A Brief History of Tempe

Curtesy:  The Tempe Historical Museum:

Following the establishment of Fort McDowell on the eastern edge of central Arizona’s Salt River Valley in 1865, enterprising farmers moved into the area. They dug out the irrigation canals left by the prehistoric Hohokam people and built new ones to carry Salt River water to their fields. Valley farms soon supplied food to Arizona’s military posts and mining towns.

The first settlers to move to the Tempe area, south of the Salt River and east of Phoenix, were Hispanic families from southern Arizona. They helped construct the first two irrigation canals, the Kirkland-McKinney Ditch and the San Francisco Canal, and started small farms to the east and west of a large butte (Tempe Butte). In 1872, some of these Mexican settlers founded a town called San Pablo east of Tempe Butte.

Another settlement, known as Hayden’s Ferry, developed west of Tempe Butte. Charles Trumbull Hayden, owner of a mercantile and freighting business in Tucson, homesteaded this location in 1870. Within a few years, he had built a store and flourmill, warehouses and blacksmith shops, and a ferry. This community became the trade center for the south side of the Salt River Valley.

Both settlements grew quickly and soon formed one community. The town was named Tempe in 1879. “Lord” Darrell Duppa, an Englishman who helped establish Phoenix, is credited with suggesting the name. The sight of the butte and the wide river, and the nearby expanse of green fields, reminded him of the Vale of Tempe in ancient Greece.

As more farmers came to settle in the Valley and started raising alfalfa and grains for feeding livestock, the Tempe Irrigating Canal Company provided all of necessary water. With a network of canals that extended several miles south of the river, irrigation water was carried to more than 20,000 acres of prime farmland. Crops of wheat, barley, and oats ensured a steady business for the Hayden Mill. The milled flour was hauled to forts and other settlements throughout the territory. By the 1890s, some farmers started growing new cash crops such as dates and citrus fruits.

In 1885, the Arizona legislature selected Tempe as the site for the Territorial Normal School, which trained teachers for Arizona’s schools. Soon, other changes in Tempe promoted the development of the small farming community. The Maricopa and Phoenix Railroad, built in 1887, crossed the Salt River at Tempe, linking the town to the nation’s growing transportation system. The Tempe Land and Improvement Company was formed to sell lots in the booming town. Tempe became one of the most important business and shipping centers for the surrounding agricultural area.

The completion of Roosevelt Dam in 1911 guaranteed enough water to meet the growing needs of Valley farmers. On his way to dedicate the dam, former President Theodore Roosevelt applauded the accomplishments of the people of central Arizona and predicted that their towns would grow to become prosperous cities. Less than a year later, Arizona became the 48th state, and the Salt River Valley was well on its way to becoming the new population center of the Southwest.

Tempe was a small agricultural community through most of its history. After World War II, Tempe began growing at a rapid rate as veterans and others moved to the city. The last of the local farms quickly disappeared. Through annexation, the city reached its current boundaries by 1974. Tempe had grown into a modern city. The town’s small teachers college had also grown, and in 1958, the institution became Arizona State University.

Tempe’s commercial center along Mill Avenue declined during these years. Prompted by Tempe’s centennial in 1971, Mill Avenue was revitalized into an entertainment and shopping district that attracts people from throughout the Valley. Today, Tempe is well known nationally as the home of the Fiesta Bowl and the Arizona Cardinals. It is the seventh largest city in Arizona, with a strong modern economy based on commerce, tourism, and electronics manufacturing.

1992 Oral History Interview with Harry Mitchell

Editor Note:  Since this history was completed Harry E. Mitchell served as a U.S. Representative who represented Arizona’s 5th congressional district from 2007 until 2011

Tempe Oral History Project

Interviewer: MARK KLOBAS
Date of Interview: July 16, 1992
Interview Number: OH – 128

Harry Mitchell was born in Phoenix. He received a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and a Master’s degree in Public Administration from Arizona State University. He taught American government and free enterprise at Tempe High School from 1964 to 1992. His grandfather, W. W. Mitchell, had been involved in land development and politics in Tempe since the 1940s, and he continued this family tradition, serving for 24 years as a City Councilman and Mayor. He was a City Councilman for two terms, from 1970 to 1978, and then was elected to four consecutive terms as Mayor of Tempe, serving from July 3, 1978 to July 14, 1994. He is probably best known for his successful efforts to redevelop downtown Tempe and begin planning the construction of the Rio Salado Project.

In this interview he talks about the redevelopment of downtown Tempe in the 1970s and ’80s.


Copyright © 1998 Tempe Historical Museum


KLOBAS: . . . July 1992. This is the interview session with Mayor Harry Mitchell of Tempe. Mark Klobas is the interviewer. The microphone has a pretty good pickup. I’ll have to speak up ____________, but you shouldn’t have a problem. Okay, first of all, tell me a little bit about your initial impressions of downtown Tempe back in the ’60s, regarding the businesses that were there.

