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Urban Infill Transforming Phoenix

By Eric Jay Toll for The Arizona Builder’s Exchange

 “Infill project seeks city approval.”  “Incentives sought for infill development.”

: AIA Phoenix Metro Urban Infill panel. From left Kenny Barrett, Roosevelt Row; Dorina Bustamante, art and culture advocate; Greg Esser, founder, Roosevelt Row Community Development Corporation; Feliciano Vera, principal, Habitat Metro; Shannon Scutari, Esq., director, Sustainable Communities Collaborative; and Ben Patton, AICP, senior planning advisor, Ridenour, Hienton & Lewis. (Photo by Eric Jay Toll for AZBEX)

Similar to these, headlines about infill projects increasingly hit local media as new development focuses on undeveloped and underdeveloped land in the Phoenix metro. According to American Institute of Architects Arizona chapter, almost 40 percent of all Valley land and 11 percent of downtown Phoenix are available for infill development. Rising gas prices, light rail popularity, and an interest in life quality all result in projects now going up on the parcels leapfrog development skipped over during the boom.

AIA Phoenix Metro put the spotlight on successful infill with an idea-packed panel at its second Transformation Phoenix seminar moderated by Christina Noble, AIA, LEED AP, NCARB, Contour Architecture.


Uptown Would Have Looked Better Downtown

Ben Patton, AICP, senior planning advisor, Ridenour, Hienton & Lewis, opened the panel looking at how infill helps Phoenix recover from earlier planning errors. “I think we all agree,” Patton said, “that allowing high rise development north of Roosevelt St. was a mistake. Imagine downtown Phoenix if all those uptown towers were on vacant downtown land.”

Patton cautions that the open system of development interconnects everything in the process. “Every step,” he said displaying a complex connectivity chart, “is dependent on another step in the process.” He suggests taking satisfaction in finding success incrementally.

Entitled Value is not the Same as Developable Value

“Value, capacity and efficiency” are the three challenges for infill development, according to Feliciano Vera, principal of Habitat Metro. He warns that there is a difference between “entitled value,” the worth of a property based purely on its zoning or concept plan versus the actual developable value an investor recoups from rents and long-term capital growth.

“Just because a high rise building has been approved does not mean that it’s going to be able to capture the rents and occupancy necessary to be a financial success,” he observes. “Uptown is filled with Class B high rises, and the market wants high rises to be Class A.” He believes Phoenix is missing the capacity to develop the type of development continually being proposed.

“Efficiency comes from making good use of capital,” Vera suggests. “It’s more efficient to invest in large increments, but that doesn’t mean that the market can return the same investment.”

‘Vehicle Only’ Transportation System Choked Phoenix Economy

“Transportation is in for a radical change,” predicts Sustainable Communities Collaborative director Shannon Scutari, Esq. “Putting all of our efforts into vehicular infrastructure choked the economy.” She says that transportation infrastructure drives opportunity, and “the success of light rail is creating a demand for infill development.”

Kenny Barrett, Programs Manager, Roosevelt Row Community Development Corporation, and Dorina Bustamante, principal at Continental Shift, LLC, focused on adaptive reuse of temporary space—particularly in the Roosevelt Row area—with the Valley of the Sunflowers and Motivation Phoenix. The goal, activating empty lots, brought a community garden to a landscape strip between street and sidewalk, a harvest of sunflowers to feed a biofuel project at Phoenix Union Bioscience High School, and other projects delivering massive art projects and colorful murals onto undeveloped lots.

Greg Esser, founder of the Roosevelt Row Community Development Corporation talked about the CDC’s efforts to create an artisan village and promote events like First Fridays and the farmers market.

The next in the series of four Transformation Phoenix sessions is Open Space, slated for 5:00 p.m., August 23rd in the AIA-Arizona offices at Third Ave. and Washington St. The final session, Transportation, is scheduled for September 27th. The four events will be compiled into a forum presented at the AIA’s western and northwestern regional conference in Tucson this November.

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