As an independent chronicler of all things downtown, DPJ takes a comprehensive approach to covering the urban living movement in Phoenix and, with this Conversation series, spotlighting the people who make it move.
“We’ve had some opportunities come along and we’ve capitalized on them.”
Donald Brandt is Chairman of the Board, President and Chief Executive Officer of Pinnacle West and Arizona Public Service (APS), one of the largest employers in the state and the largest in downtown Phoenix. APS has about 1800 employees in their downtown office on 5th Street, and another 200 or so just south of downtown. Brandt moved from his hometown of St. Louis to Phoenix in 2002. He got involved in downtown in 2007, when Jack Davis, (also of APS), invited him to join the Downtown Phoenix Partnership board. Last October, Brandt then transitioned to Board Chair for the new umbrella organization, Downtown Phoenix, Inc.
We asked him to describe his first impressions of downtown in 2002 and how much has changed since the mid-2000’s. “I didn’t even know there was much of a downtown. I walked around and kind of expected to see a tumbleweed. So much has been developed in the last ten years….You look around and it’s a dramatically different city. I don’t think anyone’s going to expect to see a tumbleweed down here today.”
“So much has been developed in the last ten years….You look around and it’s a dramatically different city. I don’t think anyone’s going to expect to see a tumbleweed down here today.”
How did this change come about? “The business community, the Phoenix city government and other agencies have always had a good working relationship” said Brandt. “We’ve had some opportunities come along and we’ve capitalized on them.” From his perspective, the history of good relationships among these entities has been key. “The ASU campus downtown, no one dreamed of that 10 years ago; the restaurants, the Science Center, the light rail,” he continued. “I think it was a lot of coordination with the city, which had been a great partner all along…cooperation and coordination are important, and capitalizing on opportunities.”
Brandt was part of a team of people including Mayor Greg Stanton, Mike Ebert of RED Development, David Krietor and others, who spent the better part of a year visiting other cities to see what kind of structures they had; to understand what worked and what didn’t; and what was possible in Phoenix and what wasn’t. The cities explored included Brandt’s hometown of St. Louis, Denver and Seattle. Out of this research, “we saw an opportunity (with the creation of Downtown Phoenix Inc.), to acknowledge a broader sense of downtown and bring things together under one umbrella to coordinate and deliver a message,” said Brandt.
Brandt believes that the Downtown Phoenix, Inc. structure will expand relationships among business, government, education entities, community groups, and residents. One of the biggest benefits of this structure is that “DPI will coordinate different entities downtown…political leaders, business leaders and community leaders – just a year into it we’re beginning to speak with one voice. We set the priorities and tackle them, and, frankly, are able to bring more resources to bring to bear.”
He points out that the broadened membership component of DPI is a key part of getting everyone’s voice at the table. “PCA (Phoenix Community Alliance) was mostly the businesses and developer community. In cities that are successful with this umbrella structure, such as Denver, St. Louis, Seattle, the residents and small businesses also have membership for a modest fee and get value from it.” As an affiliate and the membership arm of Downtown Phoenix, Inc., PCA will provide that value.
“…we saw an opportunity (with the creation of Downtown Phoenix Inc.), to acknowledge a broader sense of downtown and bring things together under one umbrella to coordinate and deliver a message.”
Another thrust for DPI will be supporting and coordinating events. Brandt mentioned the success that Denver has had with their events. “Denver’s got more than 10 years on us, but we’re starting. They have one event after another and generate a net profit of about $10 million from their events. We have a few events in downtown now, but hey,” he smiles, “we have a few more months of good outdoor weather than Denver.”
So how do he and his family like to spend their free time downtown? “We come down for all kinds of sports and to eat. There’s plenty of variety down here, even just here in Arizona Center, for example. Particularly after work, we meet friends for dinner and a drink and walk over to a ball game.”
