3 New Requests Reflect Casa Grande’s Maturity

Site location for the Walbridge proposed spec industrial development. Credit: City of Casa Grande

By Roland Murphy for AZBEX

Once known as a place where grandiose development visions went to fizzle out, where the cart routinely went before the horse and where developers’ and planners’ grasp often exceeded their reach, Casa Grande has grown up to become one of the state’s leaders in cross-sector development.

Three recently submitted development requests offer clear insights into just how far Casa Grande has come.

Walbridge Spec Industrial

Last week, a Phoenix Business Journal article reported on a newly proposed by Walbridge to create a two-building 1.2MSF speculative industrial development to be known as the Desert 100 Pinal County Tech Park. According to the master site plan submittal, the two-phase project will deliver an 898.7KSF warehouse with nearly 27KSF of office in the first phase and 312.7KSF warehouse with 9.4KSF of office space in the second.

The staff report accompanying the proposal notes the 101-acre site was annexed by Casa Grande in April 2021 and the zoning was changed from Urban Ranch to General Industrial.

Proposed building heights would have a maximum of 60 feet. Both buildings would have loading/unloading areas on their north and south sides, and there is rail service access on the south side of the site.

Staff recommended the project for approval by the Planning and Zoning Commission, which granted approval with conditions in its January 6th meeting.

Walbridge is the owner and general contractor. Architectural services are through Carlson Design Group, and HILGARTWILSON is the engineer and plan submitter.

Pinal 63 West

In the same meeting, P&Z also approved a request to rezone 63 acres from Urban Ranch to Planned Area Development for a new multifamily and commercial development called Pinal 63 West.

According to the narrative submitted by RVi Planning + Landscape Architecture, “The proposed conceptual development plan includes approximately 21 acres of commercial and 43 acres of multi-family zoning, intended to create a mixed-use area designed to (complement) the future objectives of the City’s General Plan for this area. The proposed development will incorporate various lifestyle amenities within the multi-family area and may include up to 25 du/ac of a variety of different housing options to support the growing population within the City of Casa Grande in addition to the future commercial development. No Major Site Plan applications are proposed at this time and no users have been identified to be developed on the site.”

On the commercial side, owner Brian Puziss has left potential uses open to include the possibility of retail, general and medical office and/or higher-density multifamily development. The nearly 43-acre multifamily component of the request looks for a range of potential housing types, including traditional apartments, single-family detached and bungalow-style Build-to-Rent homes for a total of 1,065 units.

The development consists of owner/developer Brian Puziss; RVi Planning + Landscape Architecture; consulting/engineering/construction services firm Atwell; the Lokahi Group traffic engineering firm; and Bill Clarkson, investment specialist for WPClarkson/Realty Executives Commercial.

Rodeo Crossing Apartments

Planning staff also recommended the Commission to approve a request by Ravikanth Kambham to rezone nearly 8.4 acres at the NEC of Kadota Avenue and Santa Cruz Road. The City website does not note any action taken by the Commission.

According to the staff report, Rodeo Crossing will offer 170 garden-style apartments with a mix of 48 one-bedroom and 122 two-bedroom layouts in five 34-unit buildings. Planned amenities include a clubhouse, pool, dog park and children’s playground.

The project narrative says the owners expect rapid leasing of the apartments when completed, given the development’s proximity to employers and available amenities.

Failures to Launch

The three newly proposed projects help to illustrate just how far Casa Grande has come in the last few years. It was not all that long ago the city had a growing reputation as somewhere grand projects were proposed only to die embarrassingly on the vine.

Two major much-publicized developments, and their failures, had cast a pall over Casa Grande as a development option. The PhoenixMart international commerce center was announced and broke ground in 2013. It was supposed to deliver a 1.5MSF “international trade center” as the first phase of the North American Logistics Trade and E-Commerce City.

As long-time market watchers will recall, the ambitious project was troubled from the start and quickly devolved into an epic tragicomedy. After a series of stops and starts, the general contractor walked away, the FBI raided the PhoenixMart headquarters as part of a suspected EB5 program jobs for “green cards” foreign investment scam, and the portion of the site that did get built now sits unfinished.

Casa Grande Mayor Craig McFarland jokingly touched upon the PhoenixMart debacle in a luncheon address last summer, noting local leaders had been working to motivate the owners to do something with the site, including selling it for new development or, if worse comes to worst, tearing down the decaying buildings on the site.

In that same address, McFarland mentioned Casa Grande’s other most notorious failure to launch – the $4B Dreamport Villages master-planned mega development, which was to include recreational areas, a college campus annex, technology park, master-planned residential and a theme park with extreme sports, water parks and supporting retail, commercial, restaurant, hotel and other hospitality components in a grand unified vision that was supposed to be a rival global entertainment destination against leader Walt Disney World.

The proposal was announced with exceptional hype and fanfare in the regional press in 2017, and plans were quickly and enthusiastically approved by local oversight bodies. It never gained any traction, however, and 577 acres of the proposed site were reverted to its original zoning in 2021.

The Turnaround

The big break in Casa Grande’s transition to its current status as a hot location for development of all types started with Lucid Motors’ announcement it would build a nearly 1MSF luxury electric vehicle production facility that would take on Tesla. Despite enthusiastic support from state, regional and local public and private economic development officials, there was serious skepticism about the project, given Tesla’s own difficulties bringing its vehicles to market, an as-yet-unproven degree of actual market demand for all-electric vehicles and a series of funding problems in Lucid’s process.

The gamble eventually paid off, however, with Lucid finishing its factory and beginning production. The electric vehicle market exploded, receiving extensive public support and private demand, and Lucid now has its second phase – a 2.4MSF expansion – under construction.

Having broken the hype-to-problem-to-doom cycle, Casa Grande has been developing rapidly across all sectors ever since. While most of the development in terms of volume has come in the industrial sector, the jobs and related growth it has generated – and continues to generate – has spurred an equal number of multifamily and mixed-use projects, as well as new construction across all the supporting sectors, including hospitality, retail, education and healthcare.

Not including master-planned projects, DATABEX information from 2016-2022 shows Casa Grande currently has 26 private projects in various stages of development ranging from design to actively under construction, with combined project valuations totaling more than $4.2B.

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