There’s more than meets the eye on West Camelback Road

Casual observations of the West Camelback Road commercial corridor served by Valley Metro light rail note the empty lots, vacant office and retail space, and facades in need of freshening up. They can’t be missed.

But there’s nothing casual about the way LISC Phoenix and its partners, Local First Arizona and International Rescue Committee Phoenix have looked at West Camelback, particularly between Interstate 17 and Seventh Avenue. They searched and found potential opportunities for economic development success.

The nonprofits had insight into the corridor’s potential through prior community development work with immigrant and refugee communities in the area. The successful launch of the World Bazaar and Phoenix Community Market at the park-and-ride lot at 19th Avenue and Camelback is an outgrowth of that work.

This year, the nonprofits’ have focused a unique style of inclusive and equitable comprehensive economic development for local businesses. The cumulative work essentially holds up large mirrors that give the community a good view of itself and shines searchlights on hidden strengths.

Last spring, LISC MetroEdge presented a basic assessment of the business corridor, including an inventory of businesses and suggestions for short-term strategies to improve opportunities for current residents and business interests. Over the past year, Local First and IRC have been building relationships between businesses and helping them communicate with surrounding neighborhood and city leaders.

The clearer picture of West Camelback revealed enough potential for economic development strategies that serve local residents to establish an ongoing presence in the corridor. IRC, which last year established its Aquaponics Project at 1616 W. Camelback Rd. as part of its social entrepreneurship program for refugees, recently established a satellite office to its enhance role as a convener and redeveloper in the corridor.

IRC already has been at the center of community-bonding, early-action projects near 17th Avenue and Camelback — a recent a clean-up effort at the intersection and a mini pop-up bazaar intended more for local residents and businesses as opposed to the regional draw of the semi-annual World Bazaar. (A larger clean-up of the Camelback corridor is Nov. 18. The fall bazaar is Dec. 2.)

Isaac Jensen, IRC’s new economic development coordinator, said the nonprofit wants to make the office a community hub for businesses and residents. That could mean holding education classes, connecting businesses with resources, or creating pop-up markets to sell produce from the site. It means maintaining ongoing conversations between businesses and the local residents who will frequent them, and creating a social media presence for the corridor.

“My goal is not to come in and say here is what we should do,” Jensen said. “I want to get a heartbeat on what’s already been happening and help in anyway that I can to build momentum and keep that going.”

Shared business interest in strategically leveraging strengths, addressing weaknesses and challenges, and forging relationships with residents should create a buzz that changes casual first impressions of the corridor.