When ranking Arizona’s top 50 public high schools based on 2014 SAT test scores, the majority in the top 10 are charter schools.
So we crunched the numbers again to look only at traditional, non-charter public high schools to see which are the best scoring school districts in the metro Phoenix area.
It’s no surprise that public school districts in metro Phoenix tend to perform better in the outlying areas, especially in the East Valley, such as in Chandler and Gilbert. But it was surprising to see how close some of the other school districts are when comparing their average 2014 SAT scores.
SAT test scores are a good measure of college readiness, according to the College Board, which administers the test nationwide.
Fresh air: Phoenix’s Encanto Park named among best in nation
KTAR May 16, 2016
The Valley of the Sun is famous for our hot summers, but we’re also pretty well known for having some of the best weather in the country during other parts of the year.
We also have some great ways to mark that weather — hiking trails, lakes and one of the best parks in the nation.
Lifestyle website Thrillist said Phoenix’s Encanto Park is one of the nation’s best 15 city parks.
The site said it selected the 222-acre park because it has a lot to offer Phoenicians — think an amusement park, golf courses and swimming, among other activities — within a short drive from the central part of the city.
The park has also been highly rated by Forbes.
Encanto Park is located near 15th Avenue and McDowell Road. It was built in the 1930’s and designed by William G. Hartranft, who wanted to build something that would rival San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park or San Diego’s Balboa Park — the former was named the fifth-best city park in the nation by Thrillist, while the latter was named the second-best.
Thrillist said Forest Park, in St. Louis, Missouri, is the best city park in the nation. Built to host the 1904 World’s Fair, it has numerous museums, the country’s biggest outdoor theater and a waterfall.
Dominic Armato, The Republic | azcentral.com 12 p.m. MST May 11, 2016
Get a first look before the new location opens Monday
On Monday, Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria, one of the most famous purveyors of deep-dish pizza, will open up shop at Uptown Plaza, at Camelback Road and Central Avenue in Phoenix.
I’m not sure I can defend it, but I sure do love it.
Deep-dish pizza lives at the intersection of brash decadence and pure gluttony.
Take the simple elegance of a Neapolitan pizza, Americanize it and jam it in a pan, then bury it under a pile of cheese and chunky tomato sauce and you have Chicago’s most famous contribution to the world pizza pantheon. Though short on sophistication, it’s a dish that’s long on pure joy.
And on Monday, May 16, Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria, one of the most famous purveyors of deep-dish pizza, will start serving it in Phoenix, at Camelback Road and Central Avenue.
This is one of Chicago’s titans of deep dish, and the chain’s new restaurant at Uptown Plaza will be the 46th branch, but the first outside the greater Chicagoland area.
Though Pizzeria Uno is the first choice of tourists visiting Chicago, Lou Malnati’s always seemed to me the more widely respected establishment among locals, opened by and named for the son of Rudy Malnati Sr., former pizza chef at Uno. The Malnatis are among the first families of Chicago deep-dish pizza, and their claim to its creation is as credible as any other.
“We ship a lot of pizza to Phoenix,” says Mark Agnew, the president of Lou Malnati’s, who started working at the restaurant when he was 15. “We wanted a market where we felt like people know who we were.”
Malnati’s isn’t merely spreading its seed to the wind with a franchising agreement, as Pizzeria Uno did in the 1990’s with disastrous culinary consequences.
Rather, they’re keeping the business in the family, taking care to ensure the pizza at this Malnati’s is a fair representation of the pizza they serve back home.
All of the ingredients used at the Phoenix Malnati’s will be the same as those used in Chicago.
Nearly half the staff has trained at the restaurants back East.
Perhaps most importantly, Malnati’s has chosen the fertile soil of a city awash with Chicago expats to plant its first remote location, hoping to draw the kind of ebullient crowds that welcomed Portillo’s to the Valley in 2013.
Early Malnati’s memories
For the record, my feelings about Portillo’s are somewhat reserved. Though a venerable Chicago institution, I think Portillo’s product is less superlative than it is consistently solid. But I have no such reservations when it comes to Malnati’s.
