Tempe drops 'Mill Avenue District' from new branding campaign

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By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The City of Tempe launched a new branding campaign this week, and its famed, long-promoted "Mill Avenue District" is no more.

Instead, the city core will be promoted on signs, banners, uniforms and in marketing material as "Downtown Tempe" or "DT."

"There's so much more to talk about in addition to Mill Avenue, but it's not about, you know, leaving that behind. It's about talking about where else you can go in addition to Mill Avenue," said Ty Largo, whose firm, AWE Collective, helped develop the new campaign.

City officials want Tempe to be known for more than its "college town" feel.

"In our research, people did sort of associate it with, you know, nightlife and .. a more college atmosphere. We'll never lose that. We're sort of a college town, but we've grown up," Largo said.

His company consulted businesses and Tempe residents while coming up with the new, colorful "Downtown Tempe" campaign.

The new brand is meeting some resistance.

"We're not going to call it 'DT.' It's Mill Avenue. It's always going to be Mill. Maybe in an investment marketing package for developers it'll be 'DT,'" Ryan McDermott, a Tempe resident, told 3TV.

"To me it just sounds very, very fake and very contrived," Cathie Mancini said. 

"At the end of the day, I'm going to text my friends when I get off work and say, 'Hey, you want to meet at Mill?' " said Mercedes Newman.

The creators of "Downtown Tempe" insist that while Mill Avenue might have been dropped from the new campaign, they in no way want it to disappear.

"We're growing the story of Mill. It's our foundation. It's our main vein in Tempe, but it spiders off into a lot of other new things," Largo said.

He points to new restaurants going in blocks off Mill, including a new multi-million dollar Sam Fox complex and a new Postino Wine Bar.

Critics like Newman said this, too, is cause for concern.

"You used to be able to walk around and see interesting things, especially on Mill. Now it's all white tablecloths and expensive drinks," Newman said.

The new TempeRising.com website already has been met with a TempeUprising.com competitor. Its creators voice concern that the city is putting too much focus on attracting new development, which is taking away from the city's quirky culture.

"There's a disconnect. There's us, the people who live in Tempe, and then the Tempe that's being marketed and sold to companies," McDermott said. "It feels like they're taking Tempe and selling it to someone."

Evidence of Tempe's growth is clear. Its skyline is full of cranes and new development.

City officials welcome the investment boom, but some say they fear expensive, new, high-rise developments will price them out of their current neighborhoods.

"The development is good. We're pro-development. But it concerns me that a lot of us are going to have to leave because we can't afford the area we live in," Mancini said.

Still, city leaders remain bullish on the city's "explosive" development and believe their new "Downtown Tempe" branding campaign is a perfect fit.