First Place AZ: A New Design and Approach


Denise Resnik HeadshotBy Denise Resnik

Construction is underway on First Place–Phoenix, a new $15 million residential property for adults with autism and other neuro-diversities that offers a one-of-a-kind approach to combining apartments, a residential training program and a global leadership institute. The 81,000-square-foot property is in the heart of the urban area at 3001 N. Third St. in Phoenix.

Developer First PlaceAZ, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, is working hard to ensure that housing options for people with autism and other special abilities are as bountiful as they are for everyone else.

“Phoenix is proud to be an inclusive place to live and in the forefront of pioneering new housing options for people of all abilities,” said Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton. “By leading, collaborating and finding creative solutions such as First Place–Phoenix, we continue to be worthy of PBS NewsHour calling Phoenix ‘the most autism-friendly city in the world.’”

“First Place models housing innovation,” said Michael Trailor, director of the Arizona Department of Housing. “With the development of First Place–Phoenix, another option is being added to the mix and informing the marketplace through its thoughtful and leading-edge approach.”

Photo by Sydnee Schwartz.
Photo by Sydnee Schwartz.

As First Place AZ founder and Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC) co-founder, I have been contemplating innovative home options for years. My 26-year-old son, Matt, has autism. First Place is the result of collective and cumulative impact. For 20 years, SARRC and our many partners have built a supportive community, setting the stage for First Place. For most of those years, we’ve been researching, planning, collaborating and dreaming with those partners from across the state and North America. Together, we are raising the bar on residential, training and employment opportunities, with plans for replication.

Informing the design of First Place–Phoenix is the 2009 “Opening Doors” study by the Urban Land Institute, ASU and SARRC. We are today with housing for special populations where the real estate industry was 50 years ago with senior housing. We need more locations, price points and supportive options to create homes for adults with many different abilities.

First Place–Phoenix will feature three main components:

First Place Apartments: 56 studio, one-, two- and four-bedroom units for lease by residents, supported by a suite of independent living services and amenities

First Place Transition Academy: A two-year, tuition-based residential training program for participants that is focused on independent living skills, career readiness and interpersonal relations

First Place Leadership Institute: An international training center for professionals, direct service support providers and medical personnel and a robust site for research and public-policy advancements

Photo below by Stephen G. Dreiseszun.
Photo below by Stephen G. Dreiseszun.

A $21.3 million comprehensive capital campaign continues, of which $15 million is dedicated to the development of First Place–Phoenix. The campaign represents charitable, private and public sources and also includes start-up operational funding and fellowships for Arizona State University doctoral and postdoctoral students, who are also Teach For America alumni.

Hardison/downey construction of Phoenix is the general contractor and RSP Architects of Tempe is the architect. Residents are expected to move into First Place–Phoenix in early 2018. Residents or participants interested in the First Place Transition Academy may apply online.

For more information or to become involved, email or visit

An international autism leader, Denise Resnik is the Founder and President/CEO of First Place AZ (established in 2012), Co-Founder of the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC) (established in 1997), and Founder and CEO of DRA Collective, and marketing/communications firm (established in 1986) that serves clients in a variety of fields including real estate, economic development, health care, education and hospitality.

Read more giving back articles at

No Comments Yet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.