Mill Avenue District


Red and black Mill Avenue District signs can be spotted as you walk along the popular path of Mill Avenue, but have you ever wondered what this organization actually does?

Basically, the Mill Avenue District’s job is to create the experience when people are in Tempe – they create the environment to give people a good time downtown.

The Mill Avenue District is an enhanced service district that has a team of ambassadors, usually seen wearing red polo shirts around town. Their jobs include cleaning, landscaping, emptying trash cans and other tasks that bring Mill Avenue’s standards to a level that the community is proud of and tourists can enjoy.

I’ve seen the red-shirted ambassadors busy at work on Mill Avenue, watering plants, replacing signs and cleaning throughout the day.

Employee Wann Sierra said he, "likes his job because it's something different every day."

Nancy Hormann, president and executive director of the Downtown Tempe Community said, “We have what’s called a “Clean Team”- people who are out on the streets cleaning all the time, emptying garbage, etc. The City does it once a day in the morning, but for the remainder of the day, we take over that responsibility,” Hormann said.

Many cities also have enhanced services districts, like the downtown areas of Chandler, Phoenix and Mesa. Currently, Glendale and Flagstaff are both exploring similar ideas in their areas. The term “enhanced services” really means that the Mill Avenue District takes over the maintenance and care of Mill Avenue, where the City of Tempe ends their services.

“It’s typical in every major city across the U.S. They’re called different things in different states. Some are called business improvement districts, city improvement districts, enhanced services districts, but they’re all exactly the same thing,” Hormann said.

The Mill Avenue District receives its funding from local property owners, who voted to tax themselves for this specific purpose, but is actually employed by the Downtown Tempe Community. The DTC is a non-profit organization that works with the City of Tempe and downtown stakeholders.

“The property owners pay into this district in order to provide services that go above and beyond what the city already does, but the City [of Tempe] will not reduce their services because we are adding services,” Hormann said. “So we just have a higher level services here - more cleaning, landscaping and safety.”

In recent months, a safety team has been added to the area. The Safe-T-Patrol Guides, can be spotted wearing bright yellow polo shirts and may be patrolling around town on foot or by bicycle. The Safe-T-Patrol Guides act as goodwill ambassadors that welcome visitors, provide directions or a safety escort and can give recommendations of where to go in Downtown Tempe. You might also notice the Safe-T-Patrol in the park at Tempe Town Lake. Their territory also extends to the park, in order to be more helpful to Tempe visitors and provide a sense of visual security.

You might have also noticed the addition of credit card enabled parking meters in Tempe, which has made it easier for visitors to find parking - especially when they are all out of quarters. This action, by the Mill Avenue District, was in hopes to better accommodate customers in their downtown Tempe experience.

Hormann said, “It’s fabulous, but it’s not a money-maker. It’s about convenience and customer service and we are trying to expand on that.”

Credit card parking meters

Since the program began, there has been a positive response to the credit card parking meters and one could only image that convenient parking would lead to happier customers and more business on Mill Avenue.

The Mill Avenue District also manages parking garages and lots in Tempe. I learned that sometimes when you need to park for an extended period of time, it’s better to use a parking garage than a meter with time restrictions.

“We want to encourage people, if they are coming for longer periods of time, to park in parking lots or parking structures because you have a short window of time on the meters,” Hormann said. “But you can stay as long as you want in parking lots and structures. And in the ones that are branded with the Parkit Logo, they’re all free for the first hour.”

Parking garages are the better choice in the summertime, as well, to keep your car from baking in the sun while you are off enjoying lunch or shopping.

Parking can be such a hassle and I really appreciated the insiders’ tips for parking in Tempe.

Now that you have knowledge and a higher appreciation for what the Mill Avenue District provides for our city, you’ll know who they are next time. If you see a red-shirt ambassador or Safe-T-Patrol Guide, say hello or ask if you need help!

Some other activities and events associated with the Mill Avenue District:

Festival of the Arts


More info:

  • To see upcoming events in Tempe, click here.
  • For a better parking spot in downtown Tempe, click here.
  • To apply for a job with the Mill Avenue District, click here.

From Ignorance to Mill Ave

mill ave night

If there is one thing I have found to be true about Valley of the Sun, it is that the influx of people from around the country never seems to stop. Day in and day out I notice that those I come across spanning from the east to west coast are still clinging to their individual identities. They move to Arizona, but are still from Chicago (or insert whichever big city you please), drive like they are in Chicago, support Chicago teams, and wouldn’t dare learn about Arizona. Little did I realize, since becoming the newest addition to the Downtown Tempe Community, that I too had been shafting my responsibility as an Arizona resident to become involved in what’s going on. It wasn’t until I began working here and strolling Mill Avenue at lunch time with my coworkers that I realized how much I was actually missing out on. Here in lies one of our biggest conundrums facing the Mill Avenue District, as well as our whole valley, where culture is growing, vast, and punctuated by individual personalities of arts, events, and unique stores and restaurants. The comfort zone of those who migrate here, myself included, has yet to grow more than just a few miles outside the home. To address this, the Downtown Tempe Community has taken on the role of bringing the community together by fostering a vibrant place to live, work, and play. In recent years, the Mill Avenue District has become a lot more than just a college hang out. It brings a multi-faceted definition to the word “place.” Downtown Tempe is a fun place to check out the stores and restaurants exclusive to the area, a creative workplace filled with emerging ideas and a place to find all kinds of entertainment. All of these definitions add to the reemerging community feel in the Mill Avenue District.

Recently, I attended my first Tempe Festival of the Arts. The event itself spanned three days, Friday to Sunday, and encompassed a crop of hundreds of juried artists, ranging in craft from beautifully sculpted artwork and paintings. The vibe, even though it was freezing and raining for one entire day was smiles and happiness, people greeting each other, dogs playing. Throughout the crowded day, I gave up counting the strollers and leashes; I should clarify the leashes were on pets, not children. For someone who had never been to the festival before, it seemed unusual for strangers to be so friendly and helpful to each other all day long. I felt as if I was waiting for a director to yell “Cut,” and everyone to scatter from a movie scene. It was only then that I realized it is events like these that are bringing the community even closer together every year.

The Downtown Tempe Community continues their efforts of gathering the community with the monthly Third Thursdays. The next Third Thursday event on January 19th will feature a free concert featuring Rose’s Pawn Shop and Ragamuffin Stampede, Music on Mill performers along the streets, and a social networking scavenger hunt. I googled the bands performing to see what I was in for- Rose’s Pawn Shop has an old school country edge that will keep the crowd dancing all night. Ragamuffin Stampede, who is the opening act, brings a more reminiscent feel of twang-y upbeat sixties country as well. The social networking scavenger hunt via our Facebook page keeps residents awaiting the next clue to snap a picture next to the winning landmark and win gift certificates and a chance at $250 in more free stuff. Free entertainment in an open space, activities encouraging us to explore our downtown, this is how locals should be connecting with our community.

Now, I will no longer be shafting my responsibility to my city. This time, thanks to my exposure to the area, I can tell my friends and family a great place to eat before or after the show, a hidden gem of a shopping area, and where you can just sit around and meet new people. When I walk along the streets of Mill Avenue I have found a strange sense of pride tingling in my fingers- I’m proud of my new knowledge of Downtown Tempe. I suppose that is what the feeling of community does to you when you decide to embrace it. When you finally acknowledge it, you find yourself in a home away from home; so I guess I should say welcome to my home.

By: Morgan Egger
Mill Avenue District