Daily Archives: October 2, 2008

Phoenix exurb developments “worst in the U.S.”

The article, Urban Planning Done Wrong, in the October issue of Dwell magazine calls the exurb developments of Phoenix the “worst in the U.S.”

“Developer-driven exurbs such as Anthem and Verrado surrounding Phoenix, Arizona, are prime examples of the unchecked low-density sprawl that urban planners around the globe are desperately trying to abandon.  These developments are located some 30 miles from the city center, where a majority of jobs are located, and they are usually connected by only one major freeway.  Residents thus depend on a long, narrow lifeline to meet their basic needs or fulfill simple tasks.  Virginia Tech associate professor Robert Lang believes that in an uncertain future, these types of residential areas are the greatest disadvantage for long-term livability.”

Regarding said “distinction,” website unrefinery.com opines, “We hesitate to even call Phoenix a city; the decentralized home turf of Allied Waste would be best described as a 400-square-mile monument to sprawl, water waste, traffic bottlenecks, and crystal meth.  Urban planning sometimes seems esoteric, but Phoenix offers a real-world reminder of why we need it.”

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Downtown Phoenix’s Westward Ho once hosted rich and famous

[Source: Maria Konopken, Casa Grande Valley Newspapers, Inc.] — The Westward Ho’s pool, shimmering outside Reynaldo Torres’ door, once was a place where Marilyn Monroe swam, Elizabeth Taylor sunbathed, and Paul Newman filmed a scene heaving a television from a balcony. The lobby of the former hotel still has grand touches, including tiled pillars supporting a soaring ceiling, from the days when Torres would see U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater and Valley socialites heading to events, dinners, or drinks.  “The hotel was always really busy with people coming in and out,” Torres said.  “You never knew who was staying here; that was the exciting part.”

Torres saw the Westward Ho’s former glory from his position as a janitor here during the 1960s.  But the rich and famous have long since left, and now Torres is one of about 300 low-income senior citizens who call it home.  The Westward Ho, with its 268-foot television tower, which no longer is used, is an iconic part of the downtown skyline.  And it remains a place of memories for many Arizonans who came here for wedding receptions, fine meals, and entertainment before it closed in 1979.  “It was full of character, rich in history and rife with personality,” said Marshall Trimble, Arizona’s state historian.  “It is where the rich and the famous came to play.”

At 16 stories, the Westward Ho was the tallest hotel in Phoenix when it opened in 1928.  At the time, it boasted a room rate of $2; most of its competitors charged 25 cents a night.  The hotel’s stature and star-studded clientele have led to legends and ghost stories.  Trimble said he doubts a claim made by some that Al Capone’s car was buried by a cave-in in the Westward Ho’s now-closed underground parking garage and is still down there.  Another legend, Trimble said, has Monroe making late-night swims without a bathing suit.  Like other establishments downtown, the Westward Ho suffered as residents and visitors were attracted to other places in the Valley.  “People didn’t want to be downtown so much anymore; the action wasn’t downtown,” Trimble said.  “You had golf courses and all of these things on these resorts.  There was just more to do.”  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Calling all Phoenix film bugs: 2-hour film challenge set for Oct. 10

A3F Inc. is hosting the first “Almost Famous” 72-hour film challenge in downtown Phoenix beginning Friday, Oct. 10.  The challenge is open to anyone with the desire to make a one- to seven-minute film in just three days, or 72 hours.  The challenge is open to amateurs, students, video hobbyists, filmmakers, and professionals alike.

Guidelines consist of a theme, a prop, and a line of dialogue which will be revealed at the kick-off party beginning at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 10 at Majerle’s in downtown Phoenix. Teams will then have the next three days to write a script, gather cast and crew, find locations, shoot and edit their film and turn it in 72 hours later.  Films will need to be submitted to A3F Inc. by Oct. 13 at Marjerle’s.  Registration is $50.

A public screening will take place Thursday, Oct. 23, at the Arizona Center AMC 24 Theatres.  For more information, click here.

Phoenix home prices drop 29% in one year

[Source: Arizona Republic staff and wire reports] — July home prices in Phoenix were down a record 29% from a year earlier, according to a closely watched housing index released Tuesday.  The Standard and Poor’s/Case-Shiller 20-city housing index fell 16.3% in July, with home prices tumbling by the sharpest annual rate since the index was created in 2000.  Although the monthly rate of decline is slowing, experts say there is no turnaround in sight.

According to the index, which is based on same-home resale transactions, only Las Vegas experienced a sharper year-over-year decline in home values than Phoenix, with a 30% drop.  Miami was third with a 28% decline.  Phoenix home values have steadily decreased since the housing market’s peak in 2006, although the rate of decline has slowed in recent months.  They dropped 2.7% from June to July, according to the index.

Prices in the 20-city index have plummeted nearly 20% since peaking in July 2006.  No city in the Case-Shiller 20-city index saw annual price gains in July — for the fourth straight month.  However, the pace of monthly declines is slowing, a possible silver lining.  Between May and July, for example, home prices fell at a cumulative rate of 2.2% — less than half the cumulative rate experienced between February and April.

Mortgages Ltd. settles with 7 developers in Phoenix, elsewhere

[Source: Arizona Republic from U.S. Bankruptcy Court records] — Bankrupt construction lender Mortgages Ltd. has reached settlements with seven developers that account for more than one-half the company’s $925 million loan portfolio.  Under the agreements, Mortgages Ltd. will subordinate investor interest, find additional capital for certain borrowers, and reduce interest rates for others.  The borrowers agree to drop pending lawsuits against the company.