MITCHELL: Well, I think it’s pretty safe to say that there weren’t too many businesses. Most of the businesses that would deal with citizens of this community had moved out, and had moved south.

KLOBAS: What were some of those businesses that had moved?

MITCHELL: Oh, not all of them. Some of them just plain closed out. I think there was competition probably in shopping malls in other cities. I remember, as a kid, buying many clothes down at Getz’s or the Boston Store. They didn’t move, they just went out of business.

KLOBAS: Where were these stores located?

MITCHELL: Getz and the Boston Store was located — it was the same people, they just changed the name — it was on the west side of Mill Avenue between Fourth and Fifth Street. And that was where I think most people bought their kids’ clothes. They handled all the Cub Scout uniforms and Boy Scout uniforms, and they covered all the regular clothes, back-to-school clothes. And that family just plain closed out. In that particular area, I would say from Fifth Street — in the Fourth and Fifth Street block, and maybe a little bit further north, most of those businesses I think that were left were — I guess you might call them derelict-type businesses, just those that could hang on with minimum rent, and providing services just for those people who may live down in that area, who may have lived in some of the, once again, substandard housing in the downtown area. There were a few businesses that might have been a little bit farther north: the hardware store, I believe was still there, was a viable business. The building, of course, is still there, but the Curry’s hardware store, Tempe Hardware, was, I thought, a viable business. And a little bit further south, probably in the Sixth or Seventh Street area — again, all on the west side of Mill — there were some stores along there. And maybe even clear to University. There was a shoe repair, there was a dry cleaner, there was Joe Selleh’s Sporting Goods, some of those people. There were some strong loyalties, and I guess the only thing that kept a lot of those businesses going was the fact that loyal people who shopped there from the days when that was the only place to shop. But I think what happened as downtown probably became more inaccessible to a lot of people because of traffic patterns and better shopping conditions and shopping malls in other cities, they weren’t getting any new business. And as a result, I think that’s what probably caused them to decay.

KLOBAS: Okay, you mentioned when you were a kid. When were most of these stores open ________, in the ’60s?

MITCHELL: I remember ’50s — probably late ’40s, ’50s, ’60s.

KLOBAS: Okay. And when do you feel that most of these businesses had moved out? What was the condition by the time they moved, and what was the condition of the downtown after that, in terms of business?

MITCHELL: I think, and probably for the lack of a better word, because it describes, it’s a good stereotype, the area really became known as a hippie area. Instead of any real meaningful renovation of buildings, there was paint, there were plants, there were macrames and things of that nature, which covered up a lot of probably some very serious building flaws or deterioration. It certainly was the case, I would say, with Circus, who moved in the Andre Building. I remember that when I was a kid. When I first moved to Tempe, it was post office. There was a furniture store in part of it. It became a pool hall when I was in high school. It became a repair shop and a service center for Vespa motor scooters, as well as lawnmowers, a lawnmower shop. And from there, it went to the Circus, which I think catered to — for lack of a better phrase — hippie customers. And I would say that became pretty much what most people thought of downtown at the time. Probably in the late ’60s it was maybe some hippie shops, maybe it was some bars that were not very desirable places to be. I don’t think it was considered by most people to be a very safe place to go. There was certainly not anything to draw Tempians downtown.

KLOBAS: Okay, so it had become kind of an exclusive place? It drew a very select crowd?

MITCHELL: Oh, yeah.

KLOBAS: Was the crowd mostly drawn from the University, or from where?

MITCHELL: There were some university, but I don’t think they were all university people, either. I just think they were people. . . . I wouldn’t call them university students. There might have been some down there, but I don’t think they were primarily university students.

KLOBAS: Offhand, I didn’t get the date. When did you join the [City] Council?

MITCHELL: In 1970.

KLOBAS: Okay. Now, around the time the Council decided to revitalize the downtown area, what was the initial reaction from your perspective of the businesses to the idea? — the businesses that were already down there, and the businesses in Tempe in general.

MITCHELL: Well, I think most people didn’t care. I think it was very easy to start redevelopment downtown because most people felt what should be done is just bulldoze everything and start all over. I think that was kind of the feeling about redevelopment, was to bulldoze and that’s something that’s come. I think some of us on the Council were very concerned with trying to SAVE old buildings, and trying to create a basis from which we could create an identity downtown, besides just bulldozing. Now, I think that there were some people, and some of the businesses, let’s say, between probably Sixth and Seventh Street, and maybe down to University, all on the west side of the street which were probably a little more leery. That’s because some of those were long-time merchants and owners of the property — maybe some of them leased the property, but they were long-time merchants. I think everything else in downtown was owned by absentee landlords and I don’t think they really cared WHAT happened to their property — they would just as soon the government would take it over. It’s kind of interesting, I think what’s happened as we reached different stages of redevelopment, there probably becomes more resistance to some change than there was initially, because I think it had gotten so bad and so low, people were embarrassed about downtown, even though it was an entry-way to the city, entry to the university. Most people tried to AVOID downtown, felt that it gave a very negative impact on the city. So most people just didn’t care. Anything was better. In fact, the first, I would say probably the first redevelopment between Second Street and Third Street, where America West is now, that whole area, probably all the way over to Ash Avenue, was just bulldozed, and there was a sign put up, “Will build to suit.” And that was our first effort at redevelopment.

