The AZBEX Year in Review Roundup

Credit: City of Casa Grande

By Roland Murphy for Arizona Builder’s Exchange

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was intended to run last Friday in our last issue of the volume year. Due to a couple technical issues, that didn’t happen. So, since the AZBEX crew is nothing if not adaptable, we’ve updated it a bit and are pleased to offer our retrospective to kick off the New Volume Year. We hope you enjoy it.)

I know. I know. You’re only now getting past the Year in Review saturation everyone threw at you a few weeks ago. You may be wondering, “Did no one buy those AZBEX folk s a calendar for Christmas?”
Despite appearances, we’re not completely out of our minds. You see, this marks the first issue for our new editorial year. Over the past 100 issues we’ve brought you more than 1,750 articles from news outlets around the state and industry publications from around the globe to keep you informed on developments in the Arizona A/E/C world.

More importantly, over those same 100 issues, we’ve brought you approximately 150 original articles researched and written by our own AZBEX Editorial Team. These have run the gamut from standalone stories on upcoming projects to detailed analyses of trends, state of the market reports and key industry coverage.

Recently we’ve been asking our readers to tell us what their favorite pieces have been over the last year. We’ve taken those responses and combed through our back issues, ourselves, to look at where we’ve been, what was most important at any given moment and, maybe, get a glimpse of where things might be headed. We’ve chosen stories from each month since Issue One of the past year to highlight. Please take a few moments with us to go back over the highlights.


Feb. 24: $4B Theme Park Planned for Casa Grande This was the initial announcement for the Dreamport Villages Casa Grande North & South project. If constructed as planned, it will ultimately create a fully-themed amusement park and master-planned residential community fueling 15,000 jobs and serving 15 million visitors a year.


March 3: $126M First Phase of Watermark to Start Construction After nearly six years of planning, a construction date was finally set for Aura Watermark, the multifamily first phase of the 2.2MSF Watermark mixed-use project at Tempe Town Lake.

March 24: Planned Sports & Entertainment Facilities in the Valley are Plentiful, Diverse and Provide Long-Term Economic Benefit While Publisher Rebekah Morris might be unable to keep a headline concise (!) she is an absolute pro at compiling information from diverse sources and reassembling it engagingly. In this leadup to the AZBEX Phoenix Metro Development Summit last year, she took a look at some of the various planned sports and entertainment projects around the Valley and shared insights and insider expertise.


April 21: Third Annual Metro Phoenix Development Summit Brings Opportunities to the Table At the AZBEX Phoenix Metro Development Summit we brought together leaders from every spectrum of the private development universe to talk about their projects, industry trends and views on the future. We also brought in respected industry media figure Peter Madrid to pull together an entire half day’s worth of information from the speakers and panelists into a clear and concise summary.

April 28: State of the City Holds Interest for A/E/C The Arizona Republic Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton called out Governor Doug Ducey on education funding and other issues in his 2017 State of City address, setting off a back-and-forth snipe fest that was fun to watch. He also talked about several things of interest to the A/E/C industry. I had to focus on those….


May 16: PHX Capital Improvement Plan Jumps 30%  This might have been the first article Rebekah and I directly collaborated on, rather than just back-and-forthing individual segments. At any rate, I do remember it being the first time I got to watch firsthand as she dove into a dense and tedious batch of data, pulled out all the interesting nuggets and spotted the inconsistencies and highlights.

May 26: Plans and Updates for MIHS Proposition 480 Projects Another first – This was the first story I worked on with (now) Assistant Editor Tasha Anderson. Maricopa Integrated Health System had two events showcasing their grand plans for the $949M in bonding authority voters bequeathed them under Prop 480, and neither of us could make it to both. It was one of her first reporting assignments, and she handled it like a champ.


June 2: University Coverage: We hardly ever plan special editions unless it’s an insert/dogpile coverage for one of our major events. With this issue, however, serendipity took a hand and we ended up with three higher-ed major project pieces. First was a piece by Rebekah on Arizona State University’s plans for its increased bonding authority (ASU Zeroes in on Bond Money Projects), then another by her on advances with ASU/Catellus’ plans for the ASU Facilities District (ASU Facilities District Rumbling to Life), and my piece, which ran in the magazine but not on the website, “How NAU Might Use its Bond Money.”

June 27: This was another issue with multiple majors. Using the AZBEX Database as a resource, I wanted to put together a regional piece on the multiple projects in northeast Phoenix, where I live (NE PHX Quietly Abuzz with Development). That went swimmingly, until I got to the ASU/Mayo Health Solutions Innovation Center and found the planned groundwork was going to be much more encompassing than would be needed for just that project. It was going to be used as a structural starting point for infrastructure on the long-planned Arizona Biomedical Corridor (Groundwork Coming for Health Solutions Innovation Center). That, obviously warranted its own piece, and while I wasn’t too happy having to write two major features on one issue’s deadline, our readers were pleased.


July 18: The Changing Face of “The Mall”  From Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure filming at Metrocenter to historic places like Los Arcos that are now long gone and Fiesta Mall that is undergoing profound changes by fits and starts, malls have a major place in Arizona’s construction, design and commercial real estate history, as well as in the state’s modern culture. I spent way too much time looking into retail trends, the state of the mall and what’s coming down the pike.


