Blog Archives

Changes at Phoenix Convention Center and Downtown Development Office

[Source: Jahna Berry, Arizona Republic] — Jay Green, the city official who oversaw the $600 million expansion of the Phoenix Convention Center, will retire at the end of the month…  Green will be replaced by John Chan the city’s former downtown development director…

The downtown development office was recently consolidated with several other units to help the city save money.  Chan joined the city’s economic development department in 1992 and became downtown development director in 2006.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Downtown Phoenix lot to stay empty

valley-youth-theater

Valley Youth Theatre, downtown Phoenix (Photo: Google Maps)

[Source: Salvador Rodriguez, ASU Web Devil] — The sandlot near Taylor Place on the Downtown campus may stay vacant for at least another year despite city attempts to attract developers, a Phoenix official said.   The city put out a request for proposals almost two years ago to develop the property, which is managed by the Valley Youth Theatre and located between First and Second streets. 

But the city did not receive any responses that fit the criteria of the request for the nearly 28,000 square feet of property and does not anticipate receiving any in the near future, Phoenix Redevelopment Program manager Jeremy Legg said.  “That site is underutilized, and we would like to see something happen there,” Legg said. “But given the economy and the lack of responses to the first request, I don’t see anything occurring in there this year for sure.”

By closing the request for proposals, the city could then reissue it with looser criteria in hopes that it would appeal to a broader audience and get more proposals, Legg said.  “Part of the reason that possibly nobody responded to it was because of the detailed criteria in [the first request for proposals],” Legg said.

Some of the criteria in the proposal included developing mixed-use facilities for residential, retail, and commercial spaces as well as conforming to the area’s aesthetics.  The proposal also asked that developers incorporate the youth theater into plans or assist in funding a new youth center.  There have also been discussions about the property becoming available to the University in the future, possibly for more student housing, should the Valley Youth Theatre relocate, said Patrick Panetta, assistant director of ASU Real Estate Development.   [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Luhrs Block developer wants additional downtown Phoenix land

Luhrs Central Building, Phoenix, Arizona by thornydalemapco.

Southern half of Luhrs Block, downtown Phoenix (Photo: thornydalemapco)

[Source: Arizona Republic] — The developer who bought downtown Phoenix’s iconic Luhrs Building and Luhrs Tower want to take a step toward building a hotel and other buildings south of the landmarks.  On Wednesday, the City Council’s Downtown, Economy, and Aviation subcommittee will weigh whether the city should issue a request for proposals to develop the block.  The area is bound by First Avenue and Central Avenue, and Jefferson and Madison streets.

Irvine, Calif.-based Hansji Hotels, Inc. already owns the property, but the city must issue a request for proposals if the developer wants to partner with the city to develop it, said Jason Harris deputy director of the city’s downtown development office.  Hansji is already working with the city to preserve the two historic buildings.  Hansji bought the block for $28 million in 2007.

Small businesses have high hopes for downtown Phoenix

[Source: Betty Beard, Arizona Republic] — For all its looming high-rises and growth, downtown Phoenix hasn’t become so big that entrepreneurs feel squeezed out.  In fact, owners of small businesses in and near downtown Phoenix see only opportunity in the urban professional workers; the growing nightlife; the expanding Arizona State University campus; and the tripling of the Phoenix Convention Center coupled with a new 1,000-room Sheraton hotel.  They watch optimistically as new offices and residential and retail buildings are being constructed, and they’re especially eager for Saturday’s arrival of light rail.

Progress in downtown Phoenix is noticed, though some say it hasn’t come quickly enough.  The area is not yet the vibrant, 24-hour urban core many expected.  One big challenge is increasing pedestrian traffic because downtown Phoenix isn’t as compact as other downtowns in the Valley.  Most small businesses are on the fringes of downtown, where owners still can find an old building with character that can be leased cheaply enough (maybe in the range of $15 to $18 a square foot) to allow the property to become profitable.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.] 

Editor’s Note: Downtown Voices Coalition has long called for investment in and promotion of Phoenix’s locally owned businesses.  Summary recommendations from the 2004 “Downtown Voices: Creating a Sustainable Downtown” report are highlighted below.  To review the full report, click here.

Locally Owned Business: Sustain a unique and thriving downtown by choosing to invest in our local economy, cultivate consumer choice, and encourage cultural diversity by nurturing small, locally owned businesses.  The City should be willing to effectively “co-sign” for any developer who is willing to place locally owned businesses in new projects, and offer incentives to developers who seek out local businesses as tenants.  Fifty percent of the businesses located in the Phoenix Convention Center should be locally owned.  A study should be initiated to show the positive impact locally owned businesses have on the economy and use these findings to engage potential lenders and developers, and to inform policy makers.

