Monday, June 29, 2009

Stay Tuned for More 202 News

Here's a comment Ben left on my last post about retail:

Just found this article on the 202 moving forward. May be old news but just published today:

I thought it was a timely article and a timely observation from Ben. My guess is that we will see significant progress over the course of this summer. And I know that Tom Trush has been following Loop 202 developments on behalf of South Mountain District News; so keep tuned there and at the AZ Republic for further news.

Not only do I continue to argue that this WILL happen for the reasons cited in my last 202 article, but the summers in AZ are a great time for political deal making; and it appears that the deals are being made (not to mention ADOT has gotten better in the PR arena). Plus, I find it interesting that Harry Mitchell and Ed Pastor have both weighed in on the subject. They will hopefully provide the federal spending that can make our Loop 202 a reality.

As we continue to see signs of resuscitation for our freeway, I will definitely try to stay "in the loop" (yes, I put quotes around it--very clever indeed). Please do the same, and let me know if you catch anything that I fail to mention here. Thanks again to Ben for the contribution.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Wee Bit O Retail News

Did you notice that the shopping center at 35th and Baseline now looks nicely landscaped, and there's a new broker's sign in front of the property? That's right, apparently the owner (bank?) realized that it can't continue to sit empty, or else they will have a deteriorating piece of junk on their hands.

Now, let's see if we can get any momentum in the commercial lease market. Hint: it isn't going to happen as long as properties like the one at 51st/Southern keep trying to convince the world that their lower traffic locations are worth $22 psf. The guys over at 27th and Baseline have the right idea in starting negotiations at $14.

So on to the bright side, let's commence the discussion of what kinds of businesses would be appropriate for 35th/Baseline. A craft store? Sporting goods? Trader Joe's or similar? Restaurants? Yoga studio? These are a few of the ideas I gleaned from past posts. Please feel free to take it from here, and keep in mind that this is a neighborhood location, meaning that most major retailers who normally locate near malls and such won't be interested. But that's okay; we can still use a few more neighborhood-oriented businesses here.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Loop 202 Moving Forward!!!

At least one traffic jam has been eliminated in the Loop 202 South Mountain Corridor's approval process. As of June 10th, Phoenix's Street Transportation Department has gone on record to say:

The Street Transportation Department recommends MAG and ADOT expedite the planning process for the Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway from the I-10 at 59th Avenue to approximately the Estrella Drive alignment in Phoenix.

Rumor has it that Councilman Nowakowski and others will champion this at the next City Council meeting, so that it is passed along as a directive to MAG and ADOT to commence work on this vital project.

I must applaud the wise words of Wylie Bearup, Interim Director of the Street Transportation Department, for pointing out:

The Street Transportation Department continues to push for the construction of the north-south portion of the freeway. The southwestern area of the City was developing rapidly prior to the most recent economic downturn. The City has planned the street network in the area based on an assumption of a freeway to carry significant north/south traffic. The freeway also provides a much needed additional crossing of the Salt River. Since there is wide-spread agreement on the alignment for this section, the department would prefer that construction begin soon to take advantage of the current market conditions.

That's us, by the way.... the rapidly growing part of southwestern Phoenix. If the people just over the mountain from us realize what a new freeway can bring them, in terms of services to their community (like a hospital, for instance), then perhaps that portion of the freeway will hurry along in step with this one. Now is definitely the time to make this happen.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Loop 202 News

Here's a message from ADOT Spokesperson, Timothy Tait, offered as a follow-up to concerns from residents after the Local Laveen Summit last month:

At this point, ADOT is awaiting direction from the leaders of the region on how to proceed forward. While a freeway has been proposed up to this point, we recognize that this may change into a different type of roadway. "What" is not decision of ADOT, but of the leaders of the region through the Maricopa Association of Governments. ADOT doesn't plan Valley freeways -- rather, we serve to complete the formal studies, design, construct and maintain the network.

South Mountain does have a long history. ADOT completed the first environmental study in 1988 before regional funding fell short and the freeway was removed from the planned highway network. Through the 2004 vote in Maricopa County, ADOT again received funding to study the South Mountain Freeway in 2006. Like any Environmental Impact Statement for a long, complex project, this study has taken time. At the time we were stopped because of the roadway-configuration debate, the study was on track for release this summer. That, obviously, cannot happen at this time. Any change from the 10-lane freeway concept will require some degree of reanalysis to conform with all federal regulations, since this is a Federal Aid project.

Another take (or two) on this issue:

Mr. Tait's statement above was prompted by emails from two Laveen residents, one of whom has been a member of the community for several decades and the other a more recent addition. Each had a different perspective on why we need to make the Loop 202 freeway a reality in our community.

One of the residents, Mary, moved to Laveen a few years ago (as did I). She did not move to Laveen because of its past heritage, but because of the proximity to downtown Phoenix and availability of nice new homes, golf courses, and the promise of future development. Mary is concerned about Laveen's economic growth and sees the freeway as a way to spur this growth, as well as provide a bypass for the I-10 freeway through Phoenix.

Shelley has been in Laveen since the 1960s and has seen the community grow exponentially in recent years. She does live here for the ranch lifestyle, but sees the freeway as a much needed reliever for all the traffic that our recent growth has brought upon the community. She cites the fact that many "old Laveen" residents share her view, despite the very vocal few who essentially deny our growth trajectory as a reality. She notes that, "Our growth is a fact of life and with it comes the need for better transportation." Furthermore, she points out that we need to get the already busy bypass traffic off of 51st Avenue and onto a freeway.