Aug. 1: Cautious RE Optimism Remains Even as Trump Bump” Fades Rebekah and I are both unapologetic data geeks. However, where her forte lies in wading through thousands of lines of spreadsheet information, mine is making my way through dense, dry reports that rival The Count of Monte Cristo in terms of word count. In this piece, I took a crack at a report that tried to take the temperature of real estate markets as the country got past the halfway point of President Trump’s first year in office.

Aug. 8: Federal Infrastructure Funding Program Delays Causing Industry Ripples The first half of August apparently kicked off Trump Month in terms of A/E/C reporting. Here we looked at how the delays in rolling out details of the President’s long-touted infrastructure program were causing vibrations in the industry.

Aug. 11: Is There a Labor Shortage for Ariz. Infrastructure Projects? On this one, we dropped Rebekah’s leash and let her dive into various CIP reports to check all the work coming down the pike and talk to officials about how the ongoing labor shortage in skilled trades might affect the A/E/C market.


Sept. 15: Construction in AZ: Busy, But…  In my professional opinion, this is the second most important and impactful article AZBEX ran over the year (It certainly had the best graphic.) We (Okay, mostly Rebekah…) looked at historical data in employment levels and construction volumes, as well as taxable sales data, to compare and contrast today’s market with the market before and during The Crash. The takeaway, “We’re all busy, but we’re only doing 44 percent of the work we were in 2006, and we’re doing it with only 56 percent of the people.”


October 13: AZBEX Public Works Conference Special Coverage.  This special section inside a still regularly sized edition had us all scrambling, but it was worth it. Out of the nine pieces to arise out of the conference the keynote (Conference Keynote: Federal Impact on Ariz.) featuring my interview with former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters and Rebekah’s Show Me the Money! (Top Capital Programs in Arizona) pieces garnered the most attention. That said, in what would turn out to be a sign of things to come, a piece that ran in the magazine but not on the website, “K-12 and Higher Ed. -Funding and Development,” started getting a lot of people’s curiosity piqued.


Nov. 3: Quotes Altered in CoStar/Xceligent Fight  On Oct. 27 we ran an overview piece on the fight between CoStar and Xceligent. The next week a staffer with CoStar’s PR firm called me to say a quote we ran had been altered. Fewer than 15 minutes of research showed the rep was either mistaken or was lying to us outright. I was more than a little miffed.


Dec. 1: Infrastructure Challenges and Opportunities Breaking down another mammoth report on other news on the state of infrastructure funding. It’s been kind of a big deal the past year.

Dec. 5: Public to See Tempe Character Area Plan  Tempe has been one of, arguably the, hottest development region in the state for years. When the city announced it would be unveiling the draft of its Character Area 3 Plan covering downtown, Rio Salado/Town Lake, ASU and the northwest neighborhoods, we were excited to take a look and share the information with you. Despite the fact they never got the link to the source materials right, we found a workaround.

Dec. 22: K12 Market Study Shows Significant Irregularities This was the beast: THE TOP STORY OF THE YEAR. While this article pretty much wrote itself, it wrote itself after Rebekah, myself, much of our research staff and a few outside collaborators spent months wading through more data than you could realistically envision from more sources than you want to think about. The research, compiling and writing consumed nights and weekends, but it resulted in the most comprehensive Market Study on the K12 sector’s approach to A/E/C and procurements produced to date. The ripple effects are still being felt, and the comments keep rolling every time we make an appearance.

Dec 22: The 2017 Bah Humbug! Awards  Every year we write a holiday poem calling out owners with ridiculous, holiday-conflicting end-of-year submission deadlines. Every year I grumble and agonize trying to make the solicitation info at least vaguely fit the meter structure of the poem. Every year it’s one of our most widely read and popular pieces; so I guess I shouldn’t complain too much.


Jan 16: Surprises Abound at AZBEX Initial Forecast Event  When we decided to add this event to our roster we figured, since it was the first time doing it, we’d have 100-150 people, tops. As registration went on and we ended up with more than 300, we realized we were on to something. After spending weeks twisting, turning and wringing out the AZBEX Database for every sector of A/E/C in the state, the attendees got a much clearer grasp of the size of the pie and how the pieces fit. We’re still getting comments on that one, too.

Jan. 23: Are Tolls the Only Option for Infrastructure Funding?  I mentioned above that infrastructure funding has been a big deal over the past year. A key component in every proposal is a massive expansion in private investment/public-private partnerships, etc. to reduce the federal role while still expanding investment. One thing many articles referenced, but few looked at in any detail, was how private investors would earn returns. We decided to take that look.


Feb. 2: Irgens Plans New Perimeter Center Office Building Over this review we haven’t included many pieces on specific developments. This one, though, is a little different. As recently as a month ago, the managing director of a major office and industrial developer told me he still wouldn’t even consider a spec office project because the risk of protracted vacancy was still too high to offset the development cost outlay. Even though they have some unique advantages with this particular project the rest of the market doesn’t, Irgens is still acting as an outlier with this one, and outliers are always interesting.

In Conclusion

As you can see, it was a pretty busy year at AZBEX, which means it was a pretty busy year for Arizona A/E/C. We hope you’ve enjoyed this snapshot of the past 12 months, and we promise to bring you just as much, and just as varied, information over the next 100 issues.

We always love to hear from you. If you agree or disagree with these choices, or if there were pieces you think we overlooked, let me know. You can always reach me at Happy New (Volume) Year.

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