PHOENIX - Phoenix has gotten a taste of downtown college life for the past two years. This year, they'll get the main course.
A 13-story dorm and a new facility for Arizona State University's journalism school open for the first time this semester, injecting downtown Phoenix with as many as 1,500 students living on campus and hanging out downtown.
The bulk of the new students will be enrolled at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, which moved from Tempe into a new six-story, $71 million building downtown this summer.
Students have begun moving into a 576-bed tower called Taylor Place. The second tower of the $150 million dorm complex will have 550 beds and will open in 2009.
Many downtown shops that have been battered by the sagging economy and disrupted by light-rail construction are hoping new customers will ease that pain.
"It's amazing how fast that downtown campus went up," said Mike Krassner, owner of Italian restaurant Cibo. "In general, you do see more people out and about. Before, people would go right to a game. Now, they make a night of it."
He said business at Cibo picks up each year, but he is unsure if it's because of the university. He's seen some ASU faculty members, but few students, eating at his place.
Some shop owners and arts groups are frustrated that downtown students don't seem to know what the area has to offer, said small-business advocate Kimber Lanning.
"I was talking to students ... and they didn't know what First Friday is," said Lanning, referring to the monthly art-gallery walk that draws thousands of people downtown.
Business and the city of Phoenix are actively trying to lure students throughout downtown. Earlier this month, the mayor's staff took the Taylor Place dorm staff on a tour of nearby restaurants.
Volunteers recently stuffed 1,800 "Welcome Wagon" bags for students and faculty with fliers, coupons and promotions for shops, arts groups, restaurants and other organizations, said Steve Weiss, steering-committee chairman for the Downtown Voices Coalition.
The university also is working on a discount program for students and faculty with local businesses.
By 2020, the university envisions that 15,000 students will be attending classes downtown, said Debra Friedman, vice president of the downtown Phoenix campus.
"This place is like a magnet," she said.