of Bright Brothers, a marketing firm hired by the Downtown Chandler Community Partnership to help punch up the image of downtown. “It was nothing like it is now.”

Hidden House, an adaptive reuse project completed in 2019, is an upscale dining experience created from a small former residence. It now features four distinct dining areas and large patio.  –Tim Sealy photo

Bright Brothers did an extensive consumer intercept survey for DCCP, using results to create 10 composite personas, or “highly idealized archetypes,” as Yeager fondly calls them, to help businesses identify and zero in on their target audience.

The result: After new investment and reinvestment that attracted businesses, residential options, shops, restaurants and bars to complement a robust events schedule, downtown Chandler is on the map.

Nineteen new bars and restaurants have opened downtown in the past three years, bringing the total to 43. There are 20 retail stores. There is 315,000 square feet of office space, including 262,000 square feet of new or rehabilitated office space in the past three years with another 100,000 square feet in the pipeline. There are 12 live-music venues and stages, five arts venues, four public parks, three lodging establishments, three wedding venues and 51,200 square feet of convention space. For residential, there are 1,571 units, 574 of them new in the past three years, with another 365 in the pipeline. There are five parking garages with 3,300 spaces and three Valley Metro bus routes.

Olympus Steelyard is bringing dream homes crafted with a hip, urban sensibility and industrial modern flair in luxury, one, two and three bedroom loft-style apartments with granite countertops, wood-style plank flooring, to downtown.  –Tim Sealy photo

One need only to visit the historic downtown square on a weekend — when there might be a farmers market or a jazz festival, or at night, when there is live music every day of the week – to feel it. New garages, where it doesn’t cost a penny to park, are full of cars as people are becoming aware of a revitalized, walkable urban district.

“We identified personalities in the marketplace that our businesses can attract, from the right buzzwords to use in social media to the right colors to use in marketing and on websites; where they work, what they eat, what their age is, what their lifestyle is,” said Mary Murphy Bessler, executive director and president of Downtown Chandler Community Partnership. “It’s a tool in the toolbox for our businesses. We’ve given all the market research and the data to them.”

Artist Ariana Enriquez created this mural in downtown Chandler.  — Tim Sealy photo

It seems to be working.

“First and most obvious is we look at our sales-tax data,” said John Carter Owens, Chandler’s downtown redevelopment specialist. “We can track how that’s looking. What we see is visible growth in those numbers.”

DCCP works in partnership with the city in attempting to model a business-friendly attitude with infrastructure investments that facilitate creation of spaces that people want to come to.

“One thing we always say in redevelopment is it’s a marathon and not a sprint,” Owens said. “A lot of what you’re seeing now is the end result of efforts that are 5, 10, 15 years in the making, city investments, private-sector investments. It’s a culmination of factors that have led us to this place.”

The Sleepy Whale is among 19 new bars and restaurants that have opened in downtown Chandler in the past three years. –Tim Sealy photo

DCCP does promotions, schedules events and keeps the sidewalks clean.

“We try to tell the story of what is happening in the downtown and keep that buzz going, that energy and excitement going, for people who want to come to the downtown,” Murphy Bessler said. “We’re basically creating a wonderful sense of place where people really want to come down, feel the vibe, feel the energy. People are telling us it feels different in the downtown.”

 

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RECENT DOWNTOWN CHANDLER DEVELOPMENT

