No one said transforming a half-century old dry-cleaner into a furniture store/cafe/bar and event space would be easy.
Nor did Modern Manor founder Ryan Durkin think it would happen overnight.
Still, he’s surprised by how long it’s taken to bring the iconic Paris Laundry building up to modern City of Phoenix building codes so that he can share his vision in Melrose.
“It’s taking a lot longer than I thought it would,” Durkin said in July. “There’s far more things the City requires than anything I would have guessed.”
Durkin, whose original store has operated on Hazelwood Street since 2011, said in February he hoped the new Manor would be partially open by mid-summer.
“All the major stuff has been done,” he elaborated in July. “Now it’s just about installing the equipment for the cafe, bar, and electrical and plumbing things to operate them.”
Converting a 1950’s industrial use into a space to serve food, alcohol, and host events for the nearing 2020’s required upgrades to numerous safety features, among other things.
Since acquiring and gutting the building a year ago, Durkin and his capital partner had to pay to update the connection of the fire sprinklers to a water main in 7th Avenue.
That task required paying crews to direct traffic, dig a trench in the street, link new pipes they also had to buy, and wait for the City to inspect and approve it all once finished.
“It was a giant nightmare,” Durkin said. “But, we got it done.”
Durkin said he’s still waiting on plan approvals for the speakeasy style bar he wants to create before he commits to designs for interior aesthetics and furnishings.
“As soon as we get the go-ahead we’ll get working on it,” he said in July. “We’re shooting for (completion) in September.”
Delays are not unusual in “adaptive reuse projects,” which is why most commercial developers traditionally avoid older properties.
It’s also why so many buildings look alike.
Although there’s not much he can do to circumvent building codes – safety is the first priority of local governments – Durkin hopes he can persuade his neighbors to help make Modern even more attractive, especially after the delays.
Parking Requirements Prevent a Patio:
Durkin wants to use the area under his building’s original Googie-style, zig-zag marquee as an outdoor area for recreation, dining, and informal gathering.
It’s an idea that’s hardly unusual to Phoenix, or in any city with modern entertainment.
However, according to current Phoenix development codes, there simply isn’t enough space on property to allow him to use that area for anything other than parking.
Not even planter boxes.
“I think it would be a really great patio,” Durkin said. “But, I can’t make it a patio because I need that space for parking spots, because the City says I do.”
Durkins’ property is zoned “intermediate commercial,” which allows a wide variety of uses including the mixture of activities he wants.
But the Phoenix Parking Ordinance (a separate law in itself) derives the required size and number of car stalls for many of those uses from the square-footage of his building.
The intensely detailed ordinance provides different ratios for different uses, inside and out.
Durkin said the amount of space under his one-of-a-kind marquee adds to his required parking number, even though it won’t increase patrons as is.
If he has to count it, he wants to use it.
Of course, that would also increase the requirement.
“The square footage of a patio would mean I need more (parking) for that patio,” Durkin said. “I’ve got just enough to do what I want to do now.”
The Seventh Avenue Urban Main Street Overlay zone – the only of its kind in Phoenix – gives Durkin a break on the count, but at present he still must park cars underneath the marquee.
Modern’s lot is roughly 24k square feet, according to the Maricopa County Assessor, and most of it is occupied by the building itself.
“Even with the reductions, I’m maxed out,” Durkin said.
Neighbors Could Help:
Durkin said neighboring charity thrift store Flo’s, which is owned by Melrose-based non-profit Florence Critendon, has several spaces they rarely use at night.
Add to that dozens of unused spaces they and Landis Bicycles own behind the vacant Zinnia’s warehouse, and Durkin believes his problem could be solved with a shared parking agreement.
“If we had access to that lot,” Durkin said excitedly. “We’d have no problem!”
Durkin said he’s already talked to several people at Florence Crittendon.
“The people at Flo’s (store) are great,” he said. “But, they don’t have any authority to do anything.”
Durkin said he also met with the non-profit’s management, who expressed concerns about litter and other nuisances that a bar might bring.
The Florence-Crittendon crisis shelter and school are across Maricopa Street from the parking lot of Charlies’ Night Club at 7th Avenue and Camelback.
“I have nothing against Charlies’, but its an entirely different atmosphere,” Durkin explained. “(Modern) is like a lounge, not a drink until 2:00 a.m. party bar.”
Durkin adamantly dismissed a rumor that has circulated the L.G.B.T. scene that his building might become a future home to Volt Nightclub, currently at McDowell and 32nd Street.
According to him, Volt was looking at moving into the vacant Zinnia’s building.
“I have nothing against the gay bars,” he said. “But that was never even discussed for Modern.”
Instead, Durkin said he’s curating a “hangout space” for Melrose.
“(Modern) will be a place to have a business meeting, do homework, have some quiet time, shop, get a bite to eat, then a drink,” he said. “You know, a place people can just be.”
Durkin said he envisions small wedding receptions, photo shoots, or what he calls “pop-up” businesses.
Though he didn’t say it, Durkin’s description evokes The Newton at Camelback Rd. and 3rd Avenue.
And the parking solution he proposed with neighbors is not novel in Phoenix.
Shared-parking works for multi-owner entertainment hubs all over the valley.
The City even provides a form that private parties can record to keep such agreements transparent.
For example, Stacy Louis, owner of Stacy’s @ Melrose Night Club at 7th and Turney Avenues, rents parking spaces from his neighbors during the evenings.
If the City won’t further reduce his parking requirement, Durkin will need permission from his neighbors to make the front of Modern Manor look less utilitarian.
“I’m willing to pay,” Durkin exclaimed in July. “But, not allowing us to use the parking isn’t going to change what we’re doing.”
Melrose-Style Support Could Help:
Though Durkin has said many times he has no plans to alter the exterior frame of his mid-century investment, the building is also not historically preserved.
That means nothing in the law prevents him, or a future owner, from solving his pesky parking problem by scrapping that eye-catching overhang altogether.
Though most City planners do their best to help, it’s unlikely they’re going to break rules simply because a project is unusual, or because many think it saves a neighborhood icon.
Staff must enforce codes as they are written, regardless of the winds inside City Hall, or anywhere else in town.
And it’s unlikely Durkin would get relief through a code variance based on an aesthetic motive alone.
That’s not to say Melrose-ians can’t help.
A friendly e-mail or call to a certain respected charity whose work is vital to the community, or even to an elected official, may produce a yet undiscovered solution.
Such might also help the next gutsy developer who does something creative in Phoenix.
After all, “Melrose” didn’t get a decorative archway by surrendering to the status-quo.