As Arizona businesses continue to struggle with the economic effects of COVID-19, it’s easy to forget that in some ways, we’ve been here before.
In 2008, it was the Recession that led to a sudden and devastating real estate depression in the state. At the time, Clayton Companies—a real estate company specializing in high-end properties in Scottsdale—searched for ways to weather the economic storm. Through creative thinking and experience derived from renting and managing some 60 buildings in Old Town and south Scottsdale, the company transformed the crisis into a whole new business: the Clayton Venues.
The company is made up of The Clayton House, a contemporary venue located next to the City of Scottsdale government buildings and Scottsdale Stadium, and The Clayton on the Park, an event venue considered a modern alternative to the standard hotel ballroom situated near the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art and the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts. Both venues offer catering and bar services, full kitchens, indoor and outdoor furniture, and bistro lights and misting systems on all patios.
With prime and enviable locations in the heart of downtown Scottsdale, the venues hosted everything from corporate meetings and events, to elaborate private events, to full-scale lavish weddings. But 12 years later, owners Tom and Jane Frenkel now find themselves with two beautiful event-hosting properties and few bookings, stuck in a holding pattern as they weather a whole new global catastrophe.
An oasis of straight lines and gleaming glass amid the lush greenery of Scottsdale Civic Center Park, it’s hard to believe that The Clayton on the Park was ever envisioned as anything but the wedding/corporate event venue it’s been for the last nine years. Yet, in 2008, Clayton Companies built a $3 million dollar speculative project there on what had once been the home to the Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s been challenging to not be able to host events. For us, there’s nothing to pivot to. Our whole reason for being is to bring groups of people together, and that’s very much against what the COVID protocol is.”
-Jane Frenkel, Director of Operations, Clayton Venues
Initially, all were relying on its proximity to the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts and neighboring trendy bar AZ88 to drive foot traffic. Unfortunately, the former closed for renovations that year.
Still paying on a mortgage for the property and looking for an income stream, the Frenkels (under the company name The Clayton Venues) reopened the building in 2011 as The Clayton on the Park. Six years later, in response to high demand for spaces for larger events, they hired Scottsdale’s Aline Architecture Concepts to convert an old warehouse in Old Town Scottsdale into their second, much larger venue, The Clayton House, which won second place in the 2020 Global Design Awards’ “Commercial Built Space” category.
In 2019, Cornerstone Advisors in Scottsdale had a quarterly get-together of 80 to 90 people scheduled for April at the 15,000-square-foot Park location, and a holiday event for 160 to 180 guests for December at the 27,000-square-foot Clayton House, according to the company’s operations specialist Robin Putnam. And then the pandemic hit. At the end of February, Clayton Venues event sales manager Claire Loeb got in touch.
“The experience was seamless,” says Putnam. “When we could no longer deny that this was happening, the Clayton and Claire were quick to reach out, make suggestions, and help us through the changes and rescheduling.”
However unprecedented the circumstances, Putnam sees this response as perfectly in keeping with how The Clayton Venues has handled every challenge throughout the four years the company has been holding events at these locations, from navigating the “dietary obstacles” posed by several Cornerstone Advisors employees, to going the extra mile to help Putnam realize event themes.
“One year, we reconstructed a 1960s party menu and made it appear contemporary in style and flavors,” she recalls. “They even found a linen vendor that specialized in 1960s green and pink linens.”
Which, in this day of social distancing and face masks, seems like a lifetime ago.
In the meantime, Putnam’s company has rebooked its 2020 events for April and December of 2021, while The Clayton Venues, which normally averages about 110 events annually, has only booked a small wedding and small holiday party for November and December of 2020. That said, they continue to receive inquiries for future events.
“A couple of small events will still probably book this year,” Jane Frenkel says, with the November-to-January period usually being their busiest. “It’s a little different this year, but the pent-up demand is there and I’m confident we’ll be back firing on all cylinders.”
Story: Aaron Berman
Photos: Mark Lipczynski