It wasn’t always this way. Growing up in Chicago, we were a Gino’s East family, routinely feasting on miraculous pies served from deep within the bowels of its original location, a graffiti-covered dungeon of a building just off Chicago’s Magnificent Mile. When we pulled up one day to discover the building razed and Gino’s relocated to the former home of a Planet Hollywood, we jumped ship and consoled ourselves in the embrace of a pizza that — if I’m being honest with myself — was probably a little better.
That was Lou Malnati’s deep dish. We never looked back.
A different look
The look of the Phoenix Malnati’s may surprise fans of some of the older locations.
“We try to be a local pizzeria,” Agnew explains. “Each of our restaurants looks different, and we try to fit in.”
That means embracing the Mid-century Modern style of Uptown Plaza’s renovation, complete with neon lights, aquamarine tiling, Fiestaware plates and Googie design. It also means welcoming local charities during an invitation-only soft opening to raise money for Chrysalis’ domestic violence shelters, Alice Cooper’s Solid Rock teen center and Phoenix Children’s Hospital.
The bright colors and wild look of the dining room are a far cry from the original Lou Malnati’s, which opened in Lincolnwood, Ill., in 1971. Folks new to Malnati’s won’t know the difference, but to trigger the nostalgia synapses of old-time Chicagoans, the food will need to carry the day.
What’s deep dish?
We’re talking about a pizza that Jon Stewart famously denigrated as a “casserole.” Though it was meant as an insult, even as a fan of deep dish, it’s a characterization that I have a hard time refuting. We are, after all, talking about your choice of toppings mixed with an abundance of melted cheese and covered with a thick layer of bright, chunky tomato sauce, all stuffed into a dense, crunchy crust that’s buttery and — for reasons unknown — almost always undersalted.
In a national scene now dominated by Chris Bianco’s artfully crafted legacy, deep dish can seem like a dense, clumsy oaf of a pizza whose most compelling feature is its unashamed sense of abandon. But its coarse appearance belies the subtlety within. When it’s on, there is a beguiling, gooey charm in a slice of deep dish. Malnati’s, in particular, challenges the notion that a single slice can feed a family of six. It sure isn’t light, but two or three slices can slide right down a lot quicker than you might think.
In just a few days, families will begin lining up for a taste of Lou Malnati’s deep dish. Here’s hoping the famed pizza lives up to their expectations.
This Phoenix mansion designed by former Frank Lloyd Wright apprentice is on the market for $8.75 million
May 6, 2016, 8:15am MST
A Phoenix mansion designed by Vernon Swaback, one of the last living former apprentices to famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, is for sale. View pictures.
And the 13,365-square-foot home can be yours for a cool $8.75 million, one of the priciest homes for sale in the city of Phoenix, according to Realtor.com.
The property at 15 Biltmore Estates Drive sits on about 1.67 acres and includes seven bedrooms and 10 bathrooms. The home abuts the Adobe Golf Course in the Biltmore neighborhood and features resort-like grounds, custom-made limestone columns and surfaces as well as Brazilian hand-scraped cherry wood floors, an expansive master suite, bar, pool and whole slew of other high-end amenities and features.
The property previously was on the market with a price higher than $9 million, but it was de-listed roughly a year ago before going back up for sale earlier this year.
How the downtown Phoenix grocery store could be delayed by a Cold War-era bomb shelter
May 5, 2016, 10:12pm MST
Like many downtown Phoenix residents, I was ecstatic when news broke that Fry’s would be landing a long-desired grocery store in the city core.
And while the store isn’t slated to open for a while, there might be a few things that will require a little extra patience for us long-suffering downtown denizens.
According to a report this week in The Arizona Republic, when developers break ground later this year on the project at Second and Jefferson streets, officials with the city of Phoenix expect them to unearth a bevy of city history including remains of old jail cells and prehistoric artifacts.
Oh, and possibly a Cold War-era bomb shelter.
That’s right. A bomb shelter. Turns out the parcel of land on which the Fry’s and accompanying mixed-use high-rise will be built has had quite a history.
It used to be home to a J.C. Penney store, as well as a city-operated jail.
