Blog Archives

First of new downtown signs hits Phoenix

[Source: Lynn Ducey, Phoenix Business Journal]

The first sign in downtown Phoenix’s new Legends Entertainment District went up quietly this past weekend.

A rendering of digital signs planned for the Legends Entertainment District in downtown Phoenix. Provided by Phoenix Suns.

Judd Norris, the district’s general manager, said the sign was a test-run as part of the district’s efforts that will ramp up before Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game takes place at Chase Field on July 12.

The sign advertises Chevrolet and is a small static billboard on the western side of the Jefferson Street parking garage near the stadium.

The goal of the installation was to make sure all the correct processes are in place, as larger, electric LED billboards are set to be installed over the coming weeks, Norris said.

The Legends Entertainment District is aimed at illuminating and energizing the Jefferson Street corridor surrounding both Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks, and U.S. Airways Center, home of the Phoenix Suns.

“You will really see this whole area come to life,” said Rick Welts, president and COO of the Phoenix Suns.

In addition, APS has announced its participation in the Legends Entertainment District, and will be among firms advertising on the multi-story, LED billboards and giant-sized kiosks.

“Our company is a very big part of downtown. We really view this as a way to communicate with our customers and educate our customers,” said Don Brandt, CEO of APS.

While the outreach effort is still being developed, Brandt said APS’ presence in the district will include information about energy efficiency and renewable energy options available to customers.

In addition to APS, Fox Sports Arizona is among those who will advertise in the district. The network carries both Diamondbacks and Suns games.

Brandt, Welts and Norris were among a host of city leaders and executives to attend the Downtown Phoenix Partnership Board of Directors meeting Monday. Derrick Hall, president and CEO of the Arizona Diamondbacks, was also among leaders to attend the meeting.

Downtown Phoenix Vendors suffering along with the Diamondbacks

[Source: myFOXphoenix.com]

It’s a one-two punch — the Diamondbacks‘ poor attendance and the down economy are causing baseball vendors’ livelihoods to suffer.

The Diamondbacks are in last place in their division, and are just not bringing in the fans that they used to. That’s hurting vendors in and around Chase Field, who rely on big crowds to stay afloat.

Jawhar Karim sells soda and cracker jacks outside Chase Field. He says he’s extended hours to try and make up the difference.

“We starting to see the effect of Diamondbacks season but were hanging in, trying to make the best of it,” says Karim.

Bonnie Little is a pedi-cab driver. She says fewer fans means fewer rides around downtown Phoenix. She survives on tips.

“Fewer rides. Just getting people on the bike is difficult. Doing a lot of free rides and hoping they’ll tip us for bringing them down,” says Little.

Just last month, the Diamondbacks set an all-time franchise record low for attendance, with only 15,509 people showed up for the game. Downtown vendors are hoping things will turn around soon.

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Touring downtown Phoenix… by bike

Visiting the murals in the alley behind 5th St. near Roosevelt (photo source: Tony Arranaga)

[Source: LightRailBlogger.com] — I took my neighbors on a hour long bike tour of downtown Phoenix.  Mike and Jane were not too familiar with the backstory to some of the historic sights in our urban core, so it was fun to give them some background on the landmarks in the heart of the city.

We started in the Evans Churchill neighborhood near 4th Street and Fillmore.  We visited the community garden near Conspire Coffee and the murals in the alley behind 5th Street near Roosevelt in the arts district.  Mike, Jane and I then went to the Phoenix Public Market, the Westward Ho and Civic Space Park.  Our tour then continued south on 1st Avenue to see the Orpheum Lofts, 44 Monroe and the old City Hall.

Next. we made our way over to Hanny’s Restaurant, which used to be home to a high end department store back in the day.  We then stopped by St. Mary’s Basilica where Pope John Paul II visited several years ago.  Our trip ended at Heritage Square and then we stoppped for a bite to eat at Front Row – TGIFriday’s restaurant inside Chase Field where the Arizona Diamondbacks play ball.

How did I do?  Where would you take friends or out of town guests to explore the heart of Phoenix?  [Note: Read the full blog entry at Touring downtown Phoenix… by bike.]

Viewpoint: A Desert Shade of Green?

[Source: Alec Appelbaum, The Faster Times blog] — The stubborn fact of urban investment in this century involves density.  We can forget about economic growth outstripping environmental cost if we don’t invest in ways to reward people for living, working and playing close together.  That can mean big opportunities for suburban office parks, rural town centers and old-style cities, but it also means some awkward transitions for cities whose layout relies on excessive driving.  Consider downtown Phoenix.

I just went there for the annual expo of the US Green Building Council, which I suspect chose the locale as a Lenin-shipyard proclamation of their message’s reach.  And downtown Phoenix is a warren of womblike hotels and a massive conference center, with artificial efforts at urbane charm.  This includes a greeter simpering scoldingly at me when I run across the street, homeless men on aluminum benches, and a prerecorded voice telling me to “enjoy the greening of downtown Phoenix.”  The simperer reveals how underpopulated downtown remains, and the homeless hint at how underfunded the social network remains.  But the salient thing is that powerful somebodies want downtown Phoenix to not be horrible.