Additionally, APS often has visitors and guests from out of town and Brandt is clearly proud of what downtown has to offer visitors, including great hotels and the world-class Phoenix Convention Center.
We finished by asking Brandt his thoughts looking forward to the Super Bowl activities that will be in downtown next year. “Their (the NFL) downtown presence is going to be huge. There’s plenty of opportunity for businesses downtown to participate and support that.” He went on, “It will be a blast down here. In New York last year, 70-80,000 people went to the game, plus probably 300,000 others came in for the experience. In New York, you didn’t notice 400,000 extra people,” he laughed, “but I think we’ll feel it in downtown Phoenix.”
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MAYOR STANTON, IN COOPERATION WITH PHOENIX SISTER CITIES, INC., TO HOST INAUGURAL MAYOR’S INTERNATIONAL GALA
Event to Celebrate Phoenix’s Cultural Diversity and Support Sister Cities Programs
Phoenix Sister Cities, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating and enhancing global connections, and Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton will host the first-ever Mayor’s International Gala on Thursday, April 3, at the Sheraton Phoenix Downtown Hotel, 340 N. Third St. The reception is from 6 to 7 p.m. and dinner from 7 to 9 p.m.
Sponsored by Arizona State University, the event will celebrate the city’s cultural diversity and support Phoenix Sister Cities programs. The evening will feature international cuisine, live entertainment and a silent auction. Stanton also will present the first City of Phoenix Global Citizens Award to a resident for his or her outstanding contributions to international relations.
Proceeds from the event will benefit Phoenix Sister Cities’ programs, which include international business relations and youth exchanges with the city’s 10 sister cities.
“Phoenix Sister Cities is a powerful global network for our city,” said Mayor Greg Stanton.
“It opens the doors for international access, opportunities, and resources for both local businesses and our residents. This event celebrates our diversity and helps ensure that Phoenix Sister Cities can continue to bring our city a rich variety of cultural, economic and educational programs in the future.”
In addition to title sponsor ASU, gala sponsors include CopperPoint Mutual Insurance Company, American President Lines (APL), CityScape Phoenix, Seidberg Law Offices, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, SRP, Arizona Lottery, Snell & Wilmer and Univision.
“We are pleased to invite the community to support Phoenix Sister Cities and this exciting new gala,” said Paula West, executive director, Phoenix Sister Cities and International Relations division director of the City of Phoenix Community & Economic Development Department.
“As with many of the cultural programs we sponsor, this evening will be an opportunity to make personal connections and discover the resources that Phoenix Sister Cities has to offer.”
Business or traditional international attire suggested. Tickets are $100 each and are available via the Phoenix Sister Cities, Inc. website at phoenixsistercities.org or by calling 602-534-3751.
Ballet Arizona’s Masters of Movement should require seat belts for audience and dancers alike due to its sheer exhilaration. Each of the program’s three ballets reveals a completely different side of the troupe while reinforcing the company’s burgeoning reputation for excellence, athleticism, and technical accuracy.
At the Orpheum Theatre through Sunday, March 30, the show opens with the oldest work, Artistic Director Ib Andersen’s visually and aurally satisfying Indigo Rhapsody. Dressed in simple, clean shades of indigo edging toward black, the dancers deftly balance sensual fluidity against carefully timed rigidity in ensemble movements as well as a pas de deux featuring Jillian Barrell and the sleek, distinctive style of Astrit Zejnati. “It’s sort of a moody thing,” says Andersen. “The lighting is at times quite stark.”
“But the music is like that too…a lot of different moods or textures,” he adds, describing Sergei Rachmaninoff’s beloved Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. The work includes an introduction, theme, and 24 variations, the most familiar of which is the sumptuous variation 18, famous from the movie Somewhere in Time. “It embodies Rachmaninoff’s late style at its brilliant and witty best, it has one of the world’s irresistible melodies…I envy anyone hearing it for the first time,” wrote classical music annotator Michael Steinberg.
