News Ticker

Chandler Downtown’s Glass is Half Full

By Eric Jay Toll for The Arizona Builder’s Exchange

Private and Public Development Opportunities Facilitated By City

Photo Credit: SmithGroupJJR

Chandler is looking for developers to step in and turn undeveloped and underdeveloped properties into downtown successes. Six public-private partnership and seven private development opportunities are highlighted between the Loop 202 Santan Freeway and Chandler Boulevard on the Arizona Avenue corridor.

From the top floor of the new city hall, Chandler Mayor Jay Tibshraeny sees successes and opportunities. Economic development director Christine Mackay and downtown development director Teri Kilgore are both in the “glass half full” category when it comes to downtown.

Revamping the streetscape and building the new city hall were turning points for downtown revitalization and redevelopment. To mark downtown’s rejuvenation, the city council recently approved nearly $190K for new Downtown brand identifying signs.

“We’ve had quite a bit of interest (in downtown Chandler) since the completion of Arizona Avenue and city hall,” explains Kilgore. “Those two projects really helped make the vision (of downtown) real for…the development community.”

“We brought all of our development departments together,” says Mackay, “and completely revamped our project review process. All of the departments understand the importance of moving a project to completion quickly. Instead of spelling out a timeline, we learn the developer’s desired occupancy date, and work the timeline—within legal requirements—to meet that date.”

New and Old City Halls: Catalysts to Future Development

The Mayor Tibshraeny compliments the foresight of previous administrations – including policy during his earlier tenure as mayor from 1994 through 2002 – for the downtown vision. The former “new” city hall, located just north of the current campus facing the historic district, was intended to be replaced, turned over to the private sector and leased as downtown offices. It was and it is.

“We knew that a private developer would not put in a multi-story office building on that site,” he recalls, “so the idea was to plant a seed for downtown private sector employment.” With the building now occupied by small businesses and two large tenants, hundreds of employees fill downtown sidewalks at lunch.

Now the city wants to leverage land it controls and facilitate development on private land to put more businesses, housing and entertainment into the market. “Our vacancy rates are astoundingly low (downtown),” says Kilgore, “and we have a waitlist of businesses who want to be in the area. We just don’t have the space right now.”

Marketing the Downtown Market 

Word of mouth, informal meetings, formal requests for proposal and aggressive marketing by CRE brokers put a spotlight on downtown opportunities. “We’re in a lot of discussions,” says Mackay, “and obviously can’t talk about details while negotiations are ongoing.”

“Using a formal RFP process,” explains Kilgore, “we are bringing city-controlled properties onto the market for public-private development opportunities. Every developer looks at sites differently, but right now we’re seeing financing available for townhomes, apartments and other multifamily or mixed use projects.”

With the ASU Innovation Center – including the recently announced $1M TechShop branch – southeast of city hall and University of Arizona credit courses and executive MBA classes being offered to the north in the Chandler Community Center, housing for students, faculty, and business professionals is needed in the downtown submarket. The city wants to focus on what’s best for the long term. City staff works closely with developers when projects are proposed to mesh city and project objectives.

Kilgore reports that there are 13 prime sites in that submarket. Seven are privately owned and six are city controlled. “(Downtown) is really ripe for more verticality and pedestrian-oriented design,” she says. “Our customers are looking for more entertainment and dining to add to the ‘already-amazing’ mix.”

Although personal health caused closure of the successful Tea Loft (AZBEX July 17) and economics shut down a sushi bar, Bourbon Jack’s Grill  (AZBEX, July 31) is opening downtown near Kokopelli Winery. The city is reviewing a proposal to redevelop the former Blue Peacock store into an indoor farmer’s market. Those negotiations are far from being ready to present to the city council, says Chandler economic development spokesperson Jane Poston.

“The challenge is finding the right match between a developer who really understands downtowns,” Kilgore conveys the opportunity, “particularly infill development. We have an area plan and design guidelines. We’re ready for business and ready to act without lengthy delays.”

Mackay adds, “Chandler has some well-recognized national developers looking at projects downtown. With the news about ASU, University of Arizona, Intel, AKO Engineering and others, there is serious interest in what can be developed here.”