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Cities Fight Blight on Grand Avenue

A vacant store where Pruitt's Home Furnishings used to be in downtown Peoria. Photo: Michael Schennum/The Arizona Republic

By Whitney M. Woodworth for The Arizona Republic

Once a lively thoroughfare welcoming commuters and visitors to the Valley, Grand Avenue has struggled with blight and growing pains in the past 15 years.

A trip northwest along Grand Avenue is a series of contrasting cityscapes. Bicyclists and pedestrians roam lower Grand Avenue in Phoenix, weaving among the lime-green bike lanes and concrete planters. As traffic moves westward, art galleries and coffee houses are soon replaced by abandoned auto shops and fenced-off vacant lots.

The street is a section of U.S. Route 60 that stretches over 50 miles from downtown Phoenix to Wickenburg, and cuts through Glendale, Peoria, El Mirage, Sun City and Surprise. Each city is responsible for fighting the plague of graffiti, litter and abandoned lots and restoring Grand Avenue to its former glory.

The City of Phoenix recently won a National Planning Achievement for Urban Design for its work. Phoenix Planning and Development Director Alan Stephenson said the city is continuing to work with local businesses and the arts community, but he was skeptical whether the same success could be replicated for the rest of Grand Avenue.

Glendale focuses on transportation

Rather than attempt to reinvent its almost five-mile stretch of Grand Avenue as an arts corridor, Glendale has focused on streamlining transportation.

Over the past 10 years, the city worked with the Arizona Department of Transportation and local businesses to remove more than 400 driveways and transformed major intersections into overpasses.

Like other cities, Glendale strove to eliminate blight while still protecting historic buildings. The city is collaborating with the owner of the Beet Sugar Factory to repurpose the 109-year-old building. Just down the road, city officials have set their sights on demolishing a blighted building south of Grand Avenue, at 59th Avenue and Lamar Road.

Glendale also planted trees and shrubs along the roadway and built walls to shield neighborhoods and vacant lots.

Peoria sees ups and downs

In Peoria, the building boom of new homes and businesses in the northern part of the city tends to overshadow the stretches of vacant strip malls and abandoned restaurants along Grand Avenue to the south in the original part of the city.

Two plazas, less than a mile apart, were abandoned by their former tenants. The Smitty’s grocery store at Adobe Plaza closed more than 15 years ago. Weeds flourish in the crumbling parking lot, but city officials said they are looking attract a new tenant. Peoria Town Center also fell into neglect after two anchor stores, Albertsons and Walmart, closed in 2007.

Java Grounds recently announced plans to open a coffee house in the plaza’s former Blockbuster video rental store. State Trailer Supply will open a location at Peoria Town Center this summer.

Lucidi Distillery Company entered into an agreement with the city in February to renovate the historic Old Fire Station #1. Under that agreement, the company is not required to pay rent while renovating the building.

Read more at The Arizona Republic

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