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Lots of bling coming to downtown Phoenix


The Arizona Diamondbacks and the Phoenix Suns have formed a partnership to create an atmosphere in downtown Phoenix mindful of New York City’s Times Square and Las Vegas.

The Legends Entertainment District will offer nearly 50,000 square feet of unique marketing opportunities with a blend of digital signage and super-graphic static billboards, including the largest signage available anywhere in the Phoenix metropolitan area.

Officials said the project is the first of its kind between two professional organizations.

“The new Legends Entertainment District, an attraction in itself, will help connect all the other downtown attractions, assuring visitors a more memorable and exciting downtown experience,” said Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon. “Instead of heading home after a sporting event, concert or meal, visitors will want to stick around and continue enjoying downtown, thus bringing revenue to our city. This creative partnership is a win-win for all.”

The Legends Entertainment District was strategically planned to encompass landmark downtown facilities such as US Airways Center and Chase Field where more than 700 downtown events are held each year.

“The unique working relationship shared by the Suns and D-backs expands the value of associating brands with our teams,” said Suns President and CEO Rick Welts. “The Legends Entertainment District creates outdoor marketing opportunities that extend the reach of our partners beyond the walls of our playing facilities in the regions busiest corridor.”

The signage is to be unveiled at a ribbon-cutting in the second quarter of 2011.

“The look and feel associated with the Legends Entertainment District will enhance the experience for sports fans and others attending more than 700 downtown events as the vibrant signage will continue to increase traffic for local businesses and restaurants,” said D-backs’ President and CEO Derrick Hall. “More than 100,000 people will attend downtown events associated with Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game at Chase Field in July 2011, putting the Legends Entertainment District on a global stage when viewers around the world tune in to watch the historic game.”

The Legends Entertainment District extends from First Avenue to Seventh Street, between Washington and Jackson Streets. It includes two METRO Light Rail stations, providing easy accessibility to the area.

Judd Norris, general manager of Legends Entertainment District, said, “The City of Phoenix has given us a blank canvas to work with. The Legends marketing partners will have the ability to push the envelope and create marketing concepts that have never been seen before in our downtown. The goal of the Legends Entertainment District is to push the limits of what is new and fresh in the marketing community.”

According to The Arizona Republic, the district will have electronic billboards four to five stories tall. Giant LED TVs could cover the sides of buildings, and animated advertisements may promote products or downtown businesses.

The aim is to create more energy to encourage people to linger outside the major stadium events to shop, eat and drink downtown.

The city, the Suns and the Diamondbacks all stand to gain financially from the initiative. Additional retail sales downtown would bring additional sales-tax dollars for Phoenix. The teams would earn money from ad sales and sponsorships.

City and team officials say they do not know how much revenue the district could generate. But experts told The Republic such districts can increase revenues by millions of dollars as they spur economic growth around them.

Jeff Soule, a planner and outreach director for the Washington, D.C.-based American Planning Association, said entertainment and signage districts have been around for years, but more recently, they have been defined as an area surrounding sports entertainment centers, stadiums or arenas.

“It’s a place where you can capitalize on foot traffic and try to keep people in the downtown longer,” Soule said. “It’s good for tax revenues obviously, sales tax or whatever.”

Other experts are more skeptical. An entertainment district doesn’t always catch visitor interest and increase foot traffic, said Ed McMahon, a senior fellow at the Urban Land Institute in Washington, D.C. He said he knows of entertainment districts in Richmond, Va., and Louisville, Ky., that have collapsed.

The Phoenix City Council and Planning Department approved zoning changes in 2009 to allow development of the district.

The Republic said that a group that had planned a separate entertainment district for downtown, the Jackson Street Entertainment District, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in June. The 12-acre district was proposed as a mix of nightclubs, restaurants, and commercial and residential space.

Jackson Street Entertainment District on shaky ground

Rendering of proposed Jackson Street Entertainment District

[Source: Jan Buchholz, Phoenix Business Journal] — A blockbuster plan to create a downtown Phoenix entertainment district is in jeopardy as the lender filed a notice of trustee sale on several of the properties involved.  At the same time, three major Valley high-rise condo projects are poised for major court dates that could dramatically affect their future viability.

ML Manager LLC, the company created to administer the loans of Mortgages Ltd. following its Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization, filed a notice of trustee sale March 17 on several parcels that would have formed the core of the proposed Jackson Street Entertainment District.  The auction is scheduled for June 17.  SOJAC I LLC, headed by former co-owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Dale Jensen, was the entity that borrowed $24.2 million from Mortgages Ltd. in February 2007 to purchase properties on Third, Fourth, Buchanan, and Lincoln streets.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

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]

Jackson Street Entertainment District seeks Phoenix City Council support

[Source: KTAR Radio] — The Phoenix City Council was to vote Wednesday on a 12-acre entertainment district near Chase Field in downtown Phoenix.  The Jackson Street Entertainment District would cover an L-shaped property in the city’s warehouse district — on Jackson from First to Fourth Streets and along Fourth Street from Jackson to Lincoln Streets. “The idea is to create a focal point, a walking environment — large sidewalks, outdoor cafes, restaurants, nightclubs,” said attorney Larry Lazarus, who represents the developers.  The project could include up to 1,000 residential units.

