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.