Why Tempe's Danelle Plaza Remains An Eclectic Strip Mall

By Mark Brodie
Published: Friday, May 7, 2021 - 12:31pm
Updated: Monday, May 10, 2021 - 11:39am

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Look Ma, it
The Danelle Project
Lucteria Torva's 2018 mural "Amazed Baby" at Danelle Plaza in Tempe.

In some ways, Danelle Plaza at Southern and Mill in Tempe is like a lot of strip malls. There’s a mix of businesses in there — a clothing shop, a restaurant, a record store, a billiards hall and perhaps the most well-known one, the live music venue Yucca Tap Room.

At first glance, the plaza also looks like it could use some love. But Danelle Plaza has been an important part of Tempe’s music and alternative arts scene, which is what drew Rob Moore to it.

Moore was serving on Tempe’s Arts and Culture Commission when he started paying attention to it; he’s now started The Danelle Project to raise awareness about the site.

City officials are also currently taking suggestions for a new development agreement for the site, a process that could take a few months.

The Show spoke with Moore to learn more about this, and about the history of the plaza.

Danelle Plaza historic marketing
Tempe History Museum
Marketing materials from Danelle Plaza.

Interview Highlights

What is the history of Danelle Plaza and its relationship with music?

The plaza started out in 1963 and has actually had live music pretty much from the beginning until now, and it's evolved over the years, kind of reflecting the local music scene and how styles have evolved through time. So it has an extended musical legacy.

How has this plaza evolved over time? 

What you see today is largely the 1963 look, feel and façade. And in large part, that's due to the unique retail model that underlies the plaza, in that it's a retail association, which means that each of the business owners can own the land beneath it. And this has led to sort of a slow evolution because basically all the owners have to agree upon larger, inclusive decisions for the plaza, which has kind of been inefficient, but has equally maintained its character. ... It kind of lends an interesting dynamic. You know, Danelle Plaza almost functions as a small village in terms of that democratic process. And it's even pushed back on development forces through that same model. Walmart tried to come in the 2000s and buy up the plaza, and they found it so complex that Walmart actually was scared off. 

What do you see as the future of this property?

It's very vague right now, partly because the city owns a majority of the plaza and they get to make some decisions at the community level as to how it's redeveloped or who they sell their property to. And I truly hope that whatever happens is something that works with the existing small business and art scene that's there. ... I think there's a lot of opportunity to build on the existing small business community art scene that's there if approached correctly and nurture that local identity and build something really unique that honors Tempe's character.

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