Through digital screens, marketing campaigns and social media efforts, the old west has set out to meet the new west.
City officials say they’re building on their western heritage — an aspect of the city that research shows visitors and residents alike both laud — to carry their downtown area into the 21st Century.
While brick-and-mortar storefronts are shutting their doors nationwide the city of Scottsdale is no exception as the West’s Most Western Town’s downtown sector and those who make a living there search for a new vision of a reinvigorated marketplace.
Since 2016 Scottsdale has been putting money and resources into evaluating it’s popular tourist area and the future potential it holds. Historically, the Old Town nomenclature has referred to old west storefronts that line Scottsdale Road and extend east onto Brown Avenue and surrounding thoroughfares. The year-long study has resulted in a new brand, logo and marketing campaign that will now refer to the entire downtown area as simply: Old Town Scottsdale.
The city of Scottsdale unveiled it’s new brand Thursday, Jan. 24 at Saguaro Scottsdale, 4000 N. Drinkwater Blvd.
The general area of downtown Scottsdale has a north boundary of Chaparral Drive, a south boundary of Earll Drive, an east boundary of Miller Road and a west boundary of 45th Street.
Traffic signs direct motorists into downtown Scottsdale, while street lamps along Brown Avenue are branded with Old Town Scottsdale emblems, creating confusion amongst residents, tourists and visitors. The vast area includes Scottsdale Fashion Square, Scottsdale Stadium, the Museum of the West, offices, Civic Center Park and library, the Scottsdale Historical Museum, 80 art galleries, 90 restaurants and 320 retail shops.
Proprietors and patrons alike agree downtown Scottsdale has potential, but a growing chorus of business owners are calling for more help in marketing the local marketplace while the city’s tourism arm assessed the situation and held meetings for at least a year.
Proponents of the Scottsdale arts community in what was once known as downtown Scottsdale appear to be cautiously optimistic about the prospect of new energy coming to Old Town.
However, those business owners are steadfast in the assertion that without the arts there is no Old Town Scottsdale.
City officials — members of the economic development, planning, tourism and events and elected leaders — and contracted consultants have a different idea.
Why compete with other downtowns when Scottsdale isn’t like other downtowns?
From segmented to one voice
The morning of Monday, Jan. 22 French Thompson and Victoria Boyce were meticulously displaying custom jewelery designs brought to life akin to a painter’s stroke in downtown Scottsdale.
“We are working hard to market and make the Scottsdale Arts District a distinctive, branded and defined area within the downtown,” Mr. Thompson said at his business Jan. 22 of his efforts to help both himself and his fellow artisans.
“When people are saying they are going to Old Town they probably aren’t. Scottsdale downtown is a group of distinctly different districts that are all making up the downtown.”
And, it’s that notion city officials appear keen to solve.
“The city has invested a lot of time and money coming up with this branding,” Mr. Thompson said Jan. 25 following the new brand reveal in a statement of the Independent. “This is how they want to brand the entire Scottsdale Downtown. The Scottsdale Art District will now be the Scottsdale Art District in Old Town Scottsdale.”
Mr. Thompson, who serves as president of the Scottsdale Gallery Association, owns the brick-and-mortar where French Designer Jeweler on Main Street in downtown Scottsdale stands and has been crafting fine jewelry for nearly 20 years.
“They (downtown businesses) can enhance and not detract from each other,” he explained of the changing face of the popular Scottsdale area. “That is what the downtown needs is a mix of businesses that compliment each other.”
The locally beloved arts district has produced the weekly Thursday night Art Walk, the longest running endeavor of its kind.
“Our art walks, which celebrated 40 years in October 2014, made the MSN Travel UK lists of the 10 best walks in the world for the culture fix — and it was the only cultural stroll in the United States to make it in the Top 10,” he said. “I’m still surprised that the city, and probably that we, don’t make a bigger deal out of this!”
Since 1976 Victoria Boyce has been close to the heartbeat of the Scottsdale arts scene, prior to its emergence and now in it’s transition. She has owned her own fine art galleries but been a part of the industry for her entire professional career.
“I feel like they (recent marketing efforts) have focused on something that is going away,” she said while getting ready for opening Monday, Jan. 22 at French Designer.
“The arts on the other hand are expanding. In the hey-day of the arts we were a destination. People bought second homes and then retired here. I really think the city was built on the idea that this was an arts community.”
Ms. Boyce says sometimes she thinks everyone but city officials understand the cache of what was first known as downtown Scottsdale and the bedrock of that marketplace: the arts community.
“The customers recognized it but the city didn’t recognize it,” she said. “We don’t know how to combat that. I think we all fell into that trap of the tourism dollar being the most important.”
