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.
Pivotal Group, a private equity firm based in Phoenix, is seeking to develop a 2.3 million square foot project on a vacant 15-acre lot on the Northeast corner of Central & Indian School (4141 N 3rd Street). If early documents are any indicator, the project is very ambitious. The proposal, filed with the City of Phoenix in late October, outlines a “high intensity, walkable urban mixed-use development” consisting of 8 large towers with heights up to 390 feet, all perched atop a massive 60 foot tall ‘podium’ that would create an elevated park, conceal parking, provide space for retail, and create a pedestrian ‘canyon’ between the buildings leading from the intersection of Central & Indian School towards Steele Indian School Park.
The plan includes the following:
Two Office towers on the main corner will reach 250 feet and 280 feet tall, and provide 760,000 total square feet of office space.
A 200-room hotel will sit along the South edge of the property and will rise to 200 feet.
Three additional towers, each rising from a single larger structure connecting them all, will sit on the East edge alongside Indian School Park. These towers will provide a total of 250 residential units and reach 200 feet.
Finally, two freestanding residential towers located at the North end of the property will provide another 400 residential units for a combined total of 650 units. These towers will cap the property at 390 feet tall.
Between all the structures, retail/restaurant space lands at 170,000 square feet. Parking lands at 4308 spaces.
The plan is still very much subject to change and the project must still clear a design review, a rezoning, and obtain variances for the height and frontage style. If constructed as currently planned, The Central Park would be one of Phoenix’s largest developments and also one of its tallest. Currently, 44 Monroe stands as Phoenix’s tallest residential tower at 380 ft. No timeline is yet stated for the project.
Phoenix is widely regarded as a car-dependent city. So it might surprise you to learn that several of our neighborhoods are rated as ‘Very Walkable’ (or close to it) by a company that rates neighborhoods according to how friendly they are to pedestrian life.
A Seattle-based company called Walk Score (acquired by Redfin in 2014) has been rating neighborhoods in America on the basis of how ‘walkable’ they are since 2007. Walk Score takes several factors into consideration when determining their score. Points are awarded based upon the proximity of various amenities like grocery stores, shops, and restaurants to a given address.
Based on this data, Walk Score calculates a score for each address between 0-100, where a 100 represents a perfect Utopia of walkability and a 0 indicates areas where pedestrians are hunted down and eliminated in a real-life version of 1975’s ‘Death Race 2000’; well not really, but you get the picture. A Walk Score over 50 is considered “somewhat walkable”, meaning some errands don’t require a car. A score over 70 is considered “very walkable”, indicating most errands can be accomplished on foot, and 90+ is a “Walker’s Paradise” where car-free living is a real possibility.
With these tiers in mind, Phoenix has only three neighborhoods that qualify as ‘very walkable’ – Downtown, Booker T. Washington, and Eastlake Park. An additional 8 neighborhoods are within 5 points of making that grade. Phoenix has an overall Walk Score of 41 and is unsurprisingly designated as a “car-dependent city”. While Walk Score doesn’t take all walkability-affecting factors into account, notably excluding sidewalk quality & design safety, shade, and crime, it’s currently the only available metric that attempts to quantify the pedestrian-friendliness of an area or an address. Without further ado, here are the 5-(ish?) most walkable neighborhoods near downtown Phoenix:
Downtown (84) McDowell to Lincoln, between the 7’s
Downtown is sort of a given, since downtowns generally form the core of any urban area. In Phoenix’s case, Walk Score and Google’s definition of ‘Downtown’ actually encompasses several neighborhoods which have formed (or are forming) their own distinctive identities, including Downtown Core, Evans Churchill, Roosevelt, and the Warehouse District. All of these neighborhoods enjoy great access to local shops and restaurants, and the Downtown Core will be getting a Fry’s Grocery store by the end of next year. In addition, being anywhere within this neighborhood puts you within walking distance of the Light Rail, which takes you to East to Mesa and Tempe, or North toward Christown and (eventually) MetroCenter.
Booker T. Washington (74) & Eastlake Park (72) Van Buren to Jackson, 7th to 16th St.
Combined Population: 2206
Booker T. Washington and Eastlake Park are mentioned here together because they are essentially the same neighborhood. Both areas share a rich history as Phoenix’s traditionally black neighborhoods. They hosted several civil rights rallies during the Jim Crow era, including ones hosted by Martin Luther King Jr as well as the neighborhood’s namesake, Booker T. Washington. Phoenix’s fist all-black elementary school still stands at 1201 E. Jefferson Street and serves as the headquarters for The Phoenix New Times newspaper. Finally, Eastlake Park, which is Phoenix’s oldest city park, sits near the geographic center of this community. Both neighborhoods also share great access to the Light Rail, which runs Eastbound along Jefferson street and Westbound on Washington street.
Governmental Mall (69) Fillmore to Jackson, 7th Ave to 19th Ave.
