By Catherine Reagor| April 08th, 2019
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Downtown Phoenix's Arizona Center is undergoing a rebirth, like the area around it.

The 30-year-old office, shopping and restaurant development has a new look, new tenants and soon will have a new boutique high-rise hotel and an apartment tower underway.

Owners of the 1 million-square-foot development at Third and Van Buren streets just spent $25 million to open and brighten up the Arizona Center.

The iconic development has played a big role in downtown Phoenix's comeback, but it took a while.

Designed before open outdoor shopping centers became popular, it wasn't as inviting as CityScape, downtown Phoenix's other big mixed-use development, which was built a decade ago.

Iconic downtown project

When the Arizona Center opened in 1990, it drew thousands to downtown Phoenix for days of festivities. It brought big-name retailers including Gap and popular chain restaurants to the area for the first time.

But construction of the bold new development started just before the Valley's real estate market and economy hit a downturn. Its opening coincided with a national recession. 

"The Arizona Center was created to be a reason to bring people to downtown Phoenix again after decades of flight from the area," said Mark Stapp, real-estate expert and director of the Master of Real Estate Development program at Arizona State University. "But by itself, it wasn't enough to draw enough visitors or other new development in the area."

MORE: Arizona Center: Its history and future development

New look and owner

When Parallel Capital Partners and Angelo, Gordon and Co. paid $126 million for the 16-acre development in 2015, it had lost many of its retail tenants.

Its new owners are filling in vacant spots at the Arizona Center with new restaurants including Kwench Juice Café, Freshii and Bosa Donuts. 

Construction is scheduled to start on a 13-story AC Hotel by Marriot with 199 rooms and an indoor/outdoor lounge overlooking the development's urban park called the Grotto.

Later this year, construction is planned to start on the 31-story Palm Tower. The apartment building will include some much-needed affordable housing for downtown.

After that, there will only be one vacant parcel for development left at the center. 

The development's renovation includes new outdoor furnishings, lounge areas, shade structures, lighting, valet parking, bike racks, a stage for entertainment and a 60-foot LED jumbotron near the AMC theater.

"The upgrades to the center bring a whole new vibe to the heart of downtown Phoenix," said Matt Root, managing partner for Parallel Capital Partners. "As we add tenants, Arizona Center will continue to become an even bigger hub for meeting up with friends and family."

Coming back to life

In the early 1990s when the Arizona Center opened, downtown Phoenix was like a ghost town at night and on weekends.

Workers in the area jumped in their cars and left at quitting time. There were few places to live in Phoenix's core and little shopping or restaurants to keep people around after work.

Now, the area from Seventh Avenue to Seventh Street between McDowell Road and Lincoln Street is in the midst of a building boom. New apartments, condominiums, offices, restaurants and stores — including downtown's first major grocery — were recently completed, are under way or planned.

MORE: Downtown Phoenix's rebirth has been decades in the making

The 100-year-old downtown neighborhood Roosevelt Row ranks as one of the most popular in the U.S.

Renovations of historic buildings into cool offices, retail spaces and homes are happening across the city's core.

There's a growing ASU campus with about 12,000 students who demand housing, food and entertainment options while taking classes and working on research and service projects in the community. 

And companies are relocating from other parts of the Valley or country to downtown Phoenix to be near workers and ASU.

More than $5.5 billion in public and private money has been spent on transportation, development, education, sports, technology and art projects in downtown Phoenix since 2005, according to Downtown Phoenix Inc.

That doesn't include the $25 million recently spent on the Arizona Center.

Reach the reporter at [email protected] or 602-444-8040. Follow her on Twitter @Catherinereagor.

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