Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Sorry for the Cheap Tires

I've come to accept that I may have made a slightly regrettable choice as a member of the Laveen Village Planning Committee, but I'd like a chance to defend that choice. It was to vote for a zoning change from C-1 to C-2 for Discount Tire at 51st Avenue and Baseline Road (SWC). The motion passed with a solid but not overwhelming majority and I took some flack for my vote in the affirmative. There were some unkind things said in the aftermath of this vote, which was our first contentious issue in a while, so I think it's important that we clear the air.

First, some basics. In order for the applicant to build a tire shop on the location, they needed to change the zoning designation -- I recommend reviewing the city zoning ordinance here for a more thorough understanding. Had the property remained designated as C-1, it would have been restricted to what we call "Neighborhood Retail". This means any number of business types, including thrift store, coin-op laundry, smoke shop, liquor store, or other such small and localized uses (and yes, plenty more benign ones too, but then I've already established my bias above). Basically, C-1 includes all of the things we think belong scattered throughout our neighborhoods. C-2, on the other hand, is called "Intermediate Commercial" and accounts for most other commercial uses one might imagine -- it usually connotes more business traffic from the neighborhood and beyond.

Here's the rationale for voting down the application, as I understood it. We know that Discount Tire wants in on all the lucrative tire business in Laveen, but we don't like the location. We expect more for the space in front of LA Fitness and we figure that if we say no, the tire shop will go elsewhere. This move will not only push the tire shop away to a less desirable location, but it will also hold that C-1 spot for something we want more, like a restaurant (or coin-op laundry).

My rationale in voting to approve the rezoning application was simply that I saw little need to block it from a community standpoint and I have a relatively high regard for Discount Tire, as compared to some of the non-local chains out there (not that we could ensure that Discount Tire is the end user, but the developer would be foolish to mislead us). Plus, there's no restauranteur planning to build in this location, so why are we saving a spot? The same shopping center already has (yet another) fast food restaurant planned..... and Denny's, last I heard, has completely walked away from this intersection. Any nicer sit-down options that would build out a pad site would be smarter to either move into the center at 35th Avenue and Baseline or wait for one of the power centers adjacent to the Loop 202 to be built and go there. Meanwhile, we had the opportunity to bring another amenity to Laveen and get some dirt moving -- this time with a developer that has always responded well to community feedback. I thought this was a very practical move.

So now I wonder what other people think about this. Would you have done differently than you planning committee? Did you want to see the LVPC take a unified stand against this rezoning application? Please keep in mind that there is no legal way that we could have colluded before the meeting to do so, but a group of concerned residents could have spoken out during the public comment period and asked at the time that we consider it. I think we did ok, but I'm open to feedback and urge those who are concerned to get more involved in both the LVPC and the LCRD.

I'll even take it one step further. If you are disturbed by the fact that we have another tire shop being built at this intersection, I will go so far as to personally demand an explanation from the developer, Terrazona, as to why the Discount Tire wasn't placed on Terrazona's property at 35th and Southern. If they were to move the location, we would have two there and one at 51st/Baseline rather than the opposite. But seriously, would you rather get your tires changed and hit the gym while you wait, or would you prefer to browse Office Max? I'd rather be on a treadmill or across the street at Scooptacular.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

South Mountain vs. Hassayampa: Ever Heard of Either Freeway?

I woke up this morning to find an email sent yesterday (Friday) evening from the Arizona Department of Transportation, regarding the state's "Long Term Transportation Plan Final Report". No biggie, right? Just a discussion about how we plan to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on critical infrastructure projects over the next 25 years. I'm not sure why they chose to send it on a Friday evening, but this Laveen geek couldn't imagine any better Saturday morning reading material. Others may not feel the same way, although I guess we'll see if there's a Sunday morning feature in the Republic tomorrow's Sunday edition, as there ought to be.

Enough about the timing of the report for now. Let's look at what it says. You can find the document here, or I suppose you can trust my brief analysis as follows. First, a few notable sections, as far as Laveen is concerned (you'll have to wait to read about the Hassayampa freeway):

Section 1: Executive Summary (page 1)
In case you don't regularly read professional reports for a living, I'd be remiss to skip over highlighting this section. It may very well include everything you want to know about the following hundred or so pages.

Sections 1.3-1.5: Long-Range Needs, Revenues, and Investment Levels; Gap Analysis (pages 3-9)
This section of the executive summary offers insights about funding constraints and strategic areas of interest for ADOT. For instance, $9.28 billion must stay within Maricopa and Pima counties (mostly Maricopa). The report then notes that tradeoffs are likely, given that we can only count on a small chunk of the funding required to implement all projects envisioned by bqAZ (Building a Quality Arizona) and ADOT's needs assessment.

Section 3.1.1: Goals and Objectives (page 28)
This is a big one. If we want to advocate smartly for the Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway, we need to do so in a way that considers these stated goals and objectives. Here's the list:
  1. Improve mobility and accessibility
  2. Preserve and maintain the system 
  3. Support economic growth 
  4. Link transportation and land use 
  5. Consider natural, cultural, and environmental resources 
  6. Enhance safety and security 
  7. Strengthen partnerships 
  8. Promote fiscal stewardship
We can address all of the above quite handily, in my opinion, for the Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway. Numbers 1, 3, 4, and 6 seem like the most obvious concerns that the SMF would address, although we can make an argument for all four of the others as well.

Table 3-1: Performance Measures by Plan Goal Area (page 31)
This table helps to illustrate the metrics for the goals listed above, which also lowers the bar for fashioning a report advocating for one particular freeway, such as the SMF.