Ms. Boyce says everyone has their own ideas of how downtown Scottsdale should evolve into the 21st Century.
“There are people who are doing things in the background who want to build downtown in their own image,” she said. “We are very much a unique arts district and we too are a destination.”
It’s Old Town
On the evening of Wednesday, Jan. 24 a room full of the city’s most notable dignitaries, community members and business owners collectively held their breath inside the Agave Complex at the colorfully decorated Saguaro Scottsdale resort awaiting a much anticipated brand reveal.
The city of Scottsdale hosted a special event for members of city council, municipality officials and interested stakeholders at the resort to unveil the culmination of months of research and about $500,000.
Scottsdale’s hope is to re-introduce itself to the Valley of the Sun with a fresh voice, and fresh logo, officials say.
From now on, the entire area will simply be known as “Old Town Scottsdale,” city officials say.
“So, the city of Scottsdale, our destination market partners Experience Scottsdale, the Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce, and HAPI all ultimately agreed that due to popular demand, and via the research, it’s time to embrace Old Town Scottsdale as the official name for the entire downtown area,” Tourism and Events Director Karen Churchard explained.
The culmination of the new Old Town Scottsdale logo, campaign and marketing strategy was birthed out of a taskforce responsible for moving the tourism strategic plan forward.
Through the months of research, social media and Google analytics, focus groups and talking with merchants, the popular consciousness overwhelming already calls the area Old Town Scottsdale, Ms. Churchard explained. The area’s cache is thought to be sophisticated, upscale, walkable and have old west charm, as well.
According to Ms. Churchard:
- On Instagram: 69,756 people used the hashtag #oldtownscottsdale, while only 4,690 people used the hashtag #downtownscottsdale;
- Check-ins on Facebook: 164,405 people checked-in to Old Town Scottsdale, while only 2,186 people checked into downtown Scottsdale;
- Google searches: There is 18,100 average monthly searches for Old Town Scottsdale; while only 2,900 average monthly searches for downtown Scottsdale.
Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO says the data and direction it ought to lead is clear.
“In business, the customer is always right, and the research has shown that our downtown is known as Old Town Scottsdale,” he said in a Jan. 24 statement to the Independent. “Old Town has a distinctive character that sets it apart from other areas of the Valley. It’s a tremendous retail, cultural and social hub. Old Town is a great area for all demographics and continues to get stronger every day.”
Through a five-year plan the Downtown Scottsdale 2.0 study began and Phoenix-based advertising agency, HAPI, embarked on a path to find what the future of the city’s downtown area would entail.
“Our objectives of this campaign are really to make Valley residents aware that downtown Scottsdale is a vibrant place to come visit,” Ms. Churchard said. “We will be embarking to reach visitors from out of state that are already here in the Valley, as well as drive website traffic and most importantly, the retail traffic for all of you.”
Public input for the 2.0 plan was first solicited in December 2016, before the city hosted three meetings in May 2017 to discuss the findings of their study. The 2.0 study was reportedly conducted over a 10-month period, aiming to plan the future of the downtown area.
Ultimately, Downtown Scottsdale 2.0 aimed to provide a longterm sustainable environment that will attract multiple generations of visitors and an additional downtown residential population.
The downtown Scottsdale residential population goal is 8,200 residents by 2025, which would require an additional 1,050 residential units, city officials say.
A state of limbo
Bob Pejman, fine artist and owner of Pejman Galleries in downtown Scottsdale, says he agrees with some of the notions made by municipal marketing efforts.
“In my opinion, downtown is a in a state of ‘limbo,’” he said Jan. 22 at Pejman Galleries. “There seems to be a purposeful neglect to cause turnover of properties to new owners for redevelopment purposes. It appears the city’s vision for downtown is to turn it into Tempe North.”
Mr. Pejman says the relationship between the city and proprietor has been rocky over the last few years.
“Up until very recently, the city was paying more attention to the pop-up art tents than their own historic Arts District,” he explained.
“This caused many prominent galleries to leave the Scottsdale Arts District. However, recently the city has increased its funding for Scottsdale Art Walk and they have promised to do matching funding for the Scottsdale Arts District local marketing — so we seem to have turned the corner to a positive direction.”
Mr. Pejman was instrumental in creating and publishing a 2018 Scottsdale Arts District Visitor Guide supported by local businesses, the city of Scottsdale and its marketing arm, Experience Scottsdale.
Starting with parking considerations, Mr. Pejman is looking for the municipality to take the lead on thoughtful infrastructure and zoning considerations that could enhance the area for those who put it on the map.
“The city should build a multi-level parking deck in each of the four quadrants of downtown if they wish to increase density successfully,” he said. “The city of Scottsdale should change its zoning for certain areas of downtown not to allow certain types of businesses to open.
