Artist Michelle Legler figured Chandler’s new downtown art walk would help keep her face and her work in the public eye. “I’m surprised to see so many people here for the first one,” she said Wednesday while seated behind a table displaying her mosaic artwork to passers-by.
The Chandler Art Guild, the newly formed group that will put on the event the first Wednesday of each month, estimates 400 to 500 people and 30 artists turned out for the first art walk. The group expects even more visitors next month.
The free event is seen by many as a step toward Chandler’s goal of turning its downtown into a vibrant cultural and retail district that will appeal to hip young professionals expected to move into highend condominiums and town homes coming to downtown Chandler.
“I think the unique, eclectic group of businesses that we have down there adds to the charm,” said Becky Jackson, president of the Chandler Chamber of Commerce. “It doesn’t look like every other downtown.”
The art walk is just the latest attraction added to the downtown square. In recent weeks, the area has seen a bridal boutique open and an art gallery expan- sion at di Sciacca, a downtown glass furnishings and art dealer. And other gathering spots, such as a tea shop/ restaurant and a microbrewery, are expected to open downtown by this summer.
“Just to be on the square, this is the place to be downtown,” said Laurie Fagen, who along with partner Wendy Fallon, will open Art on Boston, a contemporary art gallery and studio in part of the newly remodeled Arrow Pharmacy building at Boston Street and Arizona Avenue.
The pharmacy closed early last year and work began to convert its nearly 12,000 square feet into retail and office space for various tenants. Uptown Bridal & Boutique opened there earlier this month.
Anthony Canecchia couldn’t understand why his father-in-law two years ago suggested downtown Chandler as a good spot to set up a microbrewery and restaurant. Canecchia at the time was living out of state and hadn’t been to downtown Chandler in a while.
“I thought he was nuts,” Canecchia said. “Then I came down here, and I couldn’t believe all the development.”
He and some partners are planning to open Santan Brewing Co. in a renovated building that formerly housed a Chase Bank. They plan to open sometime this summer. He said he hopes the area will continue to attract businesses and events, such as the art walk, that create cultural diversity to “make it someplace people want to come to.”
“It doesn’t always have to be about hocking wares,” Canecchia said.
His future landlord, developer Desert Viking, has a similar vision for the area and is proposing a massive, $330-million face lift for downtown and has already renovated several downtown sites into restaurants and retail shops.
Desert Viking president Niels Kreipke said last week he doesn’t yet have specific retail tenants in mind for his proposed project that includes 600 new apartments and condos, triple the amount of retail space currently available downtown, a city-owned museum and a conference center.
But he predicted the project will stick with the “independent” theme already in place among current businesses in the area.
“You want the corporate stuff, go over to the mall I guess,” Kreipke said, referring to Chandler Fashion Center at Chandler Boulevard and the Price Freeway leg of Loop 101.