Subcommittee Summary: Aviation & Transportation – May 7 2019: Disagreement over pace of redeveloping South Phoenix Convention Hall.

Phoenix Convention Center aerial photos
May 7th’s meeting of the City Council’s Planning and Economic Development Subcommittee revealed some apparent differences in opinion over the pace and direction of the City’s efforts to redevelop the South Phoenix Convention Center building.
The subcommittee met to discuss possible options for the building, which is coming of age. Failing to redevelop the property would risk Phoenix falling behind in terms of competitiveness with other cities’ Convention Centers, according to John Chan, the City’s Convention Center Director:
“Phoenix is behind a lot of our competitors in terms of contiguous exhibit hall space. As we look into the future, we need to consider where we want to be in terms of maintaining our position as a top-tier convention and visitor destination.”
convention center space comparison vs other cities
A graph presented by John Chan, City of Phoenix Convention Center Director, showing Phoenix’s convention space compared to other major cities.

A new replacement plan is needed

The South Convention Center building was completed in 1985, occupies about 9.25 acres, and provides about 286,000 square feet of exhibit hall space. City planners had originally envisioned knocking the old convention hall down and expanding the newer North convention hall across the street, but that plan needs to be reconsidered in light of structural concerns related to the light rail tracks as well as a planned replacement of a temporary shoring wall that has reached the end of its useful life. The replacement of that temporary wall, combined with the presence of train tracks, eliminates the possibility of an underground expansion of the North convention hall building. The city could, however, connect the buildings with a sky bridge, a point confirmed with Mr. Chan by Councilman Nowakowski.

Disagreement over pace

During the discussion following Mr. Chan’s presentation regarding the building, council members Pastor and Nowakowski appeared to be at odds over how quickly the city should move forward with the process of issuing an RFP. The process of issuing an RFP for a site like this requires the City Council to approve a list of the properties that the city is interested in developing or selling, this is followed by a period of public comment and than the issuance of an RFP. Councilwoman Pastor initially directed the issue be brought before the council in June for action, but Nowakowski expressed a desire to move faster due to concerns related to the property’s status as an Opportunity zone’.
Opportunity zones are a federal program borne out of 2017’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that provides significant tax savings to investors who place capital gains profits into projects in disadvantaged areas. The incentives attached to this program reduce year-to-year until its eventual sunset. Nowakowski worries that if Phoenix waits too long, investors looking for a place to stick their capital gains will go elsewhere, which could make it harder to score a big project on the site.
Councilwoman Pastor asserted that moving too quickly could shortchange the public input process in a way that could allow developers to steer the process instead of the community. Developer interest in this property has been strong, as indicated by Councilwoman Stark’s acknowledgement that she has been approached by ‘various’ developers who are interested in the site.
The subcommittee eventually agreed to bring the issue back for action on their June 4th meeting so the full council vote on the 5th to get a full public input process moving as soon as possible.

Subcommittee Summary: Aviation & Transportation – April 23 2019

Last month’s Aviation and Transportation Subcommittee meeting covered several subjects including a new non-standard sidewalk Treatment policy, an update to the Key Corridors Master Plan Update, and an update to the Accelerated Pavement Maintenance Program. I understand this meeting took place a while ago, but still wanted to provide a decent summary since a couple important projects were covered, especially the Key Corridors Master Plan.

Non-Standard Sidewalks

    • City staff presented a proposed policy regarding Non-Standard crosswalk treatments like the two rainbow crosswalks that were recently installed in the Melrose District as well as Central & Portland
    • The proposed policy would allow Non-Standard crosswalk treatments only in within high-visibility crosswalks at signalized and stop-sign controlled intersections.
    • The city would maintain the white high-visibility markings, and the sponsoring organization would maintain the colored markings within the lines.
    • City staff indicated the installation cost for the average Non-Standard treatment would range from $6-25k.