Possible renovations, demolition in Phoenix Warehouse District

[Source: Barbara Stocklin, City of Phoenix] — The fate of three properties in Phoenix’s historic Warehouse District was discussed among city Historic Preservation staff and others in early October; two possible renovations and one possible demolition.  Details below:

Historic Preservation staff met with prospective buyers of a vacant warehouse at 515 E. Grant Street on October 3.  Development Services, Downtown Development, and Office of Customer Advocacy staff also attended.  The buyers are the Stanley Sausage Company, which owns a facility at 2201 E. McDowell Road, but is looking to upgrade to a larger building.  The warehouse at 515 E. Grant Street is not listed on either the Phoenix Historic Property Register or the National Register of Historic Places, but is considered eligible for listing; it was built in 1946 for the General Sales Company, was designed by the architectural firm of Lescher & Mahoney and constructed by Del Webb.  Representatives of the Stanley Sausage Company indicated that, if they were to purchase the property, they would likely pursue historic designation for the building and request a grant from the City’s Historic Preservation Bond.  They are also looking at sites outside of Phoenix to relocate their facilities.

The Historic Preservation Office received a Warehouse and Threatened Building Program grant application from Dudley Ventures (James Howard Jr.) to rehabilitate the one-story 1930 Arizona Hardware Supply Company Warehouse at 22 E. Jackson Street.  Because the warehouse’s front façade had previously been stuccoed and the front raised parapet removed, the Historic Preservation Office originally did not consider the building eligible for listing on the Phoenix Historic Property Register, a pre-requisite to apply for a city historic preservation grant.  The owner has since removed the stucco from the brick, has provided plans indicating how the salvaged brick from the front parapet can be reinstalled, and has provided architectural drawings demonstrating how the building can be returned to its historic condition and appearance.  The vacant 6,600 square foot warehouse will be adaptively used for office use by the owner.  The $121,000 grant request will be considered by the Historic Preservation Commission at their October 20, 2008, meeting.  The building would need to be listed on the Phoenix Historic Property Register prior to expending any bond dollars for the grant, if the grant application is approved by City Council.

Michael Levine, owner of Phoenix Seed and Feed Warehouse, 411 S. 2nd Street, filled a demolition application for the historic warehouse due to difficulties with his lender.  Because the property is historically designated, the building cannot be demolished until the one-year stay of demolition expires, and the demolition is subject to an approved replacement plan on the site.

Lender’s downfall puts downtown Phoenix plans in limbo

Exterior of Hotel Monroe renovation project.  Photo by Nick Oza, Arizona Republic.[Source: Jahna Berry and Andrew Johnson, Arizona Republic, June 25, 2008] — The financial storm brewing around Mortgages Ltd. has touched two key downtown Phoenix projects, a blow to ongoing efforts to reinvigorate the city’s heart.  There is no more loan money to fund construction and renovation work for Hotel Monroe, a high-profile luxury project, the developer said Tuesday.  And a proposed Jackson Street entertainment district is looking for new lenders for a land deal.  And it was unclear if other downtown projects could be next.

It’s unknown what developments are among the estimated 70 loans in the embattled Phoenix company’s $925 million loan portfolio.  The downtown projects are significant because Phoenix and state officials have invested years of planning and millions of taxpayer dollars to resuscitate what had once been a sleepy business district.

On Tuesday, city officials downplayed the impact, noting that Phoenix has many successful downtown projects under way.  That includes the expanding Arizona State University downtown Phoenix campus, the $600 million convention-center expansion, and the nearly complete 1,000-room Sheraton hotel project, said Phoenix’s downtown-development director John Chan.  “One segment of the market is slowing down, but there are a lot of positive things going on in downtown Phoenix,” said Chan, adding that the Mortgages Ltd. meltdown is a symptom of the national credit crisis.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Deadline today for Artist Storefront Program applications

[Source: Phoenix Downtown Development Office] — The city of Phoenix Downtown Development Office seeks applicants for the Artist Storefront Program, which is designed to increase the number of artist-owned and occupied galleries, stimulate art and arts-related activities, eliminate blight, and improve the aesthetics of the downtown area.  The program, generally bounded by 19th Avenue to 16th Street and McDowell to Buckeye roads, reimburses property owners up to $100,000 to renovate commercial property for arts-related projects.

To qualify for the program, at least 30 percent of building space must be dedicated for arts or arts-related business purposes.  Applications and program guidelines may be downloaded at the City of Phoenix website.  Completed applications are due by noon on Friday, May 23, 2008 and should be submitted to City of Phoenix Downtown Development Office, 200 W. Washington St., 20th floor, Phoenix, AZ 85003.  For more information, call 602-534-9484.

City should preserve Sun Merc, Arizona Republic columnist says

In this October 24, 2007 column, Arizona Republic editorial writer, Richard deUriarte, encourages the City of Phoenix to preserve the 1929 Sun Mercantile Building just as it did with another city-owned property, the Phoenix Union High School buildings at 7th Street and Van Buren.

