COVID-19 pandemic takes toll on Arizona Center in Downtown Phoenix

Above: Located on the corner of Van Buren and Third streets, the retail center heavily relies on students’ support on ASU’s downtown campus. (Photo by Evan Lis) Business News | 22 hours ago |

Because fewer students are taking in-person classes on campus at Arizona State University (ASU), the Arizona Center in downtown Phoenix is experiencing a strain on their businesses, even closing some popular locations amidst the pandemic.

Located on the corner of Van Buren and Third streets, the retail center heavily relies on students’ support on ASU’s downtown campus. Parallel Capital Partners Vice President of Marketing Paola Cicuttini said students largely support their businesses and add exciting energy to the property. 

Since the beginning of the pandemic in March, many have seen businesses struggle as foot traffic has decreased. ASU sophomore Samantha Aime previously worked at Kwench Juice Cafe, a popular smoothie and juice bar located in the Arizona Center. After a trial week, Kwench permanently closed because it couldn’t bring in enough money to remain open. 

“When they closed, I was impacted immensely because I was suddenly without a steady income,” Aime said. “It was devastating because I loved to work there and loved the location. I sadly don’t go to the Arizona Center anymore.” 

Aime said the business is currently awaiting approval for a location in Gilbert, Arizona, that could potentially be Kwench’s new home.

Because of the Arizona Center’s varied demographic, Cicuttini said they often get visitors from the Phoenix Convention Center and hotels in the surrounding areas. As downtown Phoenix continues to “grow and prosper” with an expanding residential area, they plan on more local residents visiting the retail center as well.

ASU sophomore John Brown frequented the Arizona Center three times a week last year. He utilized the upstairs office space to visit his English professor and went to BoSa Donuts as well as Corner Bakery Cafe to study or see his friends. He said downtown Phoenix seems like a “ghost town.”

“COVID-19 has impacted my travel to the Arizona Center significantly. I’m originally from Chicago, so when ASU went online during the spring 2020 semester, I went back home. I haven’t been to the Arizona Center once this year because COVID-19 has limited me from coming to campus,” Brown said.

Cicuttini said that small businesses in the complex have “suffered tremendously” but they are doing everything they can to help their tenants get through this tough time. The AMC Movie Theater recently began opening its doors Friday through Sunday each week, implementing its new “Safe and Clean” policies. Some restaurants have been able to sustain themselves with limited hours and curbside pickup options.

“COVID-19 will have a lasting impact on the whole world. We continue to have strict protocols in place to keep our tenants, staff, and visitors safe,” Cicuttini said.

Those safety protocols include signs placed around Arizona Center encouraging social distancing, proper handwashing guidelines posted in the restrooms, and hand sanitizing stations placed in lobbies. Masks are required in all buildings and common areas, as well as enhanced sanitation in high-touch areas. Additionally, a Plasma Air system was installed in the One Arizona Center office building to reduce airborne pathogens.

This is not the first time the Arizona Center has been involved in an economic recession. In 1987, Rouse Co. began building the multi-use center, filling a 16-acre vacancy previously known as the “Superblock.” When it opened in 1990, Arizona was in the midst of a recession, and the center lost many businesses within five years according to www.arizonacenter.com

When it opened the AMC theater in 1999, it was the first of its kind downtown and brought new business. By 2003, the upstairs food-court had to be converted into office space when the Arizona Center couldn’t sustain its popularity.

From 2007-2012, the Phoenix real estate market crashed, resulting in Parallel Capital Partners and Angelo, Gordon and Co. to pay $126 million for the Arizona Center in 2015. Cicuttini said its recent $25 million renovations would “certainly attract some popular new businesses in the future.” She said a lot is happening in downtown Phoenix and they are excited about what is to come for the Arizona Center.  

“We are continuing to receive inquiries regarding leasing space at our retail center. The new AC Hotel by Marriott will open at the beginning of 2021, and we will soon start construction on a 29-story residential tower,” Cicuttini said.

Cicuttini said that we must all work together and support local businesses and maintain a bright and exciting downtown. She hopes students will help by visiting the center and utilizing their free WIFI, bike racks, and sitting areas to take a break and enjoy the outdoors.

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