By Roland Murphy for AZBEX
Revitalizing the Old Town area has been a persistent challenge for the City of Peoria for years, with plans advancing and retreating in an oddly haphazard fashion and defeat being snatched from the jaws of seemingly impending victory more than once.
The City battled for years to demolish a vacant and blighted Smitty’s grocery store location at Grand Avenue near 85th Avenue. Once that was complete, developer SJ Acquisitions obtained the site and proposed a mixed-use development of commercial and multifamily that was hoped to serve as a gateway into Old Town.
The company was unable to secure a single letter of intent for the commercial space, however, and scrapped the proposal for Grand Commons, resubmitting it as a multifamily-only plan. Despite being recommended by the Peoria Planning and Zoning Commission, Peoria City Council denied the request, with members expressing concern about the lack of a commercial presence at such a prominent intersection as well worries about the proposed 72-foot maximum height. (See page XXX) NOTE: LAUREN – LINK TO THE SMITTY’S DENIED ARTICLE
The Problem(s) with Grand
The entirety of Grand Avenue in Peoria has proven problematic for redevelopment efforts. Vacant lots, dilapidated structures, lack of landscaping and poor streetscapes pose development constraints, according to a recent presentation to the Planning and Zoning Commission by Real Estate Development Officer Scott Whyte. Arizona Department of Transportation access restrictions also present challenges, as does the lack of freeway proximity.
These all combine to create a perception of decline and blight, Whyte says.
Another concern is the heavy presence of big-box retail, which makes the area less attractive to smaller commercial operations. Whyte says the estimated retail demand for the area is 842KSF, but the existing market is 1.1MSF and another 372KSF is proposed, making the area significantly over-served for all but small, neighborhood-focused retail providers.
Adding to the problem with Grand Avenue is a lack of restaurant and retail amenities that would serve as a supporting structure for office uses.
Given the demand for housing in the area, and the benefits new residents bring to commercial and retail outlets, Whyte said multifamily investment would be a good initial step. He recommended the $50M Grand Commons proposal, saying, “I think we have to build to it. I don’t think we’re going to get there with the first nibble.”
Old Town Revitalization Attempts
As noted above, Grand Commons was envisioned as gateway into Peoria’s Old Town district, which has struggled mightily with its own revitalization issues.
A master plan was formed, and the City entered into an agreement with Vintage Partners to revitalize Old Town. Vintage Partners had a history of successful redevelopment projects, including the Uptown Plaza project at Camelback Road and Central Avenue in Phoenix.
The plan would have created a redeveloped area around 84th Avenue and Washington Street to create a revitalized and rejuvenated walkable district. Planned uses would have included apartments, office, retail and restaurants.
In June of this year, however, Vintage Partners withdrew from the partnership. The developer cited its ongoing wait for a draft development agreement from the City and the removal of the city’s former economic director as reasons for walking away. Vintage was also frustrated by Peoria’s revisions to the original memorandum of understanding. Peoria was left without a partner and forced to pause the plan it had been promoting heavily in its economic development messaging.
To accompany the hoped-for redevelopment, Peoria had also issued an RFP to revitalize and renovate the Old Town Streetscape into a modern, walkable and accessible area that would support the improvements to come. Last month, Peoria entered into an agreement with Wood Environmental & Infrastructure Solutions, Inc. to complete a design concept report for the $6M project.
Hoping to get the overall Old Town redevelopment going with a successful reboot, the City opened a new RFP just this week to find a new development partner. According to the project description, “Primary objectives for submitted projects include creating a high quality dining and entertainment environment that promotes walkability and a pedestrian experience, preserves and enhances the historic character of the Old Town Area and engages the already existing public spaces, historical landmarks, arts and special events. Key emphasis would be for top tier or specialty restaurants. Secondary use would be specialty retail and multifamily.”
Peoria watchers should not expect a quick resolution, however. The close date for the request is not until November 14th of 2022.