Yes, there are posted instructions on how to cross a street and security guards at the convention hall say I won’t find a bathing suit at the downtown mall.  But I do find one, and there are sidewalks, and the womblike hotels have balconies overlooking actual blocks and streets.  On day two of my visit, I started to get the trendline.  I saw the new light rail glide past the four old buildings, the “clean cab” company rolls around.  But standing on the Sheraton balcony, I saw again that there’s no waterline or mountains to define the horizon.  Without barriers to physical growth on all sides, it will take natural disaster or political will to make places like Phoenix develop strong centers.  Nature will provide the disasters.  Then what?

We’ll have to see whether trends in urbanizing lead to scalable industries.  It dawned on me late on my 24-hr sojourn that the Compass restaurant on 21 (”turning the direction of SW cuisine,” say elevator ads) is a rotating rooftop.  Forty years ago, these were as thorough an urban inevitable as a downtown ballpark is now.  And as I passed Phoenix’s massive and retroish Chase Field, I wondered naifishly: when people need affordable housing and good jobs, why is there enough room downtown for a fat square brick ballpark?  The riddle’s solution involves homes, business incentives for clean manufacturing, and policies that monetize the pleasures of close proximity.  Each city in America will need to work up its own formula.  As I flew home to New York in a November hurricane, I couldn’t quite rouse that old Northeastern smugness.  And that’s a hopeful sign.

Property tax exemptions may be next battle in Arizona subsidy war

Collier Center, downtown Phoenix (Photo: HooverDam, Skyscraper Forum)

[Source: Mike Sunnucks, Phoenix Business Journal] — The next shoe to drop in the legal fight over special tax breaks and subsidies for developers could be over the 100 percent tax exemptions ponied up for high-profile projects such as ASU SkySong in Scottsdale and enjoyed by professional sports teams.  That action could come after the Arizona Supreme Court decides whether a $97 million tax break for the CityNorth mixed-use development in northeast Phoenix is constitutional under state law.  A judgment in that case isn’t expected before the end of the year, but those opposed to developer subsidies already are strategizing for future battles.

The first is a lawsuit expected to be filed over government property lease excise taxes, or GPLETs.  These funding mechanisms allow government entities that own land to lease it back to private developers and businesses, which then pay lower-than-normal property taxes.  The Goldwater Institute and Arizona Sen. Ken Cheuvront, D-Phoenix, said they plan to file suit to do away with GPLETs.

Cheuvront wants to sue to try to stop the tax breaks.  Clint Bolick, attorney for the Goldwater Institute, said the conservative think tank also is looking at other tax arrangements to determine whether they are legal.  “We’re just beginning to burrow deeply into GPLETs,” Bolick said.  “To the extent that lease rates are below market after tax benefits are taken into consideration, it may represent an illegal subsidy, and also may violate equal protection of the law if similarly situated tenants are paying more in private buildings.”

As that case works its way through the courts, the same skeptics want to go after entities including SkySong, the Arizona Cardinals, the Phoenix Suns, and the Arizona Diamondbacks, which pay no property taxes because they lease their facilities from city or county governments.  None of those arrangements are considered GPLETs, though that mechanism has been used extensively for downtown Phoenix developments including the Colliers Center, Arizona Center, and Renaissance office towers.  The new Cancer Treatment Centers of America hospital in Goodyear also is a GPLET.

Real estate developers and business interests say striking down the CityNorth subsidy, GPLETs or other tax incentives would discourage investments and economic development.  [Note: Read the full article at Property tax exemptions may be next battle in Arizona subsidy war.]

Downtown Phoenix high-rise’s woes may hurt other area condos

[Source: Jahna Berry, Arizona Republic] — Financial woes at a luxury downtown high-rise could hurt property values at similar central and downtown Phoenix condominium complexes.  Last week, the lender for the Summit at Copper Square took the first step toward foreclosing on 74 unsold units in the multicolored tower near Chase Field.

Scottsdale’s Stearns Bank Arizona issued a notice of trustee sale, which says the units will be sold to the highest bidder on Oct. 14.  While a notice of trustee sale doesn’t always end in foreclosure, it’s a signal that the developer is having financial problems.  If the bank does foreclose on the units, those unsold condos in the 165-unit building will be sold at a discount, said Diane Drain, a Phoenix attorney.  She likened foreclosures to a “black mold” that lowers property values within the building.  And, “if you have several condo developments around it, and they are all in hot water, the black mold seeps out more and more and more,” she said.