My take

It's interesting....well, interesting to me at least: I initially thought that I couldn't offer a new perspective to those posted above. But after I drafted my response, I think I came up with something of a judicious and refreshing addition to the discussion (oh please, stop with the flattery). If you have been reading my blog posts, then you already know that I'm something of a "big picture" thinker; in which case my viewpoints will not likely surprise you.

I feel that both Mary and Shelley are correct in their assessments about Laveen's transportation needs. We have experienced significant residential growth in recent years and are poised for even more thanks to our proximity to Phoenix's central business district (and ASU, the airport, Glendale, etc.). Furthermore, we are well positioned to cultivate our ongoing growth into a great new model for a suburban community, building on the plans already hotly debated and settled (hopefully), thanks to groups like the LCRD and the city-county collaboration that resulted in the Southwest Regional Growth Study (see link on the side-bar of this page). Laveen is and always has been a rural community, and our master plan of record would ensure that this remains true as we welcome even more residents and businesses.

At a time that our metropolitan region exemplifies and amplifies the housing crisis affecting our country, people are becoming more selective in their choice of residence because they now have more options than ever. Again and again, research and intuition collide in acknowledging culture and character as some of the toughest qualities to break and some of the most important to people. Therefore, I hope that Laveen will continue growing to provide modern conveniences while maintaining a unique character and proud legacy (note: look to the series of highly critical articles that The Economist published back in 2005-2006 about Phoenix and Scottsdale).

If we don't preserve something of the old Laveen--and build upon projects that celebrate its history--we offer very little to future investors besides proximity to downtown, the airport, or the South Mountain foothills. So, while our master plan helps to preserve Laveen's character, the completion of a local freeway helps connect us to the rest of Phoenix, thus enabling Laveen to better complement all of the other communities that make up this ever-growing city and huge metropolis. So while it provides a much needed local commuter route and a regional bypass, the Loop 202 South Mountain alignment also makes possible such regionally important developments as a hospital, a super-regional shopping center or two, additional office space, and the ancilliary employment that supports the above--all coincidentally slated for Laveen, but benefiting the rest of the region as well.


So what do we need to do? Well, for those of us with our feet firmly planted here, the answer is clear. We need to do what we can to advocate for the continuation of all Loop 202 studies and the eventual completion of the South Mountain Corridor, whether it be a freeway, parkway, or a major thoroughfare by any other name. I'll follow up on this soon, but for now, I would recommend contacting your MAG representatives (political representatives, not staff). Also, make sure you tell your friends to do the same. If you know anyone in Michael Nowakowski or Mary Rose Wilcox's office, then by all means call them. Be the squeaky wheel; you might be surprised at how receptive both offices are.

*If you are the diplomatic type, then please help your pitifully misguided friends and family in Ahwatukee understand that they too should support the Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway. Very few houses stand in the way of the proposed freeway's path, and those that do shouldn't have been built anyhow. Plus, imagine how convenient it will be when our friends at Club West can take advantage of our new retail and hospital, neither of which will likely come to Ahwatukee anytime soon without the freeway.

*And one more thing.... I've heard that Mayor Phil Gordon does not support the freeway. If this is in fact true, then I beg you to convince him otherwise. I think it's absolutely insane that Mr. Gordon would stand on the wrong side of this issue. Even if he prefers the support of Ahwatukee to that of Laveen, I would think he could benefit from the job creation that could come from the Loop 202--both short and long-term.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

What's New in Laveen Retail

As mentioned in my last post, I've been traveling a little during the month of May.... One of those trips was to the International Council of Shopping Centers' annual conference in Las Vegas, where I confirmed that Goodwill signed a lease or build-to-suit agreement for 35th Avenue and Southern (Mervyn's center). This may be a welcome note to my readers, or not; but I will say that we have merely caught up with the rest of the valley in welcoming one of their stores to our community (see for a map of existing locations). After driving all the way to their Tempe store on Saturday with a truck full of stuff, I guess I'm happy to have a closer donation center.

From this information, I made two observations. One is that we will finally have a tenant generating legitimate traffic to this shopping center, which is good (aside from US Bank, of course, which is still open for legitimate business). The other is that Goodwill is planning for a pad location, which verifies past news from Staubach representatives that they have secured other users for the empty Mervyn's space. I need to put in a call to Michael to verify the proposed tenants, but last I heard it was a Ross and Hacienda Mercado (California-based Mexican grocery).

So that leaves two more empty shopping ceneters in our area: 35th/Baseline and 27th/Baseline. I have heard rumors that both of these are going back to the banks (more or less confirmed for 35th/Baseline). While I know of several investors who have made offers on the Laveen Village Center (35th), I can't imagine what anyone would do with the smaller one at 27th/Baseline. Let's just say that I think we'll see activity at 35th before anywhere else. However, this center is owned by Bank of the West, and they fail to understand why they need to let go of it at a slight discount (despite their REO holdings rising to 17% of total assets in the last year). I sense that they are lobbying for a treasury deal, but will eventually find wisdom either on their own or with the help of a judge--if the original developer declares bankruptcy while still in control of the asset. Believe me, I'll be watching this one closely and keeping you posted.

Final word for today.... This may be surprising, but we have some new development activity to note. According to Mike Moreines of Terrazona Properties, his group is preparing to begin work on their LA Fitness-anchored center at 51st/Baseline. The pads have been sold to MidFirst Bank and a couple more fast food restaurants to be named in the future (I may have blogged about this already). The lease with LA Fitness is less assured, although Mike said that he would definitely bring in a gym...... I really hope it's LA Fitness and not some local place that cuts corners.