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By Mariah Fleming

Mill Ave Inc. vs The Avenue

Most Valley music and film lovers know (or at least know of) the locally made documentary Mill Ave Inc., by award winning Arizona filmmaker Nico Holthaus. It was the first in a currently five-city series about the obliteration of 'downtown' in American cities. The Tucson installment, The Avenue (aka 4th Ave Inc.) just won the AIFF Arizona Best Film of 2011 Award. On Friday May 13th, starting at 6PM, The Sail Inn in Tempe hosts a night of music and a screening of both Mill Ave Inc. and The Avenue (aka 4th Ave. Inc.) that is sure to be a "don't miss' event.

The Avenue (aka 4th Ave Inc.) is a beautiful, positive and poignant film that serves as a model of success as well as a cautionary tale. The merchants, creative artists, patrons and political leaders who define Tucson's 4th Avenue show how to successfully support the culture and history of Tucson's downtown by refusing to cater to corporate big box fever. The Avenue (aka 4th Ave Inc.) explores a downtown that is the antithesis of Mill Ave Inc.

The original film of the series, Mill Ave Inc., enjoyed a passionately embraced premiere three years ago at Tempe's Valley Art Theatre. Mill Ave Inc. looks at the nationwide trend to remake beloved, culturally unique local downtowns into cookie cutter downtowns. Pushing out Mill Avenue's homegrown prosperity and identity only drove out decades of loyal downtown patrons by erasing the individuality and charm that drew townspeople there. Fortunately in the years since the premiere, Tempe city leaders are rethinking their unsuccessful agenda for "improving" downtown Tempe's economy and are trying to bring back Mill Avenue's identity and renew its cachet.

Not so long ago, it was natural to see people of all ages and families with children in tow descending on downtown Tempe. Downtown Mill Avenue's one of a kind stores and venues for local arts were the linchpin. Mill Avenue was long the destination for a variety of entertainment and cuisine choices, including hearing outstanding local musical acts. In the 1970's and 80's, national record companies heard the buzz about Mill Ave and sent their "A and R" (Artists and Repertoire) scouts to find the next big music sensation. Several Tempe bands including The Gin Blossoms and The Refreshments were plucked from the stage at Long Wong's Café and went on to enjoy national fame.

In its heyday, every weekend, downtown Mill Avenue was closed to traffic so locals could stroll down its sidewalks, enjoying street musicians who played everything from jazz, blues, folk and contemporary music to classical music. Students from the ASU music school (well known for its jazz and classical music programs) and many other musicians came to play their music on those extraordinary downtown Mill Avenue "pedestrian mall" nights. It was reminiscent of Cambridge, Massachusetts, well known for its popular downtown scene. Downtown Tempe was a real "scene" then too, with its street music and clubs like Long Wong's, Chuy's, (famous for its jazz and blues offerings) and The Balboa Cafe serving up great music, food and spirits.

Mill Avenue gave Valley Theatre arts a home too. Several local actors, directors and writers formed the beloved "Mill Avenue Theatre" space where they produced well attended and critically praised local plays. They also did treatments of popular national plays like "Tomfoolery" featuring the songs of iconic satirist Tom Lehrer. They did a wildly successful production of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" that even hopped across the street to Harkin's Valley Art Theatre to perform the show to packed houses. And it was the folks at the Mill Avenue Theatre who wrote and produced the nationally reviewed play "GUV" about the notorious Arizona governor Evan Mecham.

Come out to the show at Tempe's The Sail Inn on the 13th to have some fun and to understand why supporting local downtowns and pressuring cities to keep them alive is crucial to the personality and landscape of America. You'll hear some terrific local music. Music begins at 6PM. Screenings of Mill Ave Inc. and The Avenue (aka 4th Ave Inc.) are at 8:15pm and 9:20pm respectively. Musically the line up includes Walt Richardson; Persuaders (Tempe's "Supergroup"); Ghetto Cowgirl; Los Guys and the Rockaroke/Zen Lunatics.

The show is a 21 and over event. Food will be available. Admission at the door is $8:00 or $6:00 for with Students ID. More information at: www.MillAveInc.com, www.TheAvenueDocumentary.com or www.TheSailInn.com.