Arizona Native Effects Re-Vitalizing Change Across Downtown Phoenix

As a dynamic agent of change, Wayne Rainey has found his ‘bona fides’

If ever there was a moment in Phoenix’s recent history when a number of factors converged to help jumpstart the downtown’s revival as a hub for arts, hip retail and all things cultural, it certainly might have been in the fall of 1999 when an energized, young
Arizona native named Wayne Rainey had an epiphany, of sorts.

Rainey, who was then in his early 30s, had grown up in downtown Phoenix, where he nurtured a strong attachment to and love for the city. Like a lot of perceptive Phoenix business people at the time, Rainey, a professional photographer and artist, didn’t like what he saw happening to the Phoenix of his memory. As he and others observed it, the city seemed to be evolving into a colossal, overdeveloped suburb, leaving downtown somewhat empty and lifeless.

“I was really frustrated that Phoenix seemed to have no urban heart,” Rainey says of that time. “We were bent on development and we didn’t do our homework—we didn’t do any of the infrastructure work that really builds communities and gives them their soul.”

So he decided to do something about it. As a lifelong resident, he knew he had one significant advantage working in his favor.

“The great thing about Phoenix,” Rainey says, “is that if you have the will and the patience, you can effect all the change you want. And you don’t have to be a multi-millionaire to do it.”

Rainey got the ball rolling by purchasing an old warehouse on Roosevelt Street to serve as his studio, in, as he describes, “one of the roughest neighborhoods in the city.” Dubbing it monOrchid, he transformed the warehouse into an arts collective of sorts, an arresting enclave of galleries and studio space where artists, musicians, technology gurus and other visionary entrepreneurs could work individually or collectively in what might be described as a giant, arts-focused think tank.

Rainey is quick to point out that he wasn’t driving his vision single-handedly.

“People like Local First Arizona founder Kimber Lanning; Greg Esser, co-founder of the Roosevelt Row Community Development
Corporation; Cindy Dach of Made Art Boutique; artist and entrepreneur Derick Suarez and a handful of others were instrumental in those early days,” he says.

At the same time as he was getting monOrchid up and running, Rainey noticed that another building—a dilapidated 14-unit apartment complex across the street—was vacant and, in his words, was “a blight on the neighborhood.” He purchased that as well, named it Holgas and, in a deal with the city, converted two of the units into prime gallery space and the others into attractive, affordable housing, primarily intended for struggling artists.

The fresh ideas that Rainey and others were hatching swept through the downtown district like wildfire.

“It happened literally in weeks,” Rainey says. “It was a sea change for Phoenix, the first time I think we ever felt we had a cultural walking district. It went from 10 or 15 people doing First Friday Artwalk, to what it is today—thousands of people coming down on a regular basis to enjoy the downtown area. It changed people’s perception of the city—entirely.”

Roosevelt Row, or RoRo as the arts zone is called, is today a flourishing cultural oasis in the city’s urban core, a desirable stop on the Valley Metro light rail system where residents and visitors alike regularly flock to enjoy a fully walkable creative district with a national reputation for arts and cultural events, award-winning restaurants, galleries, boutiques and live music.

“It’s changed the energy of this city,” Rainey says, “and brought a refreshing sense of promise to the downtown.” 

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