KLOBAS: And the businesses — not just the owners, but the tenants — they expressed ________, you had no major problems?

MITCHELL: No, not at the beginning.

KLOBAS: When did they first start opposing redevelopment plans?

MITCHELL: Oh, I don’t know the year. I guess probably once the project for Center Point, which became Center Point — as long as we were working north of Fifth Street, I don’t think there was any opposition at all. In fact, I don’t [remember] encounter[ing] any opposition of whatever we did north of Fifth Street. It was all when we got south of Fifth Street that there was some concern, because there were still some old-time businesses that were still left over.

KLOBAS: Could you name some businesses that were still there?

MITCHELL: Selleh’s [Sporting Goods] . . . Selleh’s comes to mind. A little bit further south, Earhart’s Bike. Earhart’s relocated within the redevelopment area. They weren’t in opposition, they were just concerned, of course, of what’s going to happen to the property, what’s going to happen to parking, what’s going to happen to. . . . They never were ________.

KLOBAS: So they never _____________?

MITCHELL: No. I wouldn’t say there’s been really open opposition.

KLOBAS: Okay. But they were just simply. . . .

MITCHELL: . . . Concerned about what was going to happen.

KLOBAS: And they went along willingly?

MITCHELL: Yeah. I would say they did. None of those people were condemned. And I would say probably there was a great deal more sentiment from old customers who didn’t want to see change: customers of Rundle’s, customers of. . . .

KLOBAS: Rundle’s?

MITCHELL: Yeah, Rundle’s was right on the corner of University and Mill on the northwest corner. That had become kind of like a fast food grocery store, kind of like a 7-Eleven. But it became more and more as a bookstore, magazines, liquor store. They’ve relocated. They are now on University [Drive]. Rundle’s had nothing to do with it, it’s just they kept the name. [It’s ] now on University, close to Priest. And I think Cafe Mexico was in there, and they relocated in the downtown area, as well as Earhart’s. So there were some relocations. Some of those businesses didn’t go out.

KLOBAS: Now, was there any plan by the City Council to attract a specific clientele of businesses?

MITCHELL: Yeah. I think initially, where the America West facility is right now, the whole concept was if we can create some boutiques downtown, create an atmosphere like Fifth Avenue in Scottsdale, that that would be what would turn downtown around. That didn’t happen.

KLOBAS: So Scottsdale was the model regarding businesses?

MITCHELL: At least in terms of boutiques. We never really thought, I don’t believe, that we were going to create downtown as the commercial center of Tempe again. But at least it was going to bring business down. And so the idea was to create some boutiques and small shops, and then that would be the key to success.

KLOBAS: Why do you feel the initial project — where the America West Center is today — why do you think that didn’t succeed?

MITCHELL: Well, there were a couple of reasons. One, about the time it was finished, we had all of the water released down the river, and all of the river crossings had closed. In fact, a number of bridges had closed. There was no crossing, and the water ran for many, many months.

KLOBAS: That was ’80, ’81?

MITCHELL: You know, I’m not certain of the dates.

KLOBAS: I remember about 10-15 years ago . . .

MITCHELL: It had to be earlier than that.

KLOBAS: . . . watching the television where they talk about all the bridges being closed.

MITCHELL: It had to be earlier than ’81.

KLOBAS: Seventies? Eighties?

MITCHELL: I don’t know, but I’m sure it was earlier than that. And there were no crossings. I mean, there were no crossings. Maybe Central Avenue. Even the freeway bridge, where the freeway is now, was closed. So there was Central Avenue and Mill Avenue, which meant the traffic. . . . That’s when they started running some commuter trains again, the “Hattie B,” named after Governor Babbitt’s wife. There was just no way to get back and forth across the river, which meant that traffic was backed up from the bridge, clear past the curve, past Grady Gammage. Well, you certainly aren’t going to attract any business to come down there, when you couldn’t get down there anyway. All of that happened about the same time. And as a result, I guess it turned out to be a good deal, because I think it was a mistake. Now looking back, hindsight — that wasn’t the way to get started. What happened is, America West came in, provided a number of office jobs, and THAT created, then, the need for restaurants, which then created people who were browsing, who were taking time between lunch or after work or before work. THEN the boutiques came. So I think now as we look back, probably — and the good thing about that building where America West is now, is that it was available when America West started looking. So it all turned out good, but it didn’t turn out the way we planned.