Key Corridors Master Plan Update

    • The Key Corridors Master Plan Update is a citywide initiative intended to create an system to effectively and efficiently accommodate all roadway users, including bicyclists, pedestrians, scooters, and of course cars and freight.
    • The plan will work by determining primary and secondary uses for different roads in Phoenix, and then planning and building the infrastructure to support those uses. However, just because a particular method isn’t the primary or secondary use doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be included from using that roadway, the method just won’t be emphasized. This means that improvement dollars for a given road are likelier to go toward its primary and secondary uses.
    • The overall idea is to create a layered grid of different roadway types. Bicyclists, for instance, would be able to commute across the city using roads with designated bike lanes, and be safely separated (at most points) from high-speed cars and freight, which would travel along the wider, higher-speed arterial roads.
    • The project was started in April of 2018 and is now in its first round of stakeholder and public outreach. Primary and secondary uses for streets will be identified sometime in June 2019, with a second and final round of public outreach taking place around July.
    • The project incorporates plans and input from several sources, including community-designed transit plans, the Citizens’ Transportation Commission, the Complete Streets Initiative, regional transit/freeway plans, and many others, including a public website dedicated to the project.
    • You can participate and provide input for this project at PhoenixKeyCorridors.com
    • Among the priorities identified by communities:
      • Safer streets for pedestrians, specifically better lighting, improved crossings, and reduced speed limits in appropriate places.
      • Improved bicycle infrastructure, including protected bike lanes.
      • Creating sense of place by protecting the character of communities and creating amenities that are close to home.
      • Expanding transit, including providing enhanced frequency and shaded transit stops.
      • Enhancing regional connectivity, providing reliable and fast links between major employment, education, and commercial centers.

Accelerated Pavement Program

    • The city is moving forward on its plan to resurface our streets at a faster pace. This faster pace was made possible by delaying – and likely killing – several planned Light Rail extensions.
    • For a given street, the resurfacing takes about 1 week from notification of local residents to completion.
    • The City is making use of a specialized vehicle that photographs streets and identifies various issues including rough surfaces and potholes. Data from this vehicle is used to prioritize street repairs.
    • In an effort to avoid cutting new pavement, the City is working with utility companies and various other parties to ensure underground maintenance is conducted prior to resufacing a given street.
    • The City recently launched a very cool tool that allows citizens to place different-colored pins on a map of the City to notify the Transportation Department of various pavement issues such as rough patches and potholes.

Watch for robots near 1st Ave & Monroe

Next time you find yourself near 1st Avenue and Monroe in Downtown Phoenix, you might encounter a large friendly-looking robot, just sitting on a park bench reading a book under a street light. Your might ask yourself: Why would a robot be taking the time to read a book? The answer lies within the story inscribed onto the book’s pages.

Both the story and the robot are creations of local artist Doug Boyd, who said during a phone interview that he was inspired to create the piece after a sort of eureka moment on the John Muir trail, which is a backpacker’s route that runs about 210 miles through California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains:

“About 130 miles in, I realized as I was pulling out my phone that I was still connected, checking GPS, taking pictures, etc. It made me think about how someday we’re all going to be so connected we’re just going to become robots. Also another thought on the concept is that with the world full of robots we forgot about the stuff the we can actually touch and see, and that’s kind of why I put a book in his hand. Robots and computers have endless amounts of data storage, so to hold a physical book was something that maybe a robot had never done.”

Doug Boyd is the owner of Artfully Rogue Studio, which is located in the Deer Valley Airpark and specializes in metal and industrial art. The project on Monroe took about a month and a half to build and features a solar panel which powers lights in the eyes and chest during nighttime. This robot is the second in a series of three; the first piece, which is much smaller, is located at Boyd’s studio and features a robot taking stock of a butterfly perched on its outstretched hand. The location of the last robot hasn’t been decided yet, but it will be “much taller”, Boyd said, adding that he wants to incorporate a real plant into the piece.