MAP LEGEND 

  1. Overstreet (northwestern corner Chandler Blvd./Arizona Ave.): Completed in 2018, this LGE project is a 72,000-square-foot mixed-use development, featuring 18,000 square feet of office space. Fully-Leased, it features Flix Brewhouse Cinema, La Ristra, Sharetea, Screamery, OverEasy, Truland Burgers + Greens and Revint Solutions.
  1. New Square (northwestern corner of Arizona Ave./Chicago St.): Completed in 2020, Spike Lawrence Ventures serves up a 60,000-square-foot mixed-use development, featuring a stage, office and retail. Tenants include DC Steakhouse, The Stillery, Jinya Ramen, Great Western Bank, Wellsky, and Elite Athlete Management.
  1. Hilton Garden Inn (150 S. Arizona Ave.): Downtown Chandler’s 110-room Hilton Garden Inn opened in 2020. Developed by HCW, it features a full bar, 1,800 square feet of meeting space and pool. It is co-located in New Square.
  1. The Alexander (25 S. Arizona Place): This is a complete modernization of the former First Credit Union building by George Oliver Companies. Recently completed, the building offers 107,000 square feet of Class A creative office. Amenities include a dog park and a Kaleidoscope juice bar.
  1. The Johnathan (55 N. Arizona Place): This is a complete modernization of the former Chandler Office Center by George Oliver Companies. It will offer 112,000 square feet of Class A space in a highly efficient office community. Amenities will include a fitness center and yoga studio.
  1. The Stanley (158 W. Boston St.): This is an adaptive reuse, triple-threat concept that features a bar, Airbnb bungalows and a small-group event space.
  1. The Sleepy Whale & Gadzooks (290 S. Arizona Ave.): Completed in 2019, this adaptive reuse project is home to The Sleepy Whale, a craft beer bar, and Gadzooks, a soup and enchilada restaurant. In a former auto-repair facility, the site now features ample patio space.
  1. The Hidden House (159 W. Commonwealth Ave.): Completed in 2019, this adaptive reuse project is home to a The Hidden House restaurant, an upscale, immersive dining experience. Starting from a small former residence, the upgraded space now features four distinct dining areas and large patio spaces.
  1. Civic Market & Quarthaus (201 S. Washington St.): Completed in 2018, this adaptive reuse project converted a community center into a coffee house, brewery and distillery. The project retained the old courtyard space, including basketball courts, making it a great place for the whole family.
  1. Flo Yoga & Cycle (71 E. Frye Road): This fitness studio and adaptive reuse project was completed in 2018. At approximately 7,000 square feet, the building houses multiple studio rooms, including a full spin room.
  1. Faithlife (398 S. Arizona Ave.): This Downtown South adaptive reuse project was completed in 2018 and is home to the offices of Faithlife, a technology company that focuses on faith-based institutions. The project covers roughly 6,500 square feet and is among the first major adaptive reuse projects in Downtown South.
  1. DC Heights (northeastern corner of California/Boston streets): This multifamily project, which broke ground in 2020, is a being built in two phases. Phase 1, currently under construction, includes 157 units. DC Heights is a game changer for development to the west of the Historic Square. Expected delivery in 2022.
  1. Southeastern corner of Nevada St./Commonwealth Ave.: This multi family residential project of 208 units plans ground breaking in late 2021, bringing high-end units to downtown Chandler.
  1. Summit at San Marcos (445 W. Chandler Blvd.): Completed in 2018, this 273-unit multi family complex on the western edge of Downtown Chandler borders the San Marcos Golf Course. The project was acquired by JLL Income Property Trust in 2019 for $72 million.
  1. Southeastern corner of Frye Road/Arizona Ave.: This adaptive reuse retail project is expected to include Black Rock Coffee and El Taco Santo. The project is expected to deliver approximately 9,000 square feet of retail space.

More information: downtownchandler.org

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Murphy Bessler credits the city with wisely buying parcels as they became available downtown years ago.

“The city of Chandler has been very strategic in where they own these pieces of land, so that when the economy started picking up then they would go for requests for proposal and partner with the developer and have a vision of what that might look like, how new projects would blend in with what was existing in downtown. Everyone is benefitting from it.”

The Portland Street parking garage has 900 spaces. On weekends, it’s filled with cars.

The New Square project – featuring the new DC Steakhouse Space, Hilton Garden Inn and The Stillery – as well as Overstreet – featuring a movie theater, ice cream shop and restaurants – are the culmination of long-term plans.

“And one thing that sets downtown Chandler apart from other downtowns in the Valley is we have six breweries, and two distilleries that make their own whiskey, vodka and gin,” Murphy Bessler said. “Murphy’s Law and Bourbon Jacks’ put stages in the front, so when people are walking around in the evening they can stop and listen and watch. We are finding that people from all over the Valley are driving as much as an hour to come to Chandler to hear the music.”

Flo Yoga & Cycle opened in 2018 in downtown Chandler. –Tim Sealy photo

The Alexander and the Jonathan, office buildings on the east side of Arizona Avenue, have undergone multi-million-dollar renovation.

