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1931 bank building in downtown Phoenix headed for foreclosure

[Source: Jahna Berry, Arizona Republic] — A downtown Phoenix 1931 bank building that was entangled in Mortgages Ltd.’s collapse appears headed for foreclosure.  The 12-story Professional Building at 15 E. Monroe Street is scheduled to be auctioned on April 20, according to a notice of trustee sale filed at the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office.  The notice is the first step in the foreclosure process.  Thirteen investors are owed $76.5 million, according to the notice.  The largest share is owed to a court-appointed entity that is managing the remainder of lender Mortgages Ltd.’s assets.

Phoenix-based Mortgages Ltd., helmed by the late Scott Coles, was once considered Arizona’s largest private commercial lender.  The firm ran into trouble when the real estate market crashed, the firm couldn’t raise new capital from investors and couldn’t meet some of its loan obligations.  When Mortgages Ltd. went bankrupt, developer Grace Communities was transforming the former home of Valley National Bank into an upscale 150-room boutique hotel called Hotel Monroe.  Construction stopped and the partially-renovated building sits empty near Central Avenue and Monroe Street.

Downtown Phoenix 2.0?

[Source: Jon Talton, Rogue Columnist] — It’s surprising that some appear so sanguine about the likely foreclosure of most units at the 44 Monroe condo tower.  This, along with a similar fate for the Summit at Copper Square and 44’s developer Grace Communities failing to rehab the historic Valley National Bank building because of the Mortgages Ltd. fiasco, represents a devastating setback for luring private investment into downtown Phoenix.  Maybe people are too shell shocked to take it all in.  Maybe they’re willing to settle for things being better than they were 20 years ago, which is undeniably true.  Neither option is wise for those who wish the central city well.

Make no mistake: the Phoenix depression is metro-wide.  I saw rotting framing and miles of distressed subdivisions out in the exurbs.  Tempe foolishly threw away its opportunity to build a mid-rise boutique downtown of national quality — now it has an empty condo high-rise and Mill Avenue is swooning again.  But my conviction remains that there is no healthy major city without a strong urban downtown, and center city problems left unchecked have a habit of spreading.  (And don’t be taken in by the propaganda: Phoenix did have a vibrant downtown — it was killed by civic malpractice).

In Phoenix, the past few years have seen some notable triumphs: the beginnings of a downtown ASU campus, light rail, a convention center worthy of such a tourist-dependent city, a new convention hotel, and a blossoming of independently owned restaurants.  The biosciences campus has been planted (although it has been allowed to stall and, I fear, its future is uncertain).  Yet major private investment has not followed; 44 Monroe and the Summit represented the strongest chance for that within the existing local business model of “real estate first.”  The many towers proposed for the entire Central Corridor are now blighted empty lots.  CityScape?  I’ll believe it when I see it.  What I see is a homely suburban design, not the soaring “game changer” sold to the public on the front page of the newspaper.

The great recession, the great reset: Where will they leave downtown Phoenix and the Central Corridor?  It’s tough all over, now that a commercial real-estate crisis will follow the explosion of the residential and mortgage bubble.  Nationally, suburbs and exurbs are being hit harder than downtowns.  Suburban poverty is spreading.  The massive destruction of wealth and overhang of leverage make restarting the sprawl machine of old impossible.  Smart places, such as Denver, are trying to retrofit the suburbs for a higher energy future. Some suburbs themselves are working to provide walkable, mixed-use and even urbanish neighborhoods.

The headwinds in Phoenix are different.  Most people have blinkered suburban values — they can’t imagine a different life.  City Hall’s decisions to clear-cut hundreds of buildings and drive out businesses that catered to the working poor have left Phoenix without the bones that other cities have used to revive their cores.  The old headquarters companies were bought or dismembered and their successors often keep only token presences in downtown (imagine, for example, if Wells Fargo had built its operations center downtown instead of in Chandler).  And the limited economy leaves few non-real estate businesses anyway.  I could go on, but what can be done now, in the reset?  [Note: To read Jon’s recommendations, click on Downtown Phoenix 2.0?]

Has Phoenix finally arrived? Feel the love.

[Source: Robrt L. Pela, Phoenix New Times] — In Jason Hill’s Phoenix, the sun never sets.  His paintings of the city — a vibrant Valley National Bank framed by a glowing sky; a dazzling Financial Center with a jet jauntily speeding past — are thousand-watt, high-color beacons that send the same, simple, not-so-subliminal message: Phoenix is cool.  Come see for yourself.

Laura Spalding’s paintings are more roundabout celebrations of our town.  Onto old Arizona license plates and tin trays, she paints skies cluttered with telephone poles and electrical wires.  Her cityscapes are testimonies to how amazing it is that Phoenix sprang up in the desert in the first place; homages to how it survived to become a prosperous, distinctive destination.

Georganne Bryant’s message is less subtle.  Onto black, cotton T-shirts that she sells at her midtown boutique, she has had a local T-shirt artist silk-screen this legend: Love Phoenix or Leave Phoenix.

Something has shifted.  Hill and Spalding and Bryant and dozens of others like them are having a public love affair with Phoenix.  They’re opening cafes and launching Web sites and creating art that speaks of their pride in a city that most of us have gotten pretty good at mocking.  Many of these folks would have us believe — and, perhaps, want to believe themselves — that we, the country’s fifth-largest city, have finally arrived.  That Phoenix has at last, after decades of false starts and near misses, awakened from a slumber that lasted way too long.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

New downtown hotel banking on vintage vibe

An artist's rendering shows Hotel Monroe.[Source: Jahna Berry, Arizona Republic] — In the old days, high rollers stockpiled their money at Valley National Bank in downtown Phoenix.  Todd Iacono hopes the jet set will return to the landmark and spend it.  In October, the 1931 Professional Building, the former home of Valley National Bank, will become a luxury boutique hotel called Hotel Monroe, said Iacono, the hotel’s general manager.

A $100 million renovation will restore the vintage lobby and will create 150 hotel rooms in the former office tower, Iacono said.  A local celebrity chef is crafting the menu for a hotel restaurant, a 1930s-themed diner and a pastry shop that will go on the first floor.  This week, construction crews were cutting into the basement bank vault, which will become a wine bar.  A nightclub is going on the roof, Iacono said.  “You won’t just stay in Hotel Monroe, you will experience it,” said Iacono of the 12-story building at 15 E. Monroe St.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]