KLOBAS: Whose idea originally was it for the boutique concept?

MITCHELL: Oh, I don’t know. I forget the name of the redevelopment guy we had initially. I’m trying to think of his name and I can’t right now. But the idea is we put that piece of property, we cleared it, we put it out for an RFP, somebody bid on it and. . . .


MITCHELL: Request for proposals. And then what they did is, they just put a sign up that said “will build to suit.” And finally, it was Jackson Development Company, C. W. Jackson, who was the one who came in and finally built the buildings that were there. The only places that went in there, APS had a shop in there, and there was a restaurant in there.

KLOBAS: Is the restaurant still there?

MITCHELL: No, America West bought it over. The last name that it had was Rockin’ Robin. It started out as a Mexican restaurant, kind of an upscale Mexican restaurant; then on into an Irish place, Donny O’Brien; and then it was Rockin’ Robin, kind of appealing to a younger crowd. None of ’em really made it, and America West now owns the property. I believe America West owns the property — the buildings as well as the property there.

KLOBAS: So they were able to ______.

MITCHELL: They use it all themselves.

KLOBAS: Okay, I’m confusing it with another building all together. What strategies did you set out on the Council to attract the businesses you were looking for? The boutiques?

MITCHELL: I don’t know if we had any. Maybe that was the problem. It was probably with the redevelopment, and that person did not last very long as a redevelopment director.

KLOBAS: Who was that?

MITCHELL: I can’t remember his name right now. He either went to Oregon or came from Oregon, and I’m just trying to think of. . . . But I think it wasn’t ALL his fault, he was given a little bit of direction from the council, and we said, “This is what we want, we want boutiques.”

KLOBAS: The kind of pressure was the old “Field of Dreams” idea of “build it and they will come?”


KLOBAS: Why boutiques? Why not. . . .

MITCHELL: Because we thought what was in Scottsdale on Fifth Avenue, that’s what made Scottsdale successful on the Fifth Avenue shops, all those little shops. We said, “If we get shops down there, that’s what we’re after.”

KLOBAS: Now, turning now to developers, after the Jackson Brothers _____ America. . . .

MITCHELL: It wasn’t Jackson Brothers, [it was] C. W. Jackson.

KLOBAS: C. W. Jackson, I’m sorry.

MITCHELL: He had some sons involved, but that was C. W. Jackson Company.

KLOBAS: Okay, I’m confusing the sons working with it. Okay, after C. W. Jackson went ahead and developed the America West area, what did you do in terms of the developers and the downtown area? Not just Mill Avenue, but the whole downtown. Did you attempt to attract them?, or did they start coming in increasing numbers, seeing the. . . .

MITCHELL: I don’t remember which came first, the Fifth and Mill Building, which was a vacant lot because there had been a fire there and destroyed the building that was there, which was APS [Arizona Public Service Company]. There was APS and there was a head shop at the time that sold all kinds of hippie stuff. That caught on fire, so there was a vacant lot. And I’m not sure what came next — the development of that, or the Mill Avenue Shops. The Mill Avenue Shops is where Spaghetti Company is. And that was done by Michael Goodwin. I’m thinking that came next. We were pretty excited about that piece of development, because we were bringing in a big restaurant, a restaurant that we wanted downtown, which we thought would bring people, and it was well-established in Phoenix.

KLOBAS: The Spaghetti Company?

MITCHELL: The Spaghetti Company. Of course it’s still there and is doing QUITE well. I think a lot of the other shops have probably all changed hands. I don’t believe there’s probably any other original shops in that Mill Avenue Shop that were there originally, other than the Spaghetti Company.

KLOBAS: Okay. I’m trying to remember, which side of the street is the Spaghetti Company on?

MITCHELL: It’s on the west.

KLOBAS: Changing Hands, by any chance?

MITCHELL: No. They were not originally in there. Well, they might have been. They didn’t have as much space as they have now, they’ve expanded. Changing Hands originally was on Fifth Street, next to . . . in the Laird Building. And I don’t know when they moved over: [if] they moved over right away, as part of the first people that went into the Mill Avenue shops, or later.

KLOBAS: Okay. Well, did you offer any incentives to developers?

MITCHELL: Oh, yes! Particularly with the Mill Avenue shops, we offered all kinds of incentives. They didn’t have to provide for any parking, land was — I think we sold all that land in there for a buck — there were some incentives for development, as well as not requiring any parking. So those were very GOOD incentives.

KLOBAS: Okay. Going back to what you said, “for a buck” — you mean a buck an acre?

MITCHELL: No, for the whole piece of property.