Phoenix officials told the Republic the bomb shelter made sense in the middle of the 20th Century during the height of the Cold War and when children across the nation spent time in drills learning to “duck and cover” in the event of a nuclear blast.
But for a 21st Century grocery store as part of an ongoing gentrification period? The Republic story doesn’t mention what developers might do with an excavated bomb shelter, though it could be redeveloped into a planned basement for the Fry’s. Developers plan to house the grocery store’s bakery and other operations in a basement.
Regardless, it is likely that if developers do uncover the bomb shelter, it will add a little bit of time to the project’s time table.
Apparently, such historical finds are common for downtown developments.
The Republic reports that construction of the CityScape project in downtown unearthed an old bank vault and other artifacts.
A new Hilton hotel will open this summer, known as the low season, in the Phoenix area, giving Valley residents a possible new staycation spot.
The Home2 Suites by Hilton is currently under construction and will open in July at 2490 W. Queen Creek Road in Chandler.
The 70,148-square-foot, 126-room, four-story building is the first of its kind in Arizona, and is geared toward extended-stay travelers.
“Every Home2 Suites hotel was designed to incorporate features that take the extended-stay concept to a new level, including expanded community spaces, flexible room configurations and enhanced breakfast offerings that assure guests have a varied selection no matter how long they stay,” said Bill Duncan, global head of Home2, in a statement.
The hotel is under the management of North Central Group, which previously developed and ran the Homewood Suites and Hampton Inn Suites in Chandler, and currently manages the Courtyard and Fairfield Suites & Inn in Chandler.
A representative for North Central Group also said that the company wanted to open Home2 Suites in Chandler because it is a “dynamic market and a great area.”
Kekoa Morton will be general manager and David Smith will be sales manager.
“The exciting growth of downtown Phoenix, with new businesses, new residents and visitors, plus increased activity at the Phoenix Convention Center, are all reasons now is the time to come downtown,” said Bobby Mancuso, president of Mancuso’s Restaurants, in a statement. “We are looking forward to bringing this vibrant part of the city our award-winning traditional Italian food, just as we did for 25 years at our former The Borgata of Scottsdale location.”
The Mancuso family has operated Italian restaurants in the Phoenix area for years. The Borgata location closed with the redevelopment of the retail complex into residential uses.
Another concept at Kierland Commons called Bobby’s Restaurant and Lounge had its last day on April 30 with the Mancuso’s moving onto a downtown concept.
Another new restaurant called The Park is also opening this summer at the Collier Center.
The Park is going into the former Stoudemire’s space. It is a food-truck food and craft beer concept and will include live music.
RED Development handles the leasing at the Collier Center.
RED also owns CityScape in downtown Phoenix and has brought popular restaurants and retailers into the Town & Country shopping center on Camelback Road and 20th Street.
Charles Skaggs, RED’s senior leasing broker at the Collier development, said the Mancuso’s and The Park are elevating the restaurant mix at the mixed-use development.
Anyone who has driven through downtown Phoenix recently has seen the construction on every corner and dozens of new restaurants and coffee shops.
Contrastingly, if they drive four miles north of downtown along 7th Avenue, they’ll encounter a neighborhood with rich history and 20-year-old small businesses surrounded by historic districts like Woodlea and Pierson Place.
The Melrose District In Downtown Phoenix, AZ
The Melrose District, nestled between Camelback and Indian School roads, is a place to shop for vintage clothing and antiques, eat at locally-owned restaurants and service your car at an old-school auto body shop. It might stick out like a sore thumb in comparison to the new developments downtown, but that’s exactly what has made the district so successful over the years.
Melrose prides itself on being “a shining star in the Metro Phoenix area,” but what really shines is the rich vintage culture there. What makes vintage work so well in the Valley? Some store owners in the district say it’s because of Phoenix’s unique history, the supportive community and being able to adapt to change.
Phoenix’s unique history
More people are buying and selling vintage artifacts than ever before, according to a study by The Association of Resale Professionals. In fact, the U.S. resale industry has seen an average growth of 7 percent each year since 2012. Many cities have hopped on the vintage trend, and Phoenix in particular has become a destination for some of the best quality vintage at a cheap price.