The Monroe project came about while Boyd was attending a meeting for art submissions for Artlink Phoenix. He was speaking with that organization’s President, Catrina Kahler who’d seen his earlier piece with the robot and the butterfly. She wanted to know if he could create a new piece for Downtown Phoenix Inc that incorporated a robot on a bench. Boyd happened to have a drawing on him featuring nearly that exact concept, and the whole thing took off from there.

Downtown Phoenix Inc is a public-private partnership whose stated aim is “attract more businesses, residents, and visitors to Downtown Phoenix.”, and it coordinates activities between several downtown-focused organizations. Public art like Doug Boyd’s reading robot are important to the development of a walkable urban core that can attract those businesses and residents to Downtown Phoenix, in addition to being a very nice and welcome improvement to the streetscape.

Please join me in welcoming this new friendly giant to Downtown Phoenix, feel free to go and visit him (or her?), just be sure to being a good book and don’t dare check your email.

Art installation at the intersection of 1st Avenue and Monroe. Artist: Doug Boyd, Artfully Rogue Studio

X Phoenix (200 Monroe) – Update #1

The 200 Monroe project is now under construction, and the project’s name is officially ‘X Phoenix’.

Chicago-based PMG Group is building a 1.2 million square foot, 23-floor residential facility on the 2-acre site located on the Southwest corner of 2nd Avenue and Van Buren, just blocks from the ASU Downtown campus. The new property will be part of PMG’s ‘X’ brand.

‘PMGx Social Communities’ is a sub-brand of PMG aimed squarely at Millennials, and its properties offer a more communal-style of living that places a strong emphasis on shared spaces. When it opens around Fall 2021, the Phoenix location will be the newest and third-largest of 9 ‘X’ communities around the country, including 4 in Florida, 2 in Chicago, 1 in Denver, and 1 in Oakland, CA.

The finished structure will include 553 residential units, just under 1000 parking spaces, about 46,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space,  and rise to 279 feet, according to documents obtained through a public information request.

The project will feature a very large amenities deck that includes a giant hot tub and pool, outdoor bar and lounge, performance stage, and lawn. Other amenities will include a coworking lab, gym, fitness studio and ‘sky dog park’, according to the company’s website.

Currently, the parking structures on the 2-acre lot are all demolished, along with an old auto-servicing building, and the parking lot is in the process of being removed.

The City of Phoenix also operates a live webcam that provides a decent view of the lot.

Block 23 – Update #1

The construction at Block 23 continues. The structure was ‘topped off’ at the end of January as it reached its ultimate height of 17 stories or about 230 feet. Workers have begun to affix finishing materials to the exterior of the lower levels and frame out the interior areas.

Currently-announced tenants include a Fry’s marketplace, which will represent Phoenix’s first modern downtown grocery store, 20,000 square feet for accounting firm Ernst & Young, and nearly 7,000 square feet for ‘Blanco Tacos & Tequila’, a restaurant concept from local restaurateur Sam Fox.

Construction is expected to conclude by the end of this year.
When complete, the building will include:

    • 330 Apartments
    • 203,000 Square feet of office space
    • 18,000 Square feet for retail/restaurant
    • 60,000 Square feet of grocery (Fry’s)

A Construction Webcam is available here.

New Project: AC Marriott at Arizona Center

The Project

The Arizona Center is building a new hotel. Construction is due to begin this year on a new 14-story, 200-room AC Marriott Hotel which will be located at 414 North 5th Street. The hotel, designed by California-based AXIS/GFA Architecture, is due to be about 152 feet tall according to an FAA building height review. This project is one of many big updates and recent changes to the Arizona Center, including a large recently-completed renovation and a planned residential tower.