The Governmental Mall neighborhood consists of the area immediately West of the Downtown Core. As its name would suggest, it encompasses dozens of State offices and buildings including the Arizona State Capitol building and Supreme Court. Almost all of its actual residential inhabitants live in a cone extending North and West from the triple intersection of Van Buren, Grand Avenue, and 7th Avenue. This close-in section of Grand Avenue earns the neighborhood the balance of its walkability points and has seen a recent resurgence as an arts and small business district. This historic district is home to the Tuft and Needle mattress company, Thirdspace Coffee, the Grand Avenue Pizza Company, and several other small businesses. The area also hosts University Park, a large municipal park with a public pool and baseball field.
Garfield (69) and Coronado (68) Garfield: Van Buren to I-10, 7th St to 16th St.
Coronado: I-10 to Sheridan, 7th St to 16th St.
Combined population: 10,184
These two neighborhoods once formed the center of a booming “streetcar suburb” of Phoenix. Built mainly during the early 20th century, both of these historic neighborhoods housed mainly working-class families and were well-served by Phoenix’s streetcar system (the evidence of which almost seems to have been systematically eradicated, save for a small museum on Grand Ave). Houses contained a diverse mix of architectural styles including English Cottage, Craftsman, and Spanish colonial. These neighborhoods thrived throughout the 1940’s and were complete with small businesses, a grocery store, and a pharmacy.
Unfortunately, both communities started to fall on hard times after 1947, when the Phoenix Streetcar system suffered a catastrophic fire that destroyed several of the trolleys as they were sitting in the streetcar barn at 13th Street and Van Buren. The I-10 freeway came through in the mid sixties and dealt another severe blow to the area by splitting these once-contiguous neighborhoods in two. By then, the suburb builders had moved on along with most of the middle-class population. The homes started to fall into disrepair until the mid 2000’s, when a city and community-backed neighborhood revitalization effort began to breathe new life into the area. Today, the neighborhood is thriving once again as many of the homes are renovated and restored to their former glory and the area is again served by a rebuilt streetcar system in the modern Light Rail. Many of the new residents are younger millennials, and current and former college students attending the campuses downtown.
Development in the areas near downtown Phoenix is moving along at a very brisk pace, and the walkability scores for each of these neighborhoods can be expected to improve steadily. Phoenix has designated most of these areas as Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) districts and implemented a Walkable Urban Code among them as well. These codes were specifically intended to encourage walking and biking through mixed-use and transit-oriented development, as well as relaxed parking requirements, among other things. The codes arrived through a 2012 effort called Reinvent PHX, which was undertaken to improve Phoenix’s competitiveness among other urban areas for both population and business. In the years since, Phoenix’s downtown has surged in vitality and is on track to continue its rapid transformation into a true urban core we can all be proud of.
The City of Phoenix has awarded the 2018 Central Station RFP to Electric Red Ventures LLC, a subsidiary of Houston-based Medistar Corp. The RFP was issued in June this year to solicit proposals to redevelop the 2.6-acre bus & light rail transit center located on the Northwest corner of Central & Van Buren.
Phoenix has been looking to redevelop the Central Station for several years. A previous proposal to revamp the site was awarded to Chicago-based Smithfield Properties in 2014, however the deal fell apart owner Bill Smith passed away. The Smithfield proposal had envisioned a single 34-story project for the site at the cost of $72m.
Above: 2014 rendering of the original Smithfield plan
The new proposal features three structures including two high-rise towers with rooftop terraces. The first tower will be about 300 feet in height and will house 300 market-rate residential units along with a 150-room hotel. The second tower, about 200 feet tall, will consist of 217 student-housing units with a capacity of 600 students. An early rendering obtained by the Phoenix Business Journal also shows a third structure roughly 50 feet tall; the plan calls for 35,350 square feet of office space which is likely to be housed in this building. Additionally, the proposal includes 47,350 square feet of ground-floor restaurant/retail space.
Central to the City’s RFP was that the existing transit center be included into the project. The rendering shows how the proposed facility will be flanked on the East and the West sides by the Metro Light Rail, with bus access on the North side along an upgraded Polk St.
The proposal must still be approved by the City council and is subject to design review by the City’s Historic Preservation Office due to its proximity to the old Board of Education building. If everything goes right, the project should be completed around March 2023.
It’s always nice to see Arizona featured positively in the national news.
The New York Times published today a detailed map of the United States filters out everything except human structures. The authors compiled the map from a massive data trove from Microsoft that outlines buildings only. The resulting interactive map is a fantastic illustration of urban density throughout America. In each city, you can see the level of layout planning – or the lack thereof. You can also see the clear East-West transition from free-flowing networks of communities that fill the map to relatively isolated towns and cities with clear boundaries; caused by high levels of federal land ownership in the Western States. This line runs roughly north from San Antonio Texas.
The article highlights certain areas of the United States and their design, including the fingerprint-esque tracings of civilization through the hills of Appalachia, the French-influenced communities of New Orleans, the angled street blocks of Washington D.C., and the suburbs of Mesa. It notes specifically how much of America consists of suburbs, but notes in Mesa that the layout of these suburbs is designed to decrease speed and praises them for the creativity in their layouts.
Image Credit: The New York Times, 2018
Overall, the article is pretty free of judgment as to which layouts are better or worse, or whether planned cities are better than unplanned ones. The beauty of the map lies in its diversity and the way it shows how these layouts are influenced by geography, culture, history, and government – and it’s outright fascinating.