Andersen began creating Indigo Rhapsody in 2001. “It was actually 9/11…that was…the first day,” he recalls, explaining that the timing was sheer coincidence. “The week I choreographed it everything was of course filled with 9/11, so in some ways I think I was influenced by that…the mood. It was so severe, you know?”
The show’s atmosphere changes after the dark, flowing loveliness of Indigo Rhapsody. If you enjoyed Alejandro Cerrudo’s Off Screen when it was last performed by Ballet Arizona a few years ago, here’s the good news: this time around it’s even better, possibly due to the savvy casting. Count yourself particularly lucky at the evening performances, which feature seven talented dancers pulled from the troupe’s top ranks to form a tight ensemble.
Tzu-Chia Huang and Paola Hartley, who both excel in classical story ballets, have the opportunity to demonstrate their considerable skill and flexibility off pointe, along with the always-magnificent Kenna Draxton. Eric White and Junxiong Zhao execute a beautifully synchronized vaudevillian interlude, and there’s plenty of comic relief from Nayon Iovino and Myles Lavallee.
Costumes designed by Branimira Ivanova — a frequent collaborator with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago — evoke early 20th-century working-class garb, augmented with purple gloves and suspenders. The minimalist scenery consists of two immense pieces of black fabric, one backed with silver and alternately used as a sort of movie-screen backdrop, a billowing floor covering, and a means of hiding dancers from view or whisking them offstage.
With its period flavor and film music from There Will Be Blood, Syriana, Punch-Drunk Love, The Triplets of Belleville, The Village, and Pan’s Labyrinth, Cerrudo’s work is uniquely suited to the intimate, venerable setting of the Orpheum Theatre. Says Andersen, “Mostly I like his sense of humor, and…his movement is very sensual. You know, talent…” He pauses to laugh. “Being as old as I am, and having seen as much…you know when it’s good, and it’s not always something you can pinpoint…” Andersen continues, “It’s something with the choreography, how they relate to music, how they use the space…it’s all these things and then…how you react to it.”
The 33-year-old classically trained Cerrudo was born in Madrid and became Hubbard Street’s resident choreographer in 2009, winning awards and working with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Nederlands Dans Theater, and Pacific Northwest Ballet. Ballet Arizona first performed Off Screen in 2011, and last spring commissioned Second to Last, which appeared again during the company’s September Ballet Under the Stars outdoor performances.
Finally, those who love on-pointe “tutu” works will find their hearts’ desire in Symphonie Classique, Andersen’s homage to the roots of classical ballet. “I would say I’m inspired by the French school, meaning Paris Opéra Ballet,” he says, “their way of articulating and their musicality…also their schooling. In my opinion it’s the best school…it’s also the oldest school.”
Paris Opéra Ballet was established by King Louis XIV as the Académie Royale de Danse in 1661. “The Paris Opera came first,” Andersen explains. “Danish style actually comes from Paris Opera…and I would say Russian almost comes from the Danish — I mean, the famous choreographer in Russian ballet was a Frenchman, Petipa. It all comes from France — ballet technique comes from France.”
“When I grew up, and just 30 years ago, even 20 years ago, it used to be more distinct,” he adds. “Nowadays, of course, you see the same thing done everywhere. There’s not much distinction between what they do in Moscow and what they do in Phoenix, Arizona.” Andersen chuckles. “It’s like the rest of the world, you know? It’s smaller and smaller — we wear the same clothes, we eat the same food…. So I’m trying to go back a little bit.”
Symphonie Classique is filled with sparkling black velvet and silver tulle, the creations of Martin Pakledinaz, a Tony Award-winning costume designer known for his work on Broadway and in opera and ballet, especially with choreographer Mark Morris. Pakledinaz died of brain cancer in July 2012 shortly after fashioning Ballet Arizona’s costumes.