Tech companies are coming downtown. The University of Arizona has a branch downtown.

And now, it’s possible to live and work within walking distance of it all as midrise apartments and condominiums begin to dot the skyline of a former agrarian community.

“DC Heights, with 157 units at California and Boston, is coming just west of the square, and Phase 2 across Dakota Street will have another 111 units,” Owens said. “Encore Chandler was recently approved but hasn’t broken ground yet, and that’s another couple-hundred units of high-end apartments at Nevada and Commonwealth. All of a sudden there are more residents downtown, which definitely brings that 24/7 foot traffic that really supports our restaurants, in particular.”

Bright Brothers’ Yeager credits the city for enticing and balancing a unique mix “so it doesn’t become overrun with Starbucks and Gaps, the national and international chains.”

“That’s important to the sense of authenticity and having a genuinely unique downtown,” Yeager said. “Independent gems need to be grown and fostered. Otherwise, what’s the draw? You can go anywhere and see those other same things. Chandler is doing an amazing job with that.”

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THE CHANGING FACE OF DOWNTOWN CHANDLER

Over the past three years, downtown Chandler has morphed into a safe, friendly, walkable urban space that is attracting visitors from across the Valley with a vibrant infusion of shops, businesses, restaurants, breweries, lodging and residential. By design, very few are national chains.

From an improvisational comedy shop, to a gourmet eatery in the old Sibley’s West space to a new cantina in the former El Zocalo space, the new look seems to be a hit.

Recently opened downtown businesses

2021: Kaleidoscope – restaurant.

2021: Pie Snob – restaurant/retail.

2020: The Stillery – restaurant/distillery.

2020: La Ristra – restaurant.

2020: Pedal Haus – restaurant, brewery.

2019: Gadzooks – restaurant.

2019: Truland Burgers & Greens – restaurant.

2019: Spirit House – bar.

2019:  OverEasy – restaurant.

2019: Cheba Hut – restaurant.

2019: The Hidden House – restaurant.

2019: ShareTea – restaurant.

2019: The Screamery – restaurant.

2019: Revint Solutions – office space.

2019: Craft64 – restaurant.

2019: The Sleepy Whale – bar.

2019: Quarthaus – Bar, brewery, distillery.

2019:  Civic Market – restaurant, salon suites.

2019: Mingle + Graze – restaurant.

2018: Flo Yoga & Cycle – fitness.

2018: Flix Brewhouse Cinema – restaurant, brewery, cinema.

2018: Safe T Professionals – professional services.

Recently completed commercial projects

2021: The Alexander – office spaces.

2020: The Stanley – hospitality, lodging.

2020: New Square – mixed-use office/retail.

2020: Hilton Garden Inn – lodging.

2019: The Hidden House – adaptive reuse.

2019: Sleepy Whale/Gadzooks – adaptive reuse.

2019: Civic Market/Quarthaus – adaptive reuse.

2018: Flo Yoga & Cycle – adaptive reuse.

2018: Overstreet – mixed-use office/retail spaces.

2018: Faithlife – adaptive reuse.

Recent infrastructure projects

2020: The Courtyard – pocket park.

2019: Oregon Street Parking Garage – parking structure.

2019: Chicago Street – signal and improvements.

2019: South Arizona Avenue Streetscape – improvements.

2019: Buffalo Street – pocket park.

2018: Commonwealth Canal – walking trail.

Projects planned or under construction

2021: The Johnathan – office spaces.

2021: Perch Expansion – restaurant.

2021: Inchin’s Bamboo Garden – restaurant.

2021: Jinya Ramen – restaurant.

2022: DC Heights – residential.

2023: SEC Arizona Avenue & Frye Road – planned retail.

Lee Shappell
Lee Shappell became a journalist because he didn’t become a rocket scientist! He exhausted the math courses available by his junior year in high school and earned early admission to Rice University, intending to take advantage of its relationship with the Johnson Space Center and become an aerospace engineer. But as a high school senior, needing a class to be eligible for sports with no more math available, he took student newspaper as a credit and was hooked. He studied journalism at the UofA and has been senior reporter, copy desk chief and managing editor at several Valley publications.

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