Daily Archives: November 30, 2010
Jerry Colangelo, a former longtime member of the Downtown Phoenix Partnership, was the guest last week on Live Talk. Here are excerpts from the interview, which can be found in its entirety at aztalk.azcentral.com.
Colangelo, a partner in JDM Partners LLC, has played a pivotal role in the growth of downtown Phoenix as a community leader and former owner of such sports franchises as the Phoenix Suns and the Arizona Diamondbacks. He is the national director of USA Basketball.
1. Why do we need a vibrant downtown Phoenix?
I think every city needs a heart to it. A place to congregate, to do business, to be entertained. It’s kind of the beat of a community.
I personally believe in a strong downtown – some of it’s instinctive; it’s just what you believe in. I’ve always looked at myself as an urban person more than a suburban. And I believe in building synergy. When looking at building the arena in downtown, we knew with the right mix you could, in fact, reconstruct and rebuild it and give it a new future. It takes a collaborative effort. It takes many of the same mind. Therefore, local organizations, like Phoenix Community Alliance, took that lead and created the Downtown Phoenix Partnership giving downtown another arm to help in that cause.
2. What one or two things would you like to see happen next with downtown?
Much has taken place and much is to be completed. I think we need more housing and more retail. When we get to the point when we have synergy, it will be because of some density. Then we’ll be closer to what some hope will become a very vibrant downtown.
3. What will it take to make these happen?
It’s a combination of things. It’s professional people willing to take the necessary steps in terms of development. Sometimes ahead of the curve. You know the old expression “if you build it they will come.” People or retail, retail or people? It’s a combination and timing. We need all of that to take place all at the same time. It’s an intersection.
I think entertainment is a missing piece. We have museums, culture, sports and arenas and theaters. But entertainment that invites you in from the street to listen to music, enjoy a great meal, great shops all add to an appeal for people. For certain there’s an urbanization of America taking place. People are moving in to downtowns. So we need to add this to get people to move to our downtown.
4. The race for mayor of Phoenix is starting to get under way. What do the candidates need to know about downtown – and do?
Every candidate, councilmember and any mayor should understand that they have the ownership of Downtown Phoenix. And particularly for council members, regardless of what district they have, they should own a piece in it and understand that investment in downtown is critical to the success of the entire city and region.
The next mayor need only to look out the window of City Hall and see what’s happened in the last 15 years and be able to project what can happen. They need to be part of the effort to make sure it does and that includes the expansion of the ASU campus, the TGEN campus, and the projects on the drawing board at the Biosciences campus, and others with interest in coming downtown.
We need to encourage people to look at all that downtown has to offer. The light rail, expanded Convention Center, the ASU campus have all been major add ons in the last few years. And so I believe had the economy not turned south, we would have been even much further along. But as hard as it’s been, I think downtown is destined for a very bright future.
5. As a long-time champion of downtown Phoenix, what is your fondest memory of so many years spent working downtown?
I have so many great memories of being with people of the same mind, watching things take place. I remember the first event at the arena and watching people walking down the streets. Many of the naysayers said it would never happen. That was a big moment.
Also the opening of Diamondbacks season in 1998 with the arena and the ballpark hosting a sellout crowd was special as well. The arrival of Major League Baseball was another stepping stone of a city thriving.
6. Why should the rest of the Valley care about a strong downtown Phoenix?
Because all of the communities within a marketplace should not think of themselves as standalones. A vibrant downtown brings communities together. It’s one thing to have your own identity of a community in the suburbs, but there’s nothing like being asked “where are things happening?” It should be in the downtown.
Once a hub of commerce, a long-empty 1929 railway building in Phoenix is switching to a new track as county offices
A historical rail depot that once was a thriving hub of Phoenix commerce is getting a top-to-bottom fix-up and a second chance at life as county offices.
Maricopa County is spending nearly $4 million to restore and renovate the Santa Fe Freight Depot at Fifth Avenue and Jackson Street for use by the Assessor’s Office. The county already owned the building, but it had become a dusty graveyard for broken chairs, old tables, copier parts and other county castoffs.
“That’s what happens when you have an empty space in a big city,” said Jim Brignall, president of Brignall Construction Co. of Phoenix, the contractor doing the renovation. “People find it and utilize it for their own uses. But it will be a nice corner. It will remind people of what it was.”
The depot opened in 1929 and for years was a key shipment point for goods moving to and from Phoenix by railroad. Merchandise headed for department stores was collected there. A tunnel connected the depot to the ice-storage building nearby so the big blocks of ice that kept food fresh could be shuttled between buildings. The tunnel is still there and was used in the renovation to route a sewer line.
The assessor is closing four outlying offices around the Valley and will consolidate them in the renovated depot, scheduled to open in April. The county says it will save $700,000 to $800,000 a year in lease money it pays on the satellite offices without having to lay off the people who work in them. Sixty to 70 of the assessor’s more than 320 employees will be based at the depot. One of the satellites will be converted for use by another county department.
“We need every one of those positions,” Assessor Keith Russell said. “This is one-time money to fix this as opposed to annual money that gets spent every year, year in and year out, on those rents. In these tough economic times that’s always a big plus, to be able to put some money towards people as opposed to buildings.”
The depot has been vacant since the mid-’60s. Dick Carr, the depot project manager for the county, said the county has owned the depot for about 10 years. The 15,000-square-foot depot was scheduled for demolition in the early 2000s as part of a county construction project but was spared when preservationists objected. A parking garage sits just a few feet south of the depot.
The building is made of poured concrete reinforced with steel, making for what Carr said it is a very sturdy structure. A layer of asbestos was dug out of the floor, and lead paint and lead-encased wiring were removed.
“It was an environmental disaster zone,” Carr said.
The building’s exterior is on Phoenix’s historical register and will be restored to its original look. Roll-up loading doors will be replaced with windows. The wood bumpers attached to the building, gouged by truck bumpers and brittle from decades of weather, will be replaced. The Santa Fe logos will remain. The renovated depot also will meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design green-building standards.
The depot will house the assessor’s geographic information systems, fees processing, exemptions and residential property-valuation appeals. Even though the interior will be new, the railroad theme will be echoed. The county says it will borrow railroad artifacts, such things as old maps and railway guides from the Arizona Railway Museum, duplicate them and display them inside.
Patte Thornton, the project’s architect, described the depot as an industrial building with Art Deco touches. Thornton, of Arrington Watkins Architects of Phoenix, said the building’s original drawings are being used to guide the work.
She said one of the biggest jobs will be restoring the concrete face of the building’s east side.
“That building’s been abused,” she said. “Nobody ever considered re-use of it.”