KLOBAS: Okay, those were the incentives you offered. Do you feel that if they had failed, how would you have addressed it differently in terms of attracting developers? What other proposals were being discussed at the time?

MITCHELL: Well, after the Spaghetti Company, or the Mill Avenue Shops, were built, then there was — and I’m not certain of the sequence, you’d have to, it’s all part of a record you can get, though — it was either the Paradise Bar and Grill Building, which is the Andre Building, or the Fifth and Mill shops. And all that was done by John Benton. But I think there was a feeling that once the Spaghetti Company came in, and then the Andre Building was built [rehabilitated], and things started to snowball — we were getting some good development.

KLOBAS: As the initial projects started showing that they would be viable, other ones started coming?


KLOBAS: Did the City Council, or did you personally have to encourage any further beyond that?

MITCHELL: Well, I think we DID. We certainly tried to encourage. . . . I would say the City Council encouraged in every way. Not only, let’s say, the Andre Building and the Fifth and Mill Building, but also we were very much involved with the hotel, and that piece of property, which WAS controversial. And also the redevelopment of Hayden Square and the Casa Loma. We helped assemble the property, and [were] very much a part of the development process in that Hayden Square project: assembling land, becoming part owner of the parking structure, and I don’t know what-all the incentives were, that’s all a matter of record, I don’t recall all of them.

KLOBAS: Okay. Going back to what you were saying about the hotel, what was the other part of that controversy?

MITCHELL: The hotel was controversial.

KLOBAS: What was the controversy about?

MITCHELL: It was the relocation of some businesses. One of them was Gentle Strength Co-op, which was on the corner of Myrtle and Fifth Street, right across from City Hall. And they were relocated to where they are now, which is at Ash and University. And it was very hard to convince those people that this was a better site for them, and they were relocated, and they got a pretty good deal, in my estimation. I think most people agree not only were they paid a great deal MORE than their business was worth, and we relocated them, we put them in a better business, there STILL was a great deal of resistance. They were very nervous about moving over there. Since then, of course, it’s proved to be a good move on their part and ours.

KLOBAS: And when was this move?

MITCHELL: At the beginning of part of the construction for whenever the hotel was. That was a very key part of the hotel.

KLOBAS: Oh, early ’80s, mid ’80s?


KLOBAS: I remember by ’87 it was built, finished.

MITCHELL: It must have been. I don’t know how old that hotel is. It’s not ten years old.

KLOBAS: Probably about ’84, then?

MITCHELL: Could be. I don’t know the dates.

KLOBAS: Was it just their opposition? Or were you getting any other opposition regarding the hotel?

MITCHELL: No, the main opposition was the movement of the Gentle Strength. I don’t think there was any opposition to the hotel.

KLOBAS: Okay. By what point did the businesses that were working there, did you ever encounter any opposition? — not just initially, but now at this point, when the developers were beginning to move in and establish the Hayden Square project, and the Mill Avenue Shops. Was there any opposition at any time regarding that?

MITCHELL: No, I think most people who had any kind of concerns were concerned about getting their money out of it, being able to move and survive. Dana Brothers, the auto agency, was downtown. They were concerned, were they going to get a fair price for their property? Most of it was — I think there was only one piece of property in the whole downtown that ever actually went to condemnation, and that was a very small, 50 by 100, probably smaller than that, which is about where the Coffee Plantation is right now. The rest of that, certainly there was a threat of condemnation, but I think more people were concerned with how much money they’re getting out of it, rather than anything else.

KLOBAS: Are you talking about the people who owned the land, or the people who were in business there?

MITCHELL: Probably the people who owned the land. Businesses, yeah, they were concerned, because they couldn’t rent any cheaper than that. Obviously, redevelopment means new buildings. New buildings are more expensive, and they wouldn’t be able to survive. Many people were concerned that they would not be able to pay the rents. Of course our argument was that if this is successful, they’ll make more money, they’ll be able to afford higher rents, and they’re going to do more business. But there was a great deal of concern about just change, period.

KLOBAS: Any business in particular give you trouble regarding that?


KLOBAS: Okay. Now, regarding the historic buildings that were. . . . Nowadays I can only recall the ones that are still down there: the Mill Avenue Theater, for example; the Old Town Books; the theater across the street. Did any of these ____ who occupied the historic buildings that were later removed, did they give you any opposition at all?

MITCHELL: No. Those people thought of downtown, the old-timers down there — it was a pile of junk, it was dilapidated, just bulldoze and get rid of it and get our money. I think it was tough to convince people that we ought to try to save some of those buildings. LATER, of course, once it got started, it wasn’t. There was a lot of pressure to bulldoze the Andre Building, and “let’s get on with the business.” All that land around Hayden Square, that was all cleared, along at the same time that we cleared the property where America West is now. That was just cleared, waiting to be developed. There was no opposition to that. There might have been some opposition from some tenants who had very cheap housing, or people — tenants and businesses — that paid cheap rent. But that was it.

