May 7, 2015

Katie Malles

‘The Strip’ lives up to its neighborhood

Redesigning an old building is hard enough, but what if that building is next to one of the oldest gentlemen’s clubs in Phoenix?

That is the predicament design partners Bill Tonnesen and Gabriel Saia encountered in December when they bought a property on 12th Street and Highland Avenue near Hi Liter Phoenix Gentleman’s Club. Instead of turning their backs on their neighbor, the partners decided to incorporate the strip club in the concept for a two-story office and restaurant hub. One way was naming the renovated building The Strip, complete with a giant white sculpture of a voluptuous woman on display. Built around 1958 by architect Bennie Gonzales, The Strip is located in uptown Phoenix. Drawing attention from people on the street won’t be a problem, but as one might imagine, it’s not easy to attract potential tenants when your neighbor is a gentlemen’s club. And for Tonnesen, it’s especially hard to draw attention from prospective restaurants.

“It’s a delicate situation, because I have already had people say that they don’t think certain kinds of restaurants are going to want to relocate here because of the club,” Tonnesen says. “The name is more of a help than a hindrance. I think it’s going to help bring my project to the public’s attention so they’re going to go with it.”

Tonnesen also hopes to showcase art on the first floor, and for art gallery owner and Phoenix-based journalist Robert Pela, it might just be the perfect fit.

“What Tonnesen is doing that’s exclusive and different is he’s merging public art with commercial real estate,” says Pela. “Tonnesen’s work is singular and strong. What you get with Tonnesen’s projects, both commercial and residential, is a quirkiness that sets them apart. That’s rare — in fact, it’s completely unheard of — in Phoenix.”

In Phoenix, there are a lot of the typical white-walled corporate buildings, but that isn’t what prospective tenant Moaz Khan, of design firm MoD a+p, is looking for.

“What Bill is creating at The Strip, in our view, is the complete opposite (of corporate) and that is the reason why we love it,” says Khan. “As a design firm focused on renovation of mid-century buildings and urban infill projects, The Strip encompasses our design philosophy and beliefs.”

Tonnesen hopes to see the renovations finished in July.