Andersen used the irresistible music of Sergei Prokofiev’s “Classical” Symphony, written by the young composer in 1917 but emulating Haydn and musically referring to the earlier Classical and Baroque periods. “It’s a very, very difficult ballet technically,” he continues, “because it’s fast, but also…it’s demanding…they need to do a lot of things in a short amount of time, and also it’s very precise.”
“I do think that the company’s evolving for the better,” says Andersen, who enjoys all the advantages of his troupe’s spacious new home on Washington Street. “Everything has changed — the sense of how it feels to work. We have room now to actually move and also to see…the dancers are so much more focused. It’s a very great improvement.”
If you go:
Event: Ballet Arizona’s Masters of Movement
Dates: Continues through Sunday matinee, March 30
Location: The historic Orpheum Theatre, 203 W. Adams
Tickets: Purchase tickets online
For spring 2014, Phoenix Fashion Week is making a downtown debut. Spring Into Fashion is one of the organization’s regular quarterly events, used to “build momentum” in anticipation of October’s fashion week, which will celebrate its 10th anniversary this year, according to Executive Director Brian Hill.
Spurred by conversations with Mayor Stanton earlier this winter, Hill and his team “shared the vision of fashion week, what we’ve accomplished, our feature in Time magazine last fall, and how we’re putting Phoenix fashion on the map. The mayor communicated that he’d like to get us more involved with downtown events,” the first of which is this spring trend report at Arizona Center on Friday, March 28.
Friday’s runway show is a first not only for Phoenix Fashion Week, but also for the Arizona Center. Hill believes that “to find that location is a gem. No one has ever done a fashion show in this space before, and I think a lot of people are going to want to after this. The greenscape, the length of the runway, it’s really unique.”
Over 300 attendees will be treated to both men’s and women’s spring fashions.
“From a male standpoint, the trend is ‘men are getting dressed up.’ It is definitely the season of the gentleman,” says Hill.
Other featured trends are denim; black and white pairings; skinny pleats, seen in long, flowing skirts; pink in all its various shades; and mixing but not matching—change up the colors of your accessories, contrast them for an eye-catching pop.
While Spring Into Fashion is moving into the heart of Phoenix’s business district, don’t expect pantsuits and pumps. For Hill, downtown fashion is an amalgam of styles. “It’s upscale, it’s street chic, it’s urban, it’s all those kind of rolled into one. On any given day, you’ll see someone dressed completely preppy, dressed couture, you’ll see someone dressed in a national retailer like Michael Kors. You’ll see the whole spectrum downtown.”
Noting that both the Arizona Center and CityScape cater to “traditional retailers,” Hill says that “coupled with national retailers downtown, you have more of an independent or indie designer feel based downtown.”
But that is not to say that the fashion elite is turning its back on the core population who walks these downtown streets on a daily basis.
“Downtown-based students to downtown-based business people are going to come out and realize I can walk right from my office to this event downtown. We’re excited about attracting the business district here.”
If You Go
Event: Spring Into Fashion
Where: Arizona Center, 400 E Van Buren St
Date: Friday, March 28, 2014
Time: Doors open at 7 p.m. Meet the designers, stylists, media and attendees, 7 to 8 p.m.; Fashion Show, 8:30 p.m.; After Party at 1130 The Restaurant, 9:30 p.m.
Tickets: Visit http://springintofashion2014.
Photos courtesy of Dan Tabar Photography
Chef Robert McGrath is known for his creative approach to regional cuisine. The James Beard Foundation award-winning chef has helmed the kitchen at such fine dining establishments as the Four Seasons Hotel, the Phoenician Resort, Roaring Fork and Renegade Canteen. Since then, throughout the restaurant industry, McGrath describes a transition of “restaurants becoming more comfortable, more approachable, with not so much high-end dining.”
McGrath’s own career has also taken a turn, now serving as TV host for Eight’s Check, Please! Arizona. In this role, McGrath is garnering new acclaim, putting a face to the food that many have dined on for over two decades.
