Major Redevelopment Proposal Springs Back

Credit: City of Phoenix

By Roland Murphy for Arizona Builder’s Exchange

After five years of fits and starts, the death of a developer, the scrapping of one winning proposal and a sea change in the culture, demographics and economics of Downtown Phoenix, the city is aggressively moving forward once again in hopes of creating a redevelopment plan for one of the area’s most attractive and underused parcels.

The Central Station Intermodal Transit Center is once again out for a development bid, and the city is serious about drawing creative ideas.

Four years ago, Smithfield Properties won the opportunity to develop on the space at Central Ave and Van Buren with an idea to build a $72M, 475-unit apartment high rise. Then developer Bill Smith died while taking several other properties under consideration and the company decided to pass, until ultimately cutting the project.

Now Phoenix, taking into account the major downtown shifts of the last few years, is repurposing the project.

The Central Station Project (Central Station Intermodal Transit Center) is one of Phoenix’s most desirable areas, and it has languished for half a decade. In 2014, Smithfield Properties won the shot to develop the space with a proposal to create a 34-story high rise multifamily development over top to the transit center.

The death of Bill Smith and the conundrum of his company put that plan into the ether, as did the fact that downtown Phoenix is not the same place it was five years ago.

Since then, it has descended to nothingness.

Current Request?

Since, however, the Smithfield Properties plan fell apart, the city has been coy as to what it would like to see.

Phoenix will soon release (+/- June 25) a new offer for a development offering that will include office, retail, (maybe) a hotel and some residential offerings.

The City is looking for development of the NWC of Van Buren and Central. “What this function is a transit site,” said Christine Mackay, Phoenix community and economic development director, “It has to be recognized as transit site. The site needs to activate in a site so many across the Valley don’t have.”

“It’s a huge transit focus site that means we’re not going to draw all kinds of new transit and new people into the area,” Mackay said.

In August of 2014 Smithfield Properties planned to make the site over into a 30+ story multifamily development. In the time since, however, downtown Phoenix has experienced multiple demographic shifts that leave the current area open for more optimal suggestions.

Since then, however, downtown has experienced multiple demographic, economic and cultural changes that would make a 30+ multifamily development other than ideal for the site.

According to the conversation with Mackay, “This is the NWC of Central and Van Buren. It was issued for an RFP in 2013-14, and the agreement was never completed. We’ve really taken our time in re-understanding the site, what’s downtown and what we’re missing. I think what we’ve found is what is different, this is a transit site and needs to interact with transit that so many other sites across the Valley don’t have.”

Ideal Proposal Vague

The transit hub disruption will be minimized due to the multiphase portion of the development, Mackay said. “We’ve got several options as to how we build,” she said. “Do we need to one side to the other while we’re building? It’s very flexible. We’ve got plan after plan and contingency after contingency depending on how they want to build.”

Instead of high-rise multifamily, Mackay, while not throttling other ideas, is hoping for a mixed-use office component.

“I think what we’re looking for now is a true mixed-used project. They’re far smarter than we are. We would envision some office and some retail on the ground floor. That would be key. Make it so those 7,200 persons get their needs met and make it really permeable. It’s going to be important how it connects with the park and how it communicates with the street. We love the high density residential, but we have that largely covered. Our office vacancy rates are in the single digits, so we would love to see that need addressed.”

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    • We haven’t yet. But, we are looking to do so in the future. Somewhere in the Southwest, do you have a preference?

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