A new restaurant is coming to the Luhrs Tower at 1st Avenue and Jefferson. laMadeleine French Bakery and Cafe will open its 3rd Valley location on August 15th, according to several restaurant and construction workers I spoke with.
The Dallas, Texas-based chain has been in business since 1983 and has 86 locations throughout the U.S, including 54 in its home state.
The restaurant opening is a positive signal for the historic Luhrs City Center, which has struggled to attract and maintain tennants ever since the construction of the Metro Light Rail. The only other active storefront is Serafina Coffee Roasters; a Subway restaurant in the complex closed earlier this year as the result to a corporate revitalization effort.
The restaurant will bring additional walkability back to the what has been for years a fairly desolate stretch of sidewalk.
Sing High Chop Suey House, a very long-running restaurant located at 1st Avenue and Madison St, will close its doors after nearly 90 years in business on September 30th; the result of the recent sale of the land the restaurant sits upon.
Sing High has been serving Cantonese-style Chinese food in Phoenix since 1928, and has something of a polarizing experience – downtowners tend to either adore by the place, or avoid it completely.
The New Owner
A quick trip over to the Maricopa County Assessor website revealed the site’s new owner: Madison 27, LLC. The principal registered agent listed for Madison 27 is Rajan Hansji of the Hansji Group, which recently finished construction of the $80M Courtyard Marriott hotel just across the street.
The Marriott Project unfortunately required the demolition of the 100-year old Industrial Congress Building, also called the Luhrs Central Building.
Above: The Industrial Congress Building, built in 1914, now demolished. Below: The Luhrs City Center Marriott, completed in 2016.
The Sing High property will be exciting to watch in the coming months. Absent a community effort, however, the building that housed the restaurant is likely to meet the same end as its ill-fated neighbor.
The Luhrs City Center Marriott is admittedly boring from an architectural perspective, and missed an opportunity to honor the neo-classical and art-deco styles of its immediate neighbors. If we must lose the Sing High building, it would be nice to see something more interesting go up in its place.
A high-profile case involving an economic development tool called GPLET, whose outcome may have significant ramifications for continued growth in Downtown Phoenix, continues to move forward.
Three of the six complaints in the lawsuit brought by the Goldwater Institute against the City of Phoenix in 2017, were dismissed by the Superior Court in May, according to court documents. This is a win for the city of Phoenix, which has used the GPLET program extensively to encourage growth in the downtown area.
What is GPLET?
GPLET stands for Government Property Lease Excise Tax. In short, it allows the city to let a developer build a private structure on city-owned land; the city then collects a lease and an excise tax from the developer while avoiding the more significant property tax that would otherwise be paid by a normal developer. These types of agreements can last up to 25 years in some cases.
But the program is not without controversy, and has become the subject of a lawsuit brought against the city by the Conservative Goldwater institute on behalf of Mat Englehorn, owner of Angels Trumpet brewpub. The institute contends that Mr. Englehorn was harmed by the city when it provided a large tax incentive to a developer to build a residential high-rise next to his establishment, located near 2nd Street & McKinley.
What’s at stake?
Opponents of GPLET assert that the city’s administration of the program plays favorites by offering large developers significant tax breaks that aren’t offered to smaller business owners like Mr Englehorn.
The city of Phoenix, on the other hand, contends that GPLET is an important tool to encourage development in blighted areas of the city. Several large projects, including CityScape on Central avenue and Jefferson, were built under the program. The program is typically used to attract higher-density development than would get built naturally by the market.
The case is being closely watched by potential developers as well as proponents of development who would like to see taller buildings and higher density in a downtown that has seen low and mid-rise projects dominate much of the available infill land currently being converted.
The case is currently pending Goldwater’s response to Phoenix’s second attempt to dismiss the Blight Designation part of the complaint, with a deadline of July 27th to respond.
To follow the case directly, the progress can be found here and the documents here.
Phoenix is rising in many ways. Like the mythical bird after which the city is named, Phoenix is rising from the ashes of the 2008 financial crisis that struck the Arizona economy with particular force.
Downtown Phoenix now is well underway with an increasingly rapid transformation into a livable, walkable city core. Gone are the days when nary a soul remained in the area after 6pm; bars, restaurants, and other small businesses now dot the central corridor and hum well into the night. We’ve seen an explosion in the construction of mid-rise living, driven in parts by both the light rail and by the changing preferences of Millennials and Baby Boomers alike for a more urban, cosmopolitan style of living.
The increase in density has brought increases in culture, neighborhood identity and, of course, building height. Several neighborhoods around the downtown area have formed their own identities: Melrose, Roosevelt, Encanto, Coronado, Garfield, South Central, Downtown; and several high-rise projects are either planned or already under construction.
All this activity begs to be documented, encouraged in its positive aspects, and submitted for discussion.
This blog will, to the best of its ability, document and track infill projects in and around Downtown Phoenix, follow news related to walkability and transit, and provide commentary and a platform for discussion among those who take an interest in these subjects.