Popping up in the Plaza District

Neighborhood continues to gain business

Friday, February 22, 2013

by Molly J. Fleming

The Journal Record

It’s been nearly five years since Kristen Vails started work as the executive director of the 16th Street Plaza District, and the district is almost unrecognizable from when she took the reins.

“From what it was when I started, it’s just changed dramatically,” Vails said. “It’s hard to remember how it was, even though it was only five years ago.” 

The district has gone from six businesses in 2007 to more than two dozen businesses this year, with more in the works. 

Three more businesses have moved in through the work of investors Steve Mason, Aimee Ahpeatone and the rest of their investing team. The businesses have taken over three pieces of property that Ahpeatone and her team of investors purchased, with the last property still to be renovated. 

The property is the former home of a coin laundromat, but will soon be the home of Empire Slice House, which will sell pizza by the slice and have a bar atmosphere at night. The restaurant idea was chosen through a website called popularize, where entrepreneurs submit their ideas and then the investors choose which businesses they want to have on their property. 

Mason said he thinks the district will continue to be an area for people looking for that neighborhood atmosphere.

“I think if you look at the parts of town for 25- to 45-year-olds, this is their district,” Mason said. “What this area is attracting is a lot of really good people who want to bring back that Main Street attitude.” 

He said he looks at his role in the area as more than a mere monetary investment. 

“I think a really good investor is someone who invests for not only a good return, but you also invest for a good community,” he said. 

Vails said she hopes this growth over the last five years will continue for the next five years, though there is not any property for sale. However, the property that Mason and Ahpeatone invested in wasn’t for sale, either – they approached the property owners with an offer.

She said the Friends of the Plaza plans to work on improving the neighborhood as the district grows. 

“The strength of the neighborhood is important in progressing the district,” Vails said.