Phoenix Council may testify in W hotel trial; Court to decide if conflicts existed in talks with developer

[Source: Jahna Berry, Arizona Republic] — Phoenix City Council members and their top aides may have to tell a court whether they had improper talks with the developer of a proposed $200 million W Hotel project.  Last week, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge ordered a trial to sort through conflicting accounts about how the developer tried to sway city leaders to build the project.  That means council members and top aides may have to testify about the behind-the-scenes lobbying tactics in the controversial project.

Developer Suns Legacy Partners was poised last year to build a 39-story W Hotel near US Airways Center in downtown Phoenix.  A key part of the project was an 11-story office and condo tower that would have been built on top of a historic warehouse, preserving it from being torn down.  Even if Phoenix wins the court case, litigation and other problems have effectively killed the hotel project for now.  Legal wrangling has delayed the project, and the developer’s deal with W Hotel expired because ground was not broken by June 30.  In his four-page Sept. 18 ruling, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Peter Swann wrote that a trial would have to sort out whether Mayor Phil Gordon, his council colleagues, and their aides had improper talks with Suns Legacy Partners, the development group that includes Suns owner Robert Sarver and former Suns owner Jerry Colangelo.

The litigation is just about procedures; it’s not about the City Council’s decision to build a condo tower on top of a historic building, the mayor and the city attorney say.  The city is weighing its legal options, City Attorney Gary Verburg says.  Gordon denies any wrongdoing.  “There was no influence behind the scenes or any type of nefarious-type discussions,” Gordon said.  “Everything was public.”

The preservationists are prepping for trial, although no date has been set.  They filed the lawsuit to protect the 1920s warehouse, the last vestige of Phoenix’s old Chinatown.  “Phoenix can do better with its historic structures.” said Barry Wong, a former state lawmaker who is a spokesman for the coalition of preservationists and Asian-American community groups.

The City Council was essentially sitting as a judge when it overruled the historic-preservation officials who didn’t think the condo tower should be built on top of the historic warehouse, the coalition argued in court.  When acting as judges, council members can’t have outside talks with the parties in the dispute, the preservationists argued.

The warehouse, the Sun Mercantile Building, is owned by the city.  Suns Legacy Partners has a long-term lease agreement.  Lawyers for both sides agree that preservationists and the hotel developer lobbied the City Council.  However, the preservationists argue that council members and their top aides — including the mayor’s senior assistant, Bill Scheel — may have been swayed by undisclosed talks with the Suns Legacy developer.

The contacts included a Dec. 6 letter from the developer’s lawyer.  The preservationists also point to a form letter that Scheel used to respond to several people who e-mailed Gordon about the project.  In addition to replying on behalf of Gordon, Scheel lauded the project as a “reasonable and positive re-use” of the 1920s warehouse.

Scheel, who has helped run Gordon’s election campaigns, downplayed the letter.  Gordon said his staff gives him advice, but ultimately he and the rest of the council made the final call.  In court, the city argued that council members were more aggressively lobbied by residents and groups that opposed the 11-story tower.  The city’s legal team also argued that the City Council avoided communicating with either side after it was clear that issue would be appealed to the full council.

Since council members are routinely lobbied on issues, it would have been impossible for them to know before the appeal that they should be careful about talking about the case, Verburg said.  In affidavits, council members said that they did not talk to the developer after Suns Legacy appealed the decision the historic preservation decision.  Swann, however, ruled that any contact with parties in the hotel fight could fall under scrutiny.

[Click here to download Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Peter Swann’s ruling of September 17, 2007.]

$200M W Hotel proposal is dealt a killing blow by ruling; Lawsuit arose in bid to save Sun Merc

[Source: Jahna Berry, Arizona Republic] — A proposed $200 million boutique hotel in downtown Phoenix was on life support, but a judge’s Tuesday ruling has effectively killed the existing deal, the developer said.  Phoenix Suns majority owner Robert Sarver was poised to build a 39-story W Hotel near US Airways Center.  The development would have included an 11-story office and condo tower built on top of a historic 1920s warehouse.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Peter Swann ruled that a jury should decide whether the Phoenix City Council had improper talks with Sarver before it decided the fate of the warehouse on the hotel site.  That litigation could drag on for a year or two years on appeal, said Robert Yen, an attorney who represents several groups that want to protect the Sun Mercantile Building, which is considered by many to be the last vestige of Phoenix’s once thriving Chinatown.  “It was a building built by a very prominent Chinese family,” Yen said of the Sun Mercantile.  Back in the 1920s, the property housed a wholesale grocery store owned by Shing Tang, a Chinese immigrant.  The Tang descendents, many of whom still live in Phoenix, include the late Thomas Tang, a former Phoenix City Councilman and federal judge.

The hotel project had another problem, Sarver said Tuesday.  The agreement with Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide Inc.’s W Hotel brand expired because the project didn’t break ground by June 30, he said.  “It’s too bad, because that’s a part of Phoenix that needs development,” Sarver said.

[Click here to download Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Peter Swann’s ruling of September 17, 2007.]