Variances Denied

The developers for this project had applied for a variance to increase the distance of their building from the sidewalk from 10 feet to nearly 50 feet. This variance was initially approved by the city, but overturned on appeal due opposition from local urban advocates. The Urban Phoenix Project’s Sean Sweat and another man, Mr. Mike Angulo, opposed the variances, arguing that large building setbacks essentially create a dead spot on the sidewalk that detracts from the street’s walkability and urban appeal, which the city’s setback requirements had been intended to promote. Additionally, Mr. Sweat argued that the requested variances did not meet the statutory requirements for approval. The Adjustment board agreed with these positions and denied the variance, sending the developer back to the drawing board to create a more walkable design.

The Project Continues

Despite the setback, this project appears to still be moving along. Filings with the city as recently at February 26th indicate continued activity on the project. PHX Rising Blog has submitted a public records request to obtain any updated designs or plans regarding this project.

These renderings included with this post were submitted with the project as originally designed, and do not reflect anything done by the developer in response to the denied variances.

Aspire Fillmore – Update #1

I received back my public records request and am able to update several points of information regarding this project, which is actually called Aspire Fillmore.

Aspire Fillmore will be a single 17-story, mixed-use structure located on the Northeast corner of 3rd Avenue and Fillmore. The building will rise to about 240 feet and provide 254 units of residential living space situated above 281 parking units and 3,400 sq. ft. of ground-level restaurant space.

The design of the building looks very similar to that of The Stewart, which was also designed by the same firm (CCBG Architects) and is nearing completion just a few blocks away.

BFL Construction appears to be the builder for this project, and construction is scheduled to begin in early 2019.

Kenect Phoenix – Update #1

Kenect Phoenix has officially commenced construction. The fencing around the project has been expanded to include Polk street, which is now closed between Central and 1st Avenue. The parking lot has also been demolished, and excavation equipment is on site.

The mixed use live/work/play project, developed by Akara Partners and built by UEB Builders, is estimated to be complete around Fall 2019, reach approximately 280 feet, and add 320 new residential units to the heart of Downtown Phoenix.

This construction project has a webcam that can be accessed here.

Phoenix looking to redevelop several properties in 2019

On Friday, the City of Phoenix’s Community and Economic Development department released a ‘wish list’ of properties they’d like to propose for redevelopment in 2019. The properties targeted are mostly parking lots along the Phoenix Light Rail corridor, with the exception of the American Legion building at 7th & Grand, and a City admin building at 5th Avenue and Adams.

The full list:

  • 19th Avenue & Montebello Park-and-Ride
  • 19th Avenue & Camelback Park-and-Ride
  • Three adjacent lots next to the I-10 between Jefferson and Washington
  • Two adjacent lots along Central Ave between Columbus and Weldon (Midtown, just South of Indian School)
  • A former city admin building at Adams and 5th Avenue and an adjacent surface parking lot
  • The American Legion property at 7th and Grand Avenues
  • A surface parking lot at Central & McKinley, directly across the street from The Stewart
  • The parking garage immediately South of the Hyatt Regency hotel, at 1st Street & Adams.

It’s unclear yet what the city’s goals are in offering these properties for redevelopment. Specifically regarding the two Park-and-Ride lots, it’s likely the City is looking to retain the Park-and-Ride functionality at these locations while adding street-facing residential or commercial components, rather than close them altogether. It’s also unclear if the City intends to obtain a new facility for the American Legion Post #1, integrate it into a new development, or eliminate it entirely. These questions are likely to be answered as the individual RFPs are issued next year.

In the meantime, Merry Christmas!

New Project: Duo on Fillmore

Duo on Fillmore is a multifamily residential complex planned for the Northeast corner of 3rd Avenue and Fillmore. The project, proposed by Scottsdale-based Aspirant development, appears to consist mainly of two towers of different heights. One 14 story, 198-unit apartment building and another 17 story building to the North with an unspecified number of units.

Aspirant Development is the same development company behind The Stewart (originally Circles on Central), currently under construction nearby at Central and McKinley. 

This project is one of several developments planned for the area immediately to the West of Central Ave in Downtown, including The Fillmore and the HB Monroe tower.

It’s unclear whether this project will have any retail or commercial/office components, and no renderings are available yet.