The entertainment district, near Chase Field and US Airways Center, has been on the drawing board for a couple of years and Lazarus said now is the time to move forward with plans.  The developers want certain assurances from the city to help attract tenants and financing.  “No money is coming from city funds,” Lazarus said.  “There will be infrastructure changes that will need to be made later on down the road and we will be working on a development agreement with the city of Phoenix.”  He added, “We just believe that, when the recession is over — and it will be over some day — that this will be the focal point for the next big development.”

Although downtown Phoenix has numerous restaurants, Lazarus said, “You don’t see them when you walk out of the convention center and you don’t see them when you walk out of the ball park.  What we want to do is really create what we’ve called the ‘bug light’ — attracting people.”  The project would take five to seven years to complete, but some businesses could open early next year.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

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

Jackson Street Entertainment District hits a political nerve

[Source: Michele Laudig, Phoenix New Times] — This afternoon, the City of Phoenix Planning and Zoning Committee has a scheduled hearing on the establishment, through rezoning, of the controversial Jackson Street Entertainment District — ground zero for those five new Bernie Kantak restaurants I mentioned yesterday.  And it looks like a protest is in the works, too.  I found the link on Twitter [and Facebook].

It seems like there would be a lot of support for a mixed-use development like this, but as with CityScape a few years ago, there’s plenty of skepticism as well.  The fact that Jackson Street Entertainment District will be located in the Warehouse District — where there are a number of historically significant early 20th century buildings — makes it all the more sensitive.  (However, a staff report from the Planning Department notes that this project will preserve the historical character of the Warehouse District.) [Note: To read the full article and online comments, click here.]

Viewpoint: Jackson Street project is too good to ignore

[Source: Arizona Republic editorial board] — Incongruous as it may seem in the current real-estate market, the Jackson Street entertainment district in downtown Phoenix is forging ahead once more.   It has been a tough haul for this plan to dramatically make over the southern side of downtown.  But some ideas are just too good to grind to a halt.

In terms of the planning process, the entertainment district at last seems to be on a fast track.  The ambitious plan for a mix of nightclubs, restaurants, commercial and residential space, and, perhaps, a boutique hotel on the blocks south of US Airways Center has been slowed by the economy, but is gaining traction again.  We’re gratified to see it.  Few projects planned for the central city have the possibilities for transforming downtown like Jackson Street does.

The proposal went through a Phoenix Village Planning Committee review earlier this week. Tonight it is scheduled for review by the municipal Planning and Zoning Committee.  Unanticipated delays notwithstanding, the entertainment-district plan could go before the full Phoenix council by the first of next month.  In one form or another, the rare combination of gritty, old industrial buildings and sleek, new development has been under consideration for many years.  At one time, the proposal included elements on both sides of Jackson Street, north and south. [Note: To read the full editorial and online comments, click here.]

Phoenix residents debate Jackson Street Entertainment District impact

Phoenix City Councilman Michael Johnson discusses the Jackson Street Entertainment District project at a recent PCU Coalition community forum.

[Source: Phoenix Communities United (PCU) Coalition] — PCU is a diverse and inclusive group consisting of neighborhood groups, students, religious and service organizations, and community leaders from Central and South Phoenix. Coalition members have been attending and will continue to attend various City of Phoenix meetings to voice their opinion on the zoning case for the Jackson Street Entertainment District.  The project is located in Phoenix’s historic Warehouse District, next to Chase Field, connecting south Phoenix to downtown.  The developers want to build a four-block entertainment district, including various entertainment venues, 1,000 units of market-rate housing, 150,000 square foot of retail, 150,000 square feet of office, and at least one hotel.

PCU has been organizing for months, and is working to ensure that this project positively impacts the surrounding community; and includes affordable housing, green standards, job opportunities for local residents; priority for local businesses, and support for community parks which are being shut down due to city budget cuts.

The next meeting in the development process is with the Phoenix Planning Commission. All interested residents are invited to attend:

  • Date: Wednesday, June 10, 2009
  • Time: 5:45 – 7:30 p.m.
  • Place: Phoenix City Council Chambers, 200 W. Washington St., Phoenix, AZ

For more information about this issue or PCU, contact Corrine Widmer via e-mail, phone 480-495-4738, or Facebook.

Tonight, community invited to learn more about Jackson St. Entertainment District plans

The first Planned Urban Development (PUD)-required “Community Meeting” for the Jackson Street Entertainment District project in Phoenix’s historic Warehouse District will be held:

  • Date: Thursday, April 9, 2009
  • Time: 6 p.m. start
  • Place: The Summit at Copper Square condominium

The public is invited to attend.