Old Town stays course as Scottsdale changes

by Fields Moseley

Bio | Email | Follow: @fieldsmoseley, azfamily.com,Posted on July 7, 2012

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Scottsdale is a tourist destination that tries to appeal to many interests.  Its leadership has struggled in recent years to find the balance that makes most people who live there happy.  In the original part of the city, “Old Town,” there is a small but passionate group of business people who work to keep things the way they have always been.

Scottsdale has the club scene, the arts district, and high end shopping all within a mile of its western roots.

“It’s a little snapshot of history,” said business owner, Marilynn Atkinson.

Old Town Scottsdale still has covered walkways, wagon wheels and a healthy influx of tourists and is highly desirable to businesses of all kinds.  That has led to a few shoot-outs.

“I have to tell you, we would have lost almost all the buildings by now or at least half of them,” said Atkinson.

Atkinson’s parents started an Indian trading post business in the 1940s. She has been a fixture in Scottsdale for decades fighting to keep downtown the way it has always been.

“So when we got this post office we’re going we’re on the map, we finally made it,” said JoAnn Handley in front of a small two story brick building on Brown Avenue.

Handley grew up here and runs the Scottsdale Historical Museum.  She and Atkinson are deputies in the fight for Old Town preservation.

“The reason they came here was to see this old town,” Handley said of tourists.  “What was it like 50, a hundred years ago.”

Handley said before the recession, developers would come to Old Town and try to tear down an old building if not an entire block.  Since then she said, the battles have been relatively minor.  The Italian Grotto restaurant and Ra Sushi applied to change their look in recent months.  Ra Sushi originally wanted a red metal roof and columns.

“Metal poles, also red, that does not fit the Old Town,” Handley said with a gasp.

The restaurant plans to work with the Old Town Merchants Association and the city likes that type of healthy conversation.

“It’s important you have the input you need to open up your business,” said the city’s Strategic Programs Manger, Rob Millar.  “It’s important they understand the district has specific ambiance, character, design elements that are critical.”

Even with polite dialog, Handley and Atkinson have no doubt there will be more serious battles over preservation.

“I fully expect in a year or two, we’re going to be fighting again,” Handley said.

They encourage younger members of the association to stay involved, lest Old Town start to look like anywhere else.

“So don’t come into Old Town and say I like this orange contemporary building,” said Atkinson.  “Because those of us who try to keep tabs on it are going to say, ’Nope. Nope.’”

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