Arizona’s southwestern roots make it a prime location to find vintage vests, cowboy boots and denim. Phoenix specifically is well-known for its mid-century modern architecture, which makes vintage furniture highly sought after too.
Retro Ranch owner Indigo Hunter said customers often come through her store looking for 50’s, 60’s and 70’s pieces.
“A lot of people have ranch-style homes, and the furniture works in it because it’s scaled properly,” she said.
Sarah Bingham, co-owner of Antique Sugar, said high rates of retirement and the ideal climate in Arizona also benefit the vintage culture.
“People come here to retire from all over the country, and then when they get here they have all their fabulous clothes,” she said.
Due to the abundance of vintage clothing in Arizona, Bingham said store owners can afford to sell their merchandise for cheaper prices than you’d find in Los Angeles or New York.
“And the climate’s really good…we don’t lose a lot of our stuff to rot because it’s dry here,” she said.
The district’s supportive community
The tight-knit community within the Melrose District is another reason vintage culture has lasted in the Valley. The majority of the district is made up of passionate small business owners as opposed to “big boxes,” as Hunter calls them.
“A lot of those are vintage and antique shops, and you kind of feel like that’s our tribe,” she said.
Bingham said she’s been to other towns where the resale industry is cutthroat, but that’s not the case in the district.
“We actually go out for cocktails with all the shop owners often,” she said.
Jeanne Wiesley, the owner of Pearly Mae’s, agreed that the Melrose community is uniquely friendly. Wiesley moved her store to the district in 2014 and said she was instantly welcomed with support.
“Everybody encourages everyone else’s success,” she said.
For instance, if she doesn’t have an item that a customer is looking for, Wiesley said she will happily send them to another store in the area because they would do the same.
Michael Hardesty said he experienced a similar camaraderie when he bought one of the largest vintage stores in the district, Zinnias at Melrose, in 2009. Hardesty even received advice from some of the shop owners on the ins and outs of the neighborhood and how to make his business last.
Adapting to a changing environment
Despite the district’s overall success over the past two decades, not all businesses have stood the test of time.
“Stores are going to come and go, and that’s not necessarily a red flag,” Hardesty said. “It’s just life.”
“Everything’s changing all the time,” Hunter said. “You pretty much always have to stay on your toes and be aware of what’s going on.”
One way Hunter and the other store owners have kept their businesses alive is by going online to cater to a younger demographic. For some of the owners, the prospect of going online is intimidating initially, given their longtime comfort with in-person interactions. Even so, having a digital presence has helped financially.
Wiesley said she recently started selling more of her inventory through Ebay and Etsy accounts during the summer.
“It’s a new world for me, but if it pays the bills we’re going to do it,” she said.
Another way vintage stores in the district have adapted is by pushing heavily on social media. In lieu of print advertising, Hardesty said he advertises aggressively on social media and through email campaigns.
“Social media has helped a lot and really developed our brand,” he said.
For stores that make a living off of vintage artifacts, developing a strong brand is particularly important with all of the new development downtown. Fortunately, the vintage store owners see more opportunities from Phoenix’s development than threats.
Bingham, who recently relocated her store from the district to a new downtown building, said business is better than ever. In fact, she credits the changing environment to some of the store’s recent success.
“I say the more people the better,” Bingham said.
Wiesley moved to Phoenix in 1979, when she said people hardly ever went downtown. With the recent revitalization taking place, she’s shocked to see so many people walking around.
“I would rather have a high-rise there and show growth and potential in what our city can be to young and old,” she said.
Hunter is also in support of the developing culture, but cautions against too much change.
“I know that they’re building up downtown, but we still have to take care of the culture and the small business and not make it too corporate,” Hardesty said. “People are in business to make money, so it’s tough.”
Phoenix’s recent cultivation coupled with the need to grow digitally to continue making profits presents new-age opportunity to an old-age culture. But with a supportive community and unique history to back it up, the owners believe Phoenix’s vintage culture will continue to prosper.
“I think there’s always going to be a place for vintage,” Wiesley said.