KLOBAS: Okay. Now, in terms of the developers: did developers ever want to do anything that the City Council opposed?

MITCHELL: No, it was the other way around. We’re the ones that said what WE wanted. We said, “This is what we’re after,” and we put out who is going to do deliver what we want.

KLOBAS: But the developers never came to you and said, “We want to do this project. . . .”

MITCHELL: No. We said we wanted a hotel, we went out looking for a hotel, and then they responded.

KLOBAS: How did you attract that particular hotel? It begins with an “R.”

MITCHELL: Well, it was a private company. It was a developer, and again, it’s part of what our redevelopment staff does. They’re out there LOOKING for people to FIT what WE think we want downtown.

KLOBAS: Well, not so much the building itself, but the business, the hotel. It is a chain?

MITCHELL: No, it was owned by an insurance company, and it was independent. It was Tempe Mission Palms.

KLOBAS: That’s what it is. Thank you.

MITCHELL: And THEN Tempe Mission Palms decided that the best way — just like Fiesta Inn, is an independent, it’s not connected with anybody. But then Tempe Mission Palms decided that it was better if they connected with a chain that had a nationwide network of reservations. So they took on the Sheraton name, and they pay a fee, but it’s not owned by the Sheraton at all, it’s privately owned. In fact, it recently went through RTC, and has new owners from California. They decided to keep the Sheraton name, but that’s just to get the advantages. They pay Sheraton x number of dollars, based on either the volume of business, or whatever. I don’t know what the formula is. And they get to buy their soap from them, and they get to buy their napkins that have “Sheraton” on it. And the MAIN thing, they get connected with their computer system and their reservation system.

KLOBAS: Yeah. Now, in terms of lining up the businesses for the properties that were being developed, did you line up the business as they were being developed?, or did you wait for the buildings to be developed before you started attracting. . . .

MITCHELL: Again, we’re not really after the businesses. Once we had the developer, that’s the developer’s job, HE goes after the businesses. Like Center Point right now: we’re not after the businesses. The developer put a proposal forth. We said, “We want a hotel, we want offices, we want a mixed use.” He bid on it. He is going to build as the market dictates. No one ever expected a Chase Manhattan Bank down there with all those facilities. Those plans are very fluid. You have to go with what the market will determine. BUT we did want commercial down there. We did want some housing down there. We would like to have a hotel down there. Now, WE’RE not going out after the hotel — that’s the developer. And the same with Hayden Square. When Hayden Square leased part of that. . . . America West has spilled over into Hayden Square as well as Center Point. That had to have been with the City. That was between the developer and America West.

KLOBAS: So the City Council never regarded as being vital as the council itself attracted businesses?

MITCHELL: No! No, that’s the developers’ job — they’re they experts, they know what’s gonna go.

KLOBAS: Did you ever oppose any of the businesses that the developers brought?

MITCHELL: No. We set down what we wanted, what it was that we were after, what we’re trying to do. Of course in the downtown area, it’s called CCD, which is “central commercial district.” Every use — whether it’s residential, whether it’s business, office, whatever — every use in that zoning category has to get a permit or permission from the City Council. So we had final say over it anyway.

KLOBAS: Okay. I’d like to turn now to the Mill Avenue Merchants Association and the affair that they hold every December.

MITCHELL: Twice a year — spring and fall.

KLOBAS: I’d like to know about the beginnings of that, what part the city council had to play in it.

MITCHELL: I think that’s been one of the real secrets. . . .



MITCHELL: [Frank Maguire]. . . was the owner of the Circus, when it was down in the Andre Building. He and a guy, his friend named Kent Butterman, did what they could to try — they wanted to save that building. They really didn’t have the money, but thank goodness we kept stalling along with them, until somebody came along and used the tax credits to save the Andre Building. And then the Circus has moved a couple of places. One of the things that Frank did — and this goes back to the days when there were a lot of derelict buildings downtown, and a lot of hippies — Frank wanted to — and he’s the one who organized this, this is all of Frank’s doing, and you can see how great it’s been built up — to have some fair where the hippies could sell their rings made out of spoons, and sandals, and all those kind of things. And there WAS opposition to this, because we were going to let people put businesses in front of some existing businesses. I remember Shelly’s Market. And Shelly’s Market, it was kind of a market and a cafe. And it ended up being from Shelly’s Market into a cafe. And it’s located in that new building which is next to the Andre Building, the new building there. I don’t know what’s in it now, it’s been a number of things. And he always opposed any closing of the streets. And even Joe Selleh’s, they always opposed allowing businesses — stands or people — to be put in front, because we were inviting all these hippies and undesirable people in. But it started out as a fair of local people trying to sell things, just to make a living.