Following the Jan. 24 Old Town Scottsdale brand reveal, Mr. Pejman says his initial reaction is one of mixed feelings.
“I am in support of branding downtown as ‘Old Town.’ Every city has a downtown … but the uniqueness and authenticity of the name Old Town should pull more tourists downtown,” Mr. Pejman said in a Jan. 25 statement to the Independent.
“And, we plan to market the Scottsdale Arts District to be a significant part of the Old Town draw. However, I am not in support of the inclusion of Fashion Square into the area that is branded as Old Town. Fashion Square is a complete separate entity of its own and there is nothing ‘Old’ looking about it … especially in light of the upcoming up-scale remodeling.”
Scottsdale resident and community advocate, Sandy Schenkat, has become a vocal critic of municipal marketing endeavors.
“At one time, I was willing to go and try and convince the gallery owners that they should become Experience Scottsdale members,” she said in a Jan. 19 phone interview. “I have been a big proponent of Experience Scottsdale because of all they do for both the meeting and convention markets. But they have taken such a drastic change in their approach in marketing the city — and that is why I am against them.”
Ms. Schenkat has penned editorials making claims Experience Scottsdale and it’s leadership are paid too much and don’t do enough for, in particular, downtown Scottsdale during a time when the marketplace needs it most.
Under a 501(c)6 nonprofit umbrella, the private company known as Experience Scottsdale holds contracts with both the city of Scottsdale and Town of Paradise Valley to conduct marketing efforts on behalf of the municipalities.
In Scottsdale, that number equates to about $10 million this fiscal year, which is derived from bed-tax remits.
Ms. Schenkat contends “big business” is looking to take over downtown Scottsdale.
“It is basically the tourism industry that hasn’t supported the downtown,” Ms. Schenkat claims.
“The city itself has not been involved in the marketing of downtown. With the $20 million in bed-tax that is raised, that money should also be helping to support what we consider tourist attractions. The downtown really is a tourist attraction.”
A desired synergy
An updated logo, color scheme and overall vibe to the Old Town area will not magically create a popular destination; visitors want to go where the locals hang-out, Experience Scottsdale CEO Rachel Sacco says.
“We are really excited about this plan to talk about downtown to the local audience,” Ms. Sacco said in a Jan. 17 phone interview.
Ms. Sacco says her organization is charged with marketing Scottsdale to the outside world, and while the marketing efforts are stellar in key markets such as New York City, Chicago and Canada, there are 4 million residents locally that need to hear about Scottsdale as well.
“Visitors are having a great time, yet locals aren’t always as familiar as some of our visitors are,” she explained. “So the great thing is the city will now be able to do a comprehensive marketing campaign to reach 4 million residents locally.”
Ms. Sacco says metropolitan Phoenix residents are inclined to go to downtown Scottsdale, but it might not always be on their radar.
“What really excites me about that is what we know about visitors — they always want to know where the locals go. The more we can get locals to go downtown — get the experience, create a vibe, add to that whole mix — we know that will also appeal to visitors,” she said, saying there is a desired synergy to be created between locals and tourists.
“That will have a wonderful impact on visitors who do come here outside of high season, even in summer. Again, what we want to do is create that kind of vibrancy, a really activating place. More locals year-round will be more attractive for visitors to come all year round.”
Assistant City Manager Brent Stockwell said the issue he hears about most frequently in the downtown area is parking.
“Although there’s a lot of free public parking spaces throughout the downtown — there’s not enough in the right places during peak periods,” he explained. “So to better manage public parking in Scottsdale’s downtown, a trial program will start soon to assist customers by using a mobile app to find free, open parking spaces.”
A key focus right now is reinvesting and improving the downtown through the continued work with residents and businesses.
“The regional marketing plan, including the new brand, is part of a strategy to keep Scottsdale’s downtown ‘top of mind’ as a destination for shopping and entertainment for Valley residents,” Mr. Stockwell said. “The city partners with Experience Scottsdale to market Scottsdale as a destination to national and international visitors who might want to come here — it made sense to also have a strategy to market Scottsdale’s downtown to people that are already here — Valley residents and visitors staying in Scottsdale hotels.”
Mr. Stockwell also points to the locally owned small businesses and restaurants as part of the city’s special cache.
“There are many one-of-a-kind locally owned small businesses to visit to shop and receive services, as well as many great restaurants,” he said. “Scottsdale Stadium, Civic Center, Loloma and Canal Banks areas are all anchors that help support businesses in the area — figuring out ways to continue to improve those areas — and the connections in between — are critical to continued success in Scottsdale’s downtown.”