So many people have enjoyed the art galleries and cultural events of the Roosevelt Row Arts District in Phoenix, but many aren’t familiar with how it got this way.

The area is a prime example of the patterns that shaped Phoenix in the 19th and 20th centuries as development migrated northward, which it continues to do today. The first “streetcar suburb,” thanks to the extension of the Phoenix Railway Line, this district made for a good place to live for commuting to other areas of the city.

By the end of WWI, the need for housing became clear as new residents arrived, as well as the presence of winter visitors. Tourism grew throughout the 1960s and Downtown Phoenix became a hub for Hollywood royalty, nightlife, and tourists. 

Courtesy of Roosevelt Row

According to the official Roosevelt Neighborhood’s history page, the neighborhood was home to many of Phoenix’s fanciest denizens and flourished with new businesses until the area began to decline in the 1970s and ‘80s. The artists of the area saw an opportunity to reconstruct studios and art spaces out of abandoned buildings, creating the foundation for Roosevelt as we now know it today. Helped along by being recognized by the National Register of Historic Places, the Arts District embraced those looking to conserve the historical appeal while also looking to what it could be in the future. 

Today, the 100-year-old-plus district has evolved into one of the most cherished neighborhoods in the Phoenix area. Locals, who lovingly refer to the area as “RoRo,” celebrate the unique restaurants, cozy bars, and familiar laid-back vibe cultivated by the art crowd. No longer struggling for economic growth, the challenge now lies in hand-selecting businesses that gel with the atmosphere. 

One of many murals in Roosevelt row

Per AZ Central David Krietor, CEO of Downtown Phoenix Inc., says he is constantly bogged with informational requests and development proposals, but they have to reflect the “area’s artistic vibe.” That, however, hasn’t stopped developers from trying to get into the district. Knowing how important historic preservation is to potential buyers and existing residents, they tend to tailor their construction proposals accordingly. 

Recently, the city approved plans for a multi-use development called Ro2, a four-structure project with 32 residential units, 1,200 parking spaces, 305,000 square feet of commercial office space, and 77,000 square feet of retail space. The complex also includes an existing historic house called the Knipe House, which will be renovated into a space for retail, community events, and education. The Knipe Village, a section of Ro2, will feature office space for creatives, artist housing, galleries, and restaurants. 

Courtesy of Viking Development

AZ Big Media also notes several projects in the works for Roosevelt Row, including an adaptive reuse project of three bungalow-style homes to be expanded and renovated alongside a new commercial building intended for market-style retail space. It’s The Blocks of Roosevelt Row by Arizona-based developer Desert Viking Development. 

Like any modern, multi-use neighborhood, RoRo has also experienced setbacks. A court decision recently denied the area the opportunity to become a business-improvement district, paid for by a new property tax. Many residents and supporters were disappointed, but the advocates remain hopeful that the evolution of RoRo will advance despite the hindrance.

Success through adversity can be claimed by the neighborhood on many levels. With humble beginnings, the bustling area has experienced significant growth over the last few decades with an overwhelming desire from developers, businesses, and residents to be a part of this community. Staying true to preservation as well as dedication to the arts has allowed Roosevelt Row to carve out a defining and colorful reputation that stands out amongst other Phoenix neighborhoods.