KLOBAS: And when was this?

MITCHELL: Oh, my gosh, it had to be the early ’70s.

KLOBAS: Not so much the Mill Avenue Fair, but the idea. . . .

MITCHELL: Early ’70s.

KLOBAS: Did they have to go to the Council first?

MITCHELL: Oh, yes. I remember many, many battles with that. And I would say in the initial stages, it was a four-three vote every time to allow them to have these fairs.

KLOBAS: Who generally was for, and who generally was against?

MITCHELL: I don’t know.

KLOBAS: Was it just the idea of the hippies?

MITCHELL: Yeah. Yeah, it wasn’t any organized group coming down there, raising hell about it. It was just, “What do we want to encourage hippies for? What do we want to cater to these people for? Taking business away, you’re going to run everybody away when people see those kind of people down there.” That kind of stuff.

KLOBAS: Was there a lot of opposition from the community IN City Council meetings when the issue was discussed?

MITCHELL: No. Most people did not CARE in this community. They wanted to just kind of put their head in the sand and say downtown didn’t exist. It was a bad place to go, it was embarrassing. Run-down buildings. There were undesirable-looking people down there. And so there really wasn’t a great deal of interest in the rest of the community on downtown.

KLOBAS: So the opposition was more based on the — how should I put this? — the visions of individual City Council members as to what they wanted to make downtown?


KLOBAS: How did it evolve to what happens every December?

MITCHELL: Well, I think that’s the genius of what Frank did. Frank just kept putting it together, making it more desirable, a lot more cooperation from the city. It just expanded and expanded.

KLOBAS: Cooperation in what form?

MITCHELL: Well, we closed the streets, and we provide. . . . Closing the streets is probably one of the big things, but we provided — even though they pay for extra security, they pay for extra garbage service and so on, it still requires some city cooperation.

KLOBAS: In regards to providing. . . .

MITCHELL: Oh, more containers down there for garbage, for example; barricades to move traffic around — just some city services.

KLOBAS: Has there ever been a problem with the fair, that you can recall? Not so much in terms of individuals, but like where handling it has __________.

MITCHELL: No, I don’t think so at all. I think it is such an advantage to our city. Other cities hire groups and PAY people to try to put on festivals. The City doesn’t pay a penny for this. This was all done on the private side by the Mill Avenue Merchants Association and Frank Maguire. You look what happens in Mesa, you look at festivals they’ve tried in downtown Phoenix — they try to go out and hire people to put those together. And we don’t hire anyone, we don’t spend any money on that. That’s been evolving ever since Frank Maguire took it over, to where now, everybody would love to have a fair like that in their own city.

KLOBAS: Do you think that if Frank Maguire had not developed the fair, that Tempe probably would have eventually tried something like that?

MITCHELL: I doubt it. I doubt it. No. It’s something that just evolved. And I think all the credit goes to Frank.

KLOBAS: There’s one last thing that I want to discuss, and that’s the blocking off of downtown Tempe — that was done in the late ’80s — in regards to, was it initially a business idea? In terms of Friday night and Saturday night?

MITCHELL: That was just one year. That was just last year, not the ’80s. That was just 1991 was all we did that. And that was only for about six weeks. It was only in the summer for a short period of time.

KLOBAS: I recall it as being longer than that. Shows you how much I know! What role did business play in that, from your perspective?

MITCHELL: I don’t think business had any role in that. It was a public safety issue. The police realized that the sidewalks were too jammed with people. There was so much cruising, that it became dangerous to walk across. There was gridlock with cars from the bridge all the way down to University, so there was no moving. People would start to walk across the top of cars. There were so many people down there that it caused friction. So the idea was, “Let’s just close the street, open it up like we do for the Hayden Ferry Days or the Mill Avenue Days, and let people move around.” And then it evolved to where they said, “Well, the problem with that is, that now no one can get downtown, and we can’t go to our. . . .” I would say that the businesses are probably mixed on that. Some people say it drove business away — others said it was good for business. But the closure and the opening — I’d say first of all the closure was really based on the recommendation of the police department as a public safety.

KLOBAS: Do you regard the need to close it as being an example of the success of the businesses?

MITCHELL: No, not the businesses at all, because most businesses are not open during that time. It only happens on Friday and Saturday night, and it only happens in the summer, and most of those businesses are not there [i.e., not open at that time]. I would say the crowd that is drawn down there is because of the success of the atmosphere that has been created, the walking atmosphere, the pedestrian atmosphere, the atmosphere of the buildings being like a downtown or like a mall, on the sidewalk, where you can walk up and down, you can see people inside, you can window shop, and you can hang around on street corners, and it’s FREE. I think what causes the people to go down there on Friday and Saturday nights in such numbers happens to be the atmosphere that was created, not the businesses.

