The funky mid-century vibe of Danelle Plaza, located at the southwest corner of Mill and Southern avenues, is continuing to evolve — and for the first time in 40 years, could have new development coming.

People will still be able to shop at Rocket A Go-Go or hear a band at Yucca Tap Room, but they might also be able to live in a new apartment complex that could be built within the plaza.

Danelle Plaza first opened in 1963, with a grand plan for several buildings of neighborhood offices, shops and restaurants. Some of those ideas came to life. Many did not, leaving stretches of pavement where buildings were intended to be. The last bits of development happened in the mid-1980s.

READ ALSO: Buckeye and Tempe — a tale of two growing cities’ challenges

Evolution is as predictable in development as it is in nature. Over the nearly 60 years the plaza has existed, dozens of shops, restaurants and bars have come and gone. A temporary Tempe City Hall was once located in the plaza while the City Hall we recognize today was under construction.

A community website was recently created that honors the history, art and culture of Danelle Plaza. The site remembers the bands that have played there over the decades – the Go-Gos, Meat Puppets, The Refreshments, Jetzons and JFA all took stages there.

The site also pays homage to the bars, music venues and small businesses that have come and gone, including a buried skateboard park. Visit the website at If you have personal memories from Danelle Plaza, the project is looking for people to share stories and photos of their plaza experiences. You can email them to

Breathing new life into historic Danelle Plaza

The City of Tempe is working with businesses and organizations to keep the spirit of the plaza and breathe new life into it. Staff has spent significant time interviewing business owners, community members, artists and others about what would be the best path to revitalization.

ASU Herberger Environmental Design students recently completed a semester of work focused on Danelle Plaza, identifying and documenting its inherent design.

All of this research has gone into an effort to re-energize Danelle Plaza. The City issued a request for qualifications for affordable and workforce housing concepts. Responses will be reviewed this month.

Affordable and workforce housing are in high demand in Tempe, with more than 11,000 units being considered needed by 2040. The 3.14 acres owned by the City of Tempe in Danelle Plaza could translate into possibly 200 apartments that would not only help Tempe provide housing, they could also potentially bring customers to the existing businesses.

The City of Tempe has been working toward this goal for about a decade, talking with business owners about what would be helpful, working with artists to create murals on empty storefronts and assembling parcels from the many owners in the plaza. Unlike most malls, Danelle Plaza has a unique ownership system. Rather than leasing land, retailers could purchase the land beneath their business and collectively share the costs of parking and infrastructure.

Hometown for all

Danelle Plaza is a hopeful pillar for Tempe’s Hometown for All initiativeUnder Hometown for All, for every new development project in the city, funds will be dedicated to the nonprofit Tempe Coalition for Affordable Housing for future workforce and affordable projects. City-owned land offers prime opportunities to increase the number of affordable housing units.

Last week, two responses to the city’s request for qualifications at Danelle Plaza were submitted. To be considered, developers had to propose designs that promoted sustainability, diversity, art, open space and events that celebrate the feel of this unique plaza.

“Danelle Plaza is a centrally-located gem with tremendous opportunities for housing, retail, open space and art to be integrated as a welcoming, lively mixed use project,” said Tempe Economic Development Director Donna Kennedy. “We are excited to see what new housing can bring to this area.”

Next steps

The City of Tempe Economic Development, Community Development and Human Services staff will review responses for the Danelle Plaza opportunities. From there, staff will go to Tempe City Council to request permission to negotiate a development agreement. Once that agreement is ready, the project will go to Tempe City Council for approval. These steps could take several months.

This thoughtful infusion of people, art, shopping and new homes into the creative Danelle Plaza atmosphere could be exactly what the area needs to evolve into its next amazing iteration.