  • SOJAC I LLC — Proposed Jackson Street Entertainment District in downtown Phoenix.
  • MK Custom Residential Construction LLC — Various condo projects in central Phoenix.
  • Grace Communities — Hotel Monroe in downtown Phoenix, X Wine Lofts in Scottsdale, and others.
  • University & Ash LLC, Roosevelt Gateway LLC, Roosevelt Gateway II LLC — Various proposed condo developments in Phoenix and Tempe.
  • Rightpath Ltd. Development Group LLC — Main Street Glendale near University of Phoenix Stadium.
  • Avenue Communities LLC — Centerpoint Condominiums in Tempe
  • Bisontown LLC — Residential communities.

Reversible lanes divide Phoenix Council Members

In a previous blog entry, it was noted that Phoenix Council Member Tom Simplot wants Phoenix’s reversible lanes on 7th Avenue and 7th Street to be removed (Council Member Michael Nowakowski also supports this view).  Two other Council Members have taken the opposite position, and their rationale is highlighted below.

The Arizona Republic ran the following article written by Council Members Greg Stanton and Maria Baier.  The Phoenix City Council will be discussing and possibly voting on the reverse lanes issue at the October 7 Work Study Session at 2 p.m. in the City Council Chambers, 200 W. Jefferson St.  You are encouraged to attend the work study session and express your views on this issue.

The truth about reverse lanes

We recently learned from the editorial pages of The Arizona Republic that one of the three real fears Phoenicians have of “becoming LA” is increased traffic congestion.  We are concerned that eliminating the reverse lanes on Seventh Avenue and Seventh Street could lead us closer to that fate.  We offer the following with the hope that, as a community, we will base our decisions about the destiny of reverse lanes on the factual information obtained through intensive studies conducted by ASU and the City of Phoenix.

SAFETY
First, the studies found that the roads with reverse lanes are not more dangerous than most other roads in the City of Phoenix.  It turns out that traffic crash rates on Seventh Avenue and Seventh Street are similar to other arterial streets.  This is true for all kinds of crashes, including head-ons, pedestrians, and rearend collisions.

INCREASED COMMUTE TIMES
Second, there would be a substantial increase in peak hour commute times if the reverse lanes were to be eliminated.  This only makes sense. We would see the same amount of cars traveling on two fewer lanes each day.  This equates to a loss of road capacity of 33 percent in the morning, and 25 percent in the afternoon.

What this means time wise is that, for those traveling during peak rush hour on Seventh Street from Dunlap Avenue to McDowell Road, the commute time would be increased from an average of 25 minutes to 44 minutes in the morning, and from 20 minutes to 30 minutes in the afternoon.  Likewise, for those who use Seventh Avenue during rush hour, the increase in morning drive time would rise from 15 minutes to 29 minutes, and in the afternoon from 11 minutes to 19 minutes.  The result is a tremendous “time tax” on those living and working in our city.

INCREASED CUT-THROUGH TRAFFIC
Finally, it’s important to be truthful about how the elimination of reverse lanes would affect cut-through traffic.  Some residents along the reverse lane portions of Seventh Avenue and Seventh Street have complained that cars that cannot turn left at the arterial intersections instead turn left into nearby neighborhoods.

The analysis of the city’s professional traffic engineers is that if the reverse lanes are eliminated, much more cut through traffic will be generated in our neighborhoods –- the likely result of greater congestion.  Importantly, it may involve increased left and right turn maneuvers into neighborhoods as drivers look for faster routes through signals.

WHAT’S NEXT?
First, we must take steps to make the reverse lanes more user friendly.  Second, we must continue to explore ways to “calm” traffic for area residents and businesses in ways that do not impede the normal flow of an arterial street at rush hours.  Third, we must continue to monitor the need for reverse lanes.

If and when there is some actual evidence that the Seventh Avenue and Seventh Street reversible lanes are no longer needed, we can take steps to eliminate them at that time.  But not now.  Right now, we need them.

ASU Sun Dollar program now aims to lure students to downtown Phoenix retailers

Sun Dollars Logo[Source: Brittany Gansar, Special to the Republic] — Downtown Phoenix businesses are taking part in the Arizona State University Sun Dollar program as a way to reach out to a new set of customers: college students.  The Sun Dollar program is a pre-paid service with an account that runs through the ASU Sun Card Office.  It’s similar to a debit card.  Money is put into the account and when checking out at a store, or paying for a meal, the Sun Card is presented to any of the participating merchants.

Various merchants around Tempe, and now Phoenix, accept the Sun Dollars for food and retail items.  Sometimes discounts are given when the Sun Card is used.  There are currently around 110 merchants that are working with the Sun Dollar program.  Between 85 and 90 percent of the vendors are in Tempe, according to the manager of the Sun Card Office, Andrew Perkins.

With the finishing of the light rail in sight, ASU is primarily focusing on getting Valley merchants near the downtown, polytechnic, and west campuses involved in Sun Dollars, said Perkins.  “The program is growing and popularity is growing,” said Perkins.  “This program is not about making money.  It’s about adding comfort and flexibility for students.  Nobody wants to eat the same food everyday.”