Long-awaited redevelopment heating up in Apache Blvd. corridor

Apache Boulevard has a storied history as a major thoroughfare for travel and commerce. Long before it became a legacy route for motorists heading to the West Coast, it was a trade route indigenous people used to move goods and make community connections.

The boulevard’s long timeline shows decades of economic distress between periods of prosperity. It’s been boom or bust for businesses and residents in the corridor.

The current incarnation of the Tempe route rebuilds Apache Boulevard as a hub of commercial and community activity. Progress is linked to transit-oriented development along the Valley Metro light-rail line and to widespread, strategic, sustainable community efforts in the corridor.

A 2014 LISC MetroEdge market scan helped set the table for ongoing Apache Boulevard corridor revitalization. MetroEdge, which operates LISC’s Corridors of Retail Excellence program, identified challenges and issues for residents and businesses in a trade area that covers roughly 5 miles of Tempe.

With the help of a $102,000 State Farm grant Apache Boulevard business owners, who have been holding monthly meetings facilitated by NEDCO, completed facade improvements and are creating a buzz-worthy “Spice Trail” brand identity that touts the unique collection of about 20 restaurants and markets with Middle Eastern and Far East.

Stakeholders gather to kick off voting for community mural project. Pictured here from left to right: Augie Gastelum (NEDCO Executive Director), Laura Kunewa (State Farm), Homa Mamwook (Tasty Kabob Persian Bistro Owner), Celina Tchida, NEDCO Business Development Specialist

LISC and its partners, State Farm and the Neighborhood Economic Development Corporation (NEDCO), have combined essential ingredients of comprehensive economic development — access to capital, creative placemaking, leveraging resources, small-business improvement grants, marketing and community engagement. In 2016, this collaborative effort helped leverage over $2 million in investments that spurred revitalization in the Escalante neighborhood and renovated Apache Boulevard storefronts.

The corridor as also seen more than 2 million square feet of housing and commercial projects under construction in the Apache Boulevard corridor. Notable proposed projects include Valor on Eighth, 50 units of affordable housing for veterans, and Nexa, a mixed-use development with retail and 398 units of market-rate rental housing.

LISC-style community and economic development work is changing the look and feel of the entire Apache Boulevard corridor.

About a half-mile south of the light-rail line, urban revitalization success takes the form of a former boat dealership turned community health clinic. Mountain Park Health Center began construction in 2016 on the project that is partially financed with a $9.35 million New Market Tax Credit through the LISC Healthy Futures Fund. When it opens this summer, the 6.5-acre campus will become a public amenity featuring a walking trail, outdoor exercise stations, public art, and community event space.

About a half-mile north of the light-rail line, a $100,000 grant that is part of the LISC/NFL Grassroots Program, helped renovate an underused park near Thew Elementary School and the Escalante Community Center with new playfields and a walking trail. NEDCO, a certified community development financial institution, partnered with Tempe and a developer to replace a vacant, unsafe, dilapidated motel with landscaping to create a more appealing street corner that is a gateway to the park and the community center. NEDCO also facilitated installation of a colorful “paint-by-numbers” mural on a blank wall leading from the street to the center’s community garden. Nearly 100 neighborhood residents helped create the mural.

Ongoing economic development work in the Apache Boulevard corridor will solidify the future and create opportunities for more history in the making.

To learn more about Apache Boulevard revitalization efforts visit the NEDCO website.