By Rebekah Morris for AZBEX
Is the third time a charm for Tempe to Redevelop Iconic Mill Site? The City has recently issued a development RFP for the site; proposals are due Thursday, November 4th, 2021 at 3pm.
The City first purchased the property in 2003 and has since been looking for a private development partner to activate the site into a community amenity with multiple uses. Two previous agreements have expired without any development happening on the parcel. The most recent iteration was a development agreement with Baum Development that was initially approved by City Council in 2014. The City is looking for a partner with a successful track record of historic preservation and mixed-use development.
The site includes the historic mill building, originally constructed in 1874. While that building did burn down, the current concrete mill structure on site dates back to 1918. The iconic silo structures were constructed in 1951. Both the mill and silos must be preserved as part of this development proposal.
Funky Shape, Steep Grade and Numerous Encumbrances
The site is not for the faint of heart. Not only does the five-acre site boast steep grades, but an awkwardly shaped parcel and the existing buildings need to remain all pose additional challenges. A façade easement is a requirement of the development agreement. The location of the parcel and proximity to Sky Harbor International Airport also adds an airspace easement to the equation.
The site is subject to the Downtown Enhanced Services District, which assesses fees based on the usage and size of any development. According to the RFP document: “the site is current zoned CC – City Center District with a Planned Area Development Overlay, within the Transportation Overlay District, within the Rio Salado Overlay District and a Historic Overlay with the Tempe Historic Property Register. The General Plan 2040 projected land use and residential density for the site are Mixed-Use and High-Density Urban Core (greater than 65 du/acre), respectively. The Downtown Community Design Principles identify the area as “Hayden Ferry South Special Study Area” with relevant policy guidelines.”
The City will retain ownership of the property, with the successful proposer holding a long-term master lease and the ability to have “full creative and managerial control of the property’s design, programming, construction, financial strategy, subleasing, operations, and maintenance. In this way, both parties can develop a true public private partnership that allows the City to participate in revenue generation based on agreed upon development milestones.”
Opportunity for Creative Active Community Space
While the City acknowledges the site has its challenges, it also presents a significant opportunity. According to Maria Laughner, Economic Development Program Manager for the City of Tempe, this is ‘one of the last really good properties to develop’ in Downtown Tempe. The site is directly across the street from the 100 Mill project, adjacent to Hayden Butte Preserve and sits between the dense urban core of Downtown Tempe and Tempe Town Lake.
Since 2014 when the last development agreement was approved, Tempe has evolved and continues to advance with new public assets such as the Tempe Streetcar, private development in the vicinity, and an increased focus on sustainability. The subject parcel has historical and community significance, and the city is patiently waiting for the right development proposal.
When asked about infrastructure to the site, and specific requirements in the RFP, such as using the Mill building for office spaces, the City noted that the successful development proposal will be the best use of the property. If the existing infrastructure is not sufficient to service the development, the City may consider increasing the level of service. If the existing mill building would be better suited to a different use, the City is open to considering that.
The City envisions a mixed-use development including not only reusing the silos and mill building, but community amenities, plazas and courtyards, rooftop activation concepts, and incorporating the archaeological features, arts and cultural elements.
RFP Process First of Many Steps Before Construction
While the public RFP process ends with a development agreement approved by City Council, there are several more steps and approvals needed before any project breaks ground on the site. Laughner provided additional detail on the future steps required before construction as:
- Tempe City Council approval of a development agreement,
- Tempe Historic Preservation Commission,
- Tempe Historic Preservation Foundation,
- Development Review Commission, and
- Desert Conservation Commission.
Other commissions may be involved as well.
The development RFP can be found here. No preproposal conference has been scheduled, but all questions should be submitted to the procurement contact before Friday, October 8th, 2021.