KLOBAS: And that was for. . . . Who do you think is responsible for the atmosphere?

MITCHELL: The City. The trees, the sidewalks, the street furniture. There’s not a lot of money being spent down there on Friday and Saturday night. Those crowds are hanging around and standing around. That’s some of the concerns that business people have down there, is that there’s so many young people down there, hanging around, that it keeps those that have money away from restaurants and bars. And very little money is being spent. Paradise Bar and Grill . . . not Paradise — Mill Landing, Balboa [Café] — they complain about not doing any business. I don’t know about Edsel’s Attic or some of the others along there, but they are saying that they are not doing the business that they should be doing in a place like this on a Friday and Saturday night.

KLOBAS: Were they the same businesses that also voiced opposition TO blocking it off?

MITCHELL: After a while they did.

KLOBAS: Okay. What businesses have basically been FOR. . . . My perceptions are of like Jack-in-the-Box, that’s a business, that’s a very easy place to gather. Basically people who’ve come forward and said, “This atmosphere that’s been created has been good for our business for Friday and Saturday night.”

MITCHELL: I don’t know of any.

KLOBAS: Well, you said that some of them had come forward and said that blocking off the streets, for example, was good for business.

MITCHELL: It was good for downtown. I don’t know if it was for business, ’cause most of them, there were very few open downtown.

KLOBAS: Have there been any comments, such as people who oppose the atmosphere that’s been created, because it jeopardizes their security ____________.

MITCHELL: Well, probably more of that.

KLOBAS: Anybody in particular?

MITCHELL: No. There hasn’t been any. . . . I think it’s just generalized, again. There hasn’t been any local opposition, demand to open it, demand to close it. I think everybody’s cautious, because they don’t know what the right answer is. They just know that maybe something isn’t right and something needs to be done, but no one has come forward and said, “This is what has to be done, and we demand it.” No one has said that. I guess overall there’s been probably more of a consensus to open the street. But I think, again, that’s probably because of safety concerns. And maybe if we open the street, we won’t have as many people down there, because we have a cruising ordinance now, and we have a boom box ordinance, and so we have these things to try to make it not as desirable to cruise and to attract attention to themselves.

KLOBAS: Were these ordinances passed because of the public, or because of the businesses?

MITCHELL: Neither. Because our police recommended them, that this is some of the way to eliminate the negative aspects of it. It wasn’t from businesses.

KLOBAS: One last thing. What is the City Council and you personally doing in regards to the future of businesses in Tempe?

MITCHELL: Well, I think right now the important thing is that we’re in the formation of a management group, which hopefully, my idea of this is that this management group which represents every kind of business owner or property owner in the downtown area will eventually impose a tax on that area, and that is, I think, ideal at this time, we were talking about, as a special sales tax, just for the central commercial district, which is essentially our downtown. And WITH that, they will then be able to promote downtown, very much like a shopping center promotes themselves. At Christmas, if you can go to a shopping center, you find that there are choirs there, there’s shows there, there’s auto shows that are there — events that cause people to go down. There’s no unified voice saying, “You ought to come downtown Tempe. There are ‘X’ number of restaurants, ‘X’ number of nightclubs or bars, ‘X’ number of stores. It’s a great place to come.” No one has been able to advertise and push downtown Tempe as a destination place, as a commercial center. Hopefully, it will be marketed the same way that the Arizona Center is, or any other shopping center. And THAT’S what we’re trying to do right now with this management group, is that they will kind of take charge of themselves and say, “We need to get out there and advertise and promote, and try to raise our business, because it’s a great place to hang around.” We have lots of numbers down there, which may scare away people that have any money. And as a result, those that have money, want to spend money, may end up going to the Arizona Center in Phoenix, they may go to places in Scottsdale, other places, and yet Tempe will be left with a nice place for young kids to hang around, but eventually the businesses will go out of business because there’s nobody spending any money.

KLOBAS: Are you doing this in coordination with the merchants’ association? Or is this solely a City Council. . . .

MITCHELL: Well, the Mill Avenue Merchants [Association] is a private group that really is a promotional group. And this is being done, not at ALL with MAMA or Mill Avenue — it has nothing to do with that. It’s strictly the City Council with individual businesses downtown — and property owners.

KLOBAS: What do you see is the future, right now?

MITCHELL: I’m excited about it. I think you’re going to find another real change, once the Chase project goes in, and the retail that goes along with that. And with that retail, movie theaters they’re planning downtown. There are going to be more people, more shops will remain open, and I think with the promotion by the Center Point, as well as the management group, I think you’re going to find in the next year or so, let’s say when Center Point is finished with the construction right now, you’re going to find a whole change of atmosphere downtown. It’s going to be nothing but better.

KLOBAS: Okay. Well, thank you very much.

MITCHELL: Oh, you’re welcome.