Currently in its fourth season, the two-time Emmy winning show has generated what McGrath estimates will be over 150 restaurant reviews by the end of the season, all by locals who dine at the chosen establishments. These conversations are all moderated with the safe guidance of McGrath’s quick wit.
The relationship between the restaurants and host is what helped launch Eight’s Check, Please! Arizona Festival at CityScape. The second annual event takes place this Sunday, March 30. Attendees are invited to taste the food of over 30 participating restaurants, view local artwork with Artlink Inc.’s Feast Your Eyes group art exhibition, and hear from a James Beard Award-winning panel discussion featuring chefs McGrath, Christopher Gross, and Nobuo Fukuda. These, and additional chefs, will also be cooking throughout the day on three stages.
Last year’s first Check, Please! Arizona Festival took place the last weekend in April, and McGrath says that in this second year, “the dynamic is going to be a little bit more active, a little more lively, a little more zip because it won’t be so darn hot.” With the exception of Chef Chris Bianco, who had family commitments this year, all of last year’s participating chefs are returning, a testament to the fun they all had last year.
“We all know each other very well,” McGrath says of his fellow chefs. “It’s a really nice discussion, a chance for the public to ask us about our careers and our opinions, our thoughts and ideals.”
McGrath’s transition to hosting, while seamless, was not something the chef sought out. McGrath recalls, “When they first approached me, I thought it was for a donation, a benefit to help the station. So I kept blowing them off.” It was, as he describes, his “irreverent self” that ultimately won him the spot. “It seemed so abstract. I didn’t put on an act to make it.” Of the show he didn’t know he was auditioning for, “I’ve had nothing but fun with it. It’s just been a great, great experience.”
This weekend’s event will offer festivalgoers the chance to try out for their spot as a critic on season five. While McGrath will likely be busy with his cooking demos and talks, leaving the initial audition process to the producers, he sees such a fun opportunity here, differentiating this event from the myriad of other food festivals that proliferate the Valley each weekend.
“How fun is this? You go down to the festival, you eat, drink and have a ball, the weather is great, and audition for a television program.”
Describing the ideal candidate as someone who is “comfortable in your own skin, having passion, and knowing what you’re talking about,” he may as well be describing his own unlikely audition a few years ago.
As the festival takes place in CityScape, McGrath would be remiss not to detail the changes to the downtown dining scene. “I think downtown is certainly getting more vibrant and getting a lot more variety in the dining down there.” He credits the variety of people moving downtown into the apartments and condos, as well as the draw of the historic districts, which has encouraged business—and thus restaurant—growth.
The diversity of the offerings downtown can be summed up in his go-to spots. “For me to pick a favorite restaurant is like trying to pick a favorite child. My favorite restaurant is whatever strikes the mood at that particular time.”
With that said, he singles out a few of his fellow panelists. “I love Chris’s [Bianco] pizza, and I love Nobu’s [Nobuo at Teeter House] food. If I was doing it on a pretty regular basis, I think it’d be Mrs. White’s [Golden Rule Café], I just love her food. You just can’t tell my cardiologist that. And they’re doing some neat things at Blue Hound at the Palomar right there at CityScape.”
Whenever McGrath does make it back to the kitchen, he keeps a local goal in mind. “I’m looking for the best possible ingredients. Typically that applies to ingredients that are closer to the kitchen, closer to the restaurant.” He cites it as a chef’s “responsibility” to “support local growers and farmers.”
Between featuring local restaurants on Check, Please! Arizona, leading a food festival in the heart of downtown, and relying on local food sources, McGrath practices what he preaches.
“I think keeping our money amongst our community here, in terms of agriculture and restaurants, it’s healthy. We’re all supporting each other, all promoting each other. It’s synergy.”
If You Go
When: Sunday, March 30th, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Tickets: Visit www.azpbs.org/checkplease/festival
Photos courtesy of Eight, Arizona PBS