For the third time in 15 years, Phoenix is seeking a buyer for the historic Knipe House and two surrounding vacant lots in the downtown Roosevelt Row arts district.

For the third time in 15 years, Phoenix will seek a buyer for the historic, city-owned Knipe House and some vacant land in the Roosevelt Row arts district surrounding it.

During that span of time, the neighborhood has grown from an austere collection of few businesses to a popular center of local art and culture. The transition has not always been smooth, and this project could once again expose divisions about competing visions for the area.

Longtime Roosevelt Row entrepreneurs want to see the house and acre-and-a-half of land developed, but some are fearful the proposals could bring more gentrification and hurt local artists.

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For the city, the rehabilitation and reuse of the Knipe House itself, which was built in 1909 and occupied by a prominent local architect, is the first priority in choosing a buyer.

The Knipe House, one of few remaining historic buildings in the area, should be preserved in a way that pays homage to its original appearance, said Bob Graham, the principal architect who repaired the structure after a major fire in 2010.

“Now we’re down to essentially three or four buildings in that area that represent what used to be a complete neighborhood,” Graham said. “I do think it’s important that these are being kept as reminders.”

Rapid growth creates tension


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The rapid growth of Roosevelt Row in the past two decades has brought with it some growing pains, from protests against new, upscale housing units to often failed petitions to save historic buildings.

Local business owners agree that the renovation of the Knipe House properties is important to continue developing the neighborhood, but they hope the proposals don’t bring more expensive housing or large commercial entities.

“The community has seen radical change and development,” said Carla Wade Logan, co-owner of Carly’s Bistro, a business near the Knipe House. “We’re really concerned about the displacement of the people who helped build the community.”

MORE: 5 changes to watch for on Roosevelt Row in 2017

The Phoenix City Council voted to begin accepting project ideas for the land at their June 7 meeting. A formal request for proposals is expected to be issued soon.

At an earlier meeting on the project, Logan said she worried the criteria used to pick a winner may invite in what she termed a “big box” development.

Others stressed that they did not want proposals to involve big commercial or chain businesses.

Logan was pleased, though, that the criteria specifies the Knipe House should be rehabilitated at its current location of 1025 N. Second Street, between Roosevelt and Portland streets.

“So much historic property is moved or demolished for development, and the Knipe House is one of the last representations for architecture from that historic period of the neighborhood,” Logan said.

Previous attempts at development

The city first solicited proposals for the Knipe House and surrounding properties in 2002. A contract was finalized, but the project didn’t move forward.

In 2012, after architects repaired the damage from the 2010 fire, the city again sought proposals, but the selected project was unable to acquire sufficient financing.

Now, on this third attempt at rehabilitating the area, Chair of the Downtown Voices Coalition Tim Eigo said he is confident the RFP will “come off well.”

The success of this proposal request is important to the neighborhood, Eigo said.

“What we’d really like to see is a lot of variety and diversity,” he said. “We don’t want one monolithic project.”

Even without changes to the vacant parcels in the past 15 years, Second Street looks much better than it did less than five years ago, said Cristina Pasos, administrator at the PSA Art Awakenings studio located catty-corner to the Knipe House. 

The Knipe House, though still fenced off and empty for much of the week, is now home to a Saturday garden, organized by the Roosevelt Growhouse. Sunflowers to the south of the house stand several feet tall now, and potted plants perch on the front porch. 

The garden, which is a temporary arrangement approved in February, is a nice addition to the street, Pasos said, and an improvement to a gloomy, vacant house. But further development would be even more helpful to the community. 

“I’ve always wondered why it’s been there and no one has done anything,” Pasos said.

Focus on preserving area’s history

As long as the additions to the street focus on “uplifting the image of Phoenix as a creative center,” Pasos said, it will be a positive thing for the Arts District. A commercial entity, though, would not be as welcome. 

Logan said she’s still unhappy that the “public benefit” and “financial return to the city” of bids for the project will be evaluated in the same category with a single score.

She worries this means the highest bidder will get the land, despite how beneficial — or not — that proposer’s plan could be to the community.

“The greatest concern for the community would be another mega-development,” Logan said.

Graham said it’s strategic that the city packages the Knipe House with two other vacant land parcels. It allows a buyer to focus on restoring some of Phoenix’s history while also allowing for a more financially-beneficial modern development.

Leaving historic homes as a remnant of what Phoenix was once like enhances the city experience, he said.

But few historic homes still remain.

“For the most part,” Graham said, “we have lost any aspect or sense of what the history of that area is like.”


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