Downtown businesses await Final Four visitors

The Park, a new downtown Phoenix restaurant, showcases its theme “Eat Local. Party Local.” on its wall in Phoenix on Tuesday, March 28, 2017. (Photo by Samantha Pell/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX — Eat Local. Party Local. That’s the theme for one of downtown Phoenix’s newest eateries, The Park. It’s also the hope for many local businesses this weekend with the NCAA Final Four and its related events in the Valley.

The games will unfold at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, but tens of thousands of fans are expected to make their way into downtown. Newer local businesses such as The Park are preparing for large crowds and hoping for large profits.

The Park, an indoor-outdoor facility, opened last month at the Collier Center. It is just around the corner from the Phoenix Convention Center, which will host the Final Four Fan Fest from Friday through Monday.

“We are a baby, and we are kind of learning every day how downtown Phoenix receives us and everything,” said Stephanie Willson, events manager at The Park. “Only been open for a couple months and excited. I think the Final Four is going to be a great way to kick things off.”

And though the business is new to the area, its staff is experienced.

“A few of us managers here, we’ve worked at some other locations in the downtown Phoenix area,” said Willson, 31. “We’ve been around for (the) Super Bowl, we’ve been around for (the) NCAA Championship. We are ready to roll up our sleeves and get to work again. Teach all the newbies what it’s like here in downtown Phoenix.”

Yogurt Time is a self-serve frozen yogurt shop at Washington Street and North First Street. Its new owner, Shawn Gatson, has yet to experience a major sporting event in downtown Phoenix but has high hopes for the weekend.

“I would imagine this should be our best weekend so far to date,” Gatson said. “This is, again, new to me, so I don’t know what else to compare it to, but I am double-staffed for the weekend. Typically it’s just a one-person operation because it is a self-serve yogurt shop, but we have put on two or even three people on Friday and Saturday night, so we are hoping it is going to be a good, successful weekend.”

Gatson said he’s hoping for around 300 customers per day. He will keep his store open “as late as there is business here.”

Gatson has also he doubled his weekly ordering of frozen yogurt. The store normally goes through 50 to 70 cases of yogurt a week. He is planning to go through more than 100 cases this weekend.

Concerts that accompanied the Super Bowl in 2015 and the College Football Playoff National Championship Game in 2016 took place in the parking lot at Washington Street and First Avenue.

But for the Final Four, the March Madness Music Festival will be at Margaret T. Hance Park, north of downtown near Central Avenue and Interstate 10.

This could benefit Desoto Central Market. It is located right next to the Roosevelt Street/Central Avenue light rail stop, the main stop for the music festival this weekend.

“You pass us getting off the Roosevelt stop, which is for the music festival, and if there is live music playing and people see us on our patio, they see some place where they can get food and drinks,” said Daina Rasutis, event project manager at Desoto. “That’s really what we are going for and the demographic we are shooting for.”

The restaurant will host an event called “Patio of Champions: 12 Hours of Madness.” The three-day event will start on Friday and include a 10-tap beer truck and live music.

However, downtown proprietors predict the change of the music venue won’t diminish their profits.

“With the Fan Fest just being a couple blocks around the corner, I really don’t see it being that much of an issue,” said Megan Sowersby, assistant manager of the downtown Cartel Coffee Lab. “Yeah, maybe the crowds will move down that way later in the day, but they will need to get fueled up before they head out for sure.”

Cartel has experienced the benefits from major sporting events in Phoenix.

“The crowds during the Super Bowl were a lot of fun,” said Sowersby, 29. “There was a lot of energy that went on. Everybody is very hyped to be here. They are here for a good reason — whether you are supporting your team or just sports in general.

“It’s just fun to be part of that energy and help feed them any way we can.”