The Summit at Copper Square opened near Chase Field in 2007.  The condominium complex at Jackson and Fourth streets hit hard times after the Valley real-estate market tanked.  The developer has struggled to make debt payments because it has been able to sell only 91 units.  The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation shut down the developer’s bank.  And he credit crisis has made it difficult for W Developments LLC to restructure its debt with its new lender, Stearns Bank Arizona.  The notice of trustee sale says the loan principal is for $44 million.

Developer David Wallach said that loans for the project totaled about $64 million.  The developer paid $40 million and as of last year, they owed about $28 million, including interest.  Wallach said that his firm is working to avoid foreclosure.  “Smart developers look at all options,” he said.

The Summit’s immediate financial problems will probably not impact the fortunes of downtown Phoenix or Wallach’s plans to help build a proposed Jackson Street Entertainment District, a cluster of restaurants, nightclubs and music venues, he said.  [Note: Read the full article at Downtown Phoenix high-rise’s woes may hurt other area condos]

Summit at Copper Square in downtown Phoenix hit with foreclosure notice

building_lg[Source: Jan Buchholz, Phoenix Business Journal] — The Summit at Copper Square condominium project across from Chase Field in downtown Phoenix is scheduled for an Oct. 14 foreclosure sale.  A notice of trustee sale on the 23-story luxury project was filed July 10 at the Maricopa County Recorder’s office by the public trustee, Fidelity National Title Insurance Co., according to information from Ion Data, a Mesa research firm.

The project was built by W Developments LLC.  The Chicago-based firm’s principal, David Wallach, was planning to build another high-rise downtown and was partnering with pro sports investor Dale Jensen and others to develop the Jackson Street Entertainment District when the housing markets collapsed. The Phoenix Business Journal was unable to reach Wallach for comment about the pending foreclosure sale and his plans in Phoenix.

David Newcombe, a broker with Russ Lyon Sotheby’s International Realty who specializes in urban luxury condo sales, said news of the foreclosure was unexpected. “You know, I’m really surprised at that,” Newcombe said. [Note: Read the full article at Summit at Copper Square in downtown Phoenix hit with foreclosure notice]

UOP Stadium outranks downtown Phoenix arenas in fan survey

2007_BCS_National_Championship.JPG[Source: Mike Sunnucks, Phoenix Business Journal] — The University of Phoenix Stadium outranks the region’s other pro sports venues, according to fan surveys conducted by ESPN and the University of Oregon. The ESPN magazine survey asked 5,000 fans nationwide their impressions of pro sports teams, owners, stadiums, and arenas.

The UOP Stadium in Glendale, home to the Arizona Cardinals, ranked 24th on the list.  The Arizona Diamondbacks’ Chase Field in downtown Phoenix came in 39th for stadium experience. Jobing.com Arena where the financially struggling Phoenix Coyotes play came in 72nd ahead of the Suns.  The Phoenix Suns’ US Airways Center ranked 88th among the 122 pro sports franchise stadiums and arenas. [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Will trains be silenced in downtown Phoenix?

The City of Phoenix is proposing a “quiet zone” for downtown Phoenix’s Warehouse District. They need federal approval to do so.  Retail businesses and condo owners complain about the noise, but others worry about safety.  Click here for KPHO Television’s video report.

Viewpoint: Downtown Phoenix’s Jackson Street lost its artists long ago

[The following “letter to the editor” was written by Steve Weiss, Steering Committee Chair of Downtown Voices Coalition, in response to the Arizona Republic’s June 10, 2009 editorial on the Jackson Street Entertainment District.  Since the letter hasn’t been printed in the Republic, we’re reprinting it here.]

There are many issues to debate regarding the proposed Jackson Street Entertainment District: the loss of historic preservation on the last surviving contiguous areas of the Warehouse District, the impact on residents South of Jackson Street, or even whether a created Entertainment District can achieve the financial and sales tax success the developers and city officials hope for.  The debate can rage back and forth on these issues.

But there is one glaring fact that disputes your editorial, where you say “Even now the area is drawing artists’ studios and clubs.”

The artists were forced out of Jackson Street long ago, first by the America West Arena (now US Airways Center) and then by Bank One Ballpark (now Chase Field).  What was once an area inhabited by live/work studios and galleries seeking large spaces with cheap rent is now priced for speculation or geared towards the ethereal sports fan.  The one exception is the eternally struggling Icehouse, way West of the proposed development.  No city help seems forthcoming to the last true artspace on Jackson.

As in all big cities, the gentrification of the downtown, first made cool by the artists, will be left to those who can afford “attainable” housing or “themed” entertainment.  A House of Blues club is no match for the authenticity of The Rhythm Room, as an example.

If the developers who seek to make Jackson Street interesting once again are wise enough, they will create incentives for affordable (not just attainable) live/work artist spaces and the kind of hospitable and distinct food, music and art venues that thrive in the less structured and less pricey environments of Grand Avenue and Roosevelt Street.  Look to those streets to find the remaining downtown artists and artspaces.

Steve Weiss
Steering Committee Chair, Downtown Voices Coalition