Section 4.2.3: Highway Needs for “New” Facilities (page 41)
This section outlines the various studies, reports, strategic plans, and other documents used to guide new infrastructure development. Looking for a specific project like the SMF? Keep digging....

Section 5.1.1: Highway Revenues (page 56)
I recommend skimming over the first section about our gas tax and vehicle registration fees and then on to page 58, to read up on the Prop 400 funds available only to Maricopa County transportation projects.  56.2% of these funds were earmarked for highway construction, such as the SMF.

Table 5-6: Baseline Revenue Forecast with Disbursements (page 65)
From what I see here, it looks like MAG has the money it needs for the Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway; ADOT has plenty of discretionary funds; and I'm almost certain that some of those federal funds are set aside for the SMF. Do we have enough money yet?

5.3.2: Generating Revenues from Existing Sources (page 68)
In simple terms, this is how government agencies go about making the pie bigger, so that projects like ours don't take as big a piece of the pie. I suppose that the following subsections could be described as adding new flavors to a bigger pie. Interesting stuff.

Section 6. Investment Alternatives and Outcomes (page 71)
I recommend reading through as much of this section as you can stand, as it outlines different strategies for prioritizing ADOT's investment choices. Skip ahead to page 76 for the "Recommended Investment Choice". Most notably, the RIC would significantly reduce the share of funds going to highway expansion, as compared with both of the alternate plans.

Section 7.1: Benefits of Implementation (page 86)
Just thought you'd appreciate the following quote: "In terms of immediate impacts, it is estimated that a billion dollars of transportation infrastructure investment will create over 30,000 new jobs." This is why we need to stay on top of MAG and our city representatives to advocate on behalf of the SMF. We're not just looking for easier travel to shopping and work destinations, but we're looking at an opportunity to bring a huge economic impact to our city and region as a whole. Please also note that this section of the report makes no mention of infrastructure having a direct impact on targeted growth, as the SMF will provide. Therefore, I predict that the SMF will produce a much greater than average economic impact per mile.

Appendix A: Examples of Significant Transportation Infrastructure Projects (page 95)

Here's where the zinger comes in. Not only is this the first and only specific mention of the South Mountain Freeway I found, but what is that other freeway that appears slightly higher on the list..... The Hassayampa Freeway (see, you knew it was going to come up eventually)..... a.k.a. Interstate 11, a.k.a. Canamex Corridor. As I've written in the past, the improvements that follow the otherwise now mostly forgotten Canamex route are a good thing in that they provide a regional bypass for which the Loop 202 is not intended to serve. However, one must also consider that this project will compete for MAG funding, federal funding, and a reminder of what constitutes "smart growth" for the metro Phoenix area. A project like the Hassayampa Freeway will be of much greater interest to large scale land developers than something like the Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway, which is more of an infill project, but probably not as interesting to most existing Valley residents. More to come on this one later, but the important message is that you should be concerned.... be very concerned.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Not Exactly the Winning Platform (Or Is It?)

Here's what I just sent to my community's HOA property manager, as my "pitch" to get reelected to our board of directors. Given the neighborhood's turnover in recent years, I hope and expect that someone new will want to take charge. That's how it's supposed to be, right? Please let me know what you think. Will this work as planned, or does it look more like bitter resignation?

I am currently serving on the Board of Directors and have been since July of 2008 -- shortly after I helped to start our community’s block watch program. I also represent our village on the city’s Laveen Village Planning Committee and work professionally in real estate, with an emphasis on researching communities/properties for investment purposes and representing buyers and sellers as an agent.

My ongoing focus for our HOA is to responsibly manage our finances and try as best we can to preserve property values by upholding our community’s CC&Rs in a fair manner. In the past, i have been a strong advocate of using extra funds for community events like BBQs and picnics. This is something that I would like to see become common again in Highland at Rogers Ranch, but we need help and feedback. I wish I could say that I’ve been reelected in past years by an overwhelming show of support for these kinds of actions, but instead have remained on the board as a default candidate due to problems with too few votes being cast for eligible candidates. Please let me know directly how you feel this time around and cast your vote, or feel free to run against me. I promise to hold this office dutifully, but would not mind someone else stepping up to take my place if they have fresh ideas and are committed to seeing them through to reality. This is a call to action -- please be involved in one way or another. Thank you.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Updated: Working As a Source for the Public Insight Network

Preface: This is officially my first attempt at a shared blog post, with contributions by myself and Nick Blumberg of KJZZ's Fronteras Desk. After initially saying that it sounded like a great idea and would be easily accomplished, I realized that writing in such an organized format might prove challenging to me, despite my periodic aspirations to try and become a journalist (a career choice that no journalist I know would recommend). Upon committing myself, I immediately encountered the kind of writer's block that only a brief bout of insomnia and a glass of wine could resolve. This is despite the fact that Nick gave his assurance that he will give a bit of direction. So here we go....

From Patrick:

My last post, "Thoughts about South Phoenix", was prompted entirely by a questionnaire that a friend forwarded from the Fronteras Desk's Public Insight Network. My completion of the questionnaire prompted a call from Nick Blumberg, who was working at the time with KJZZ's Steve Goldstein to produce a weeklong series focused on various facets of the city of Phoenix, titled "Finding Connections in Phoenix's Directions". This series aired last week, with my contribution to the South Phoenix story airing last Friday morning at 6:33 and 8:33 AM (listen here).

When Nick contacted me, I was initially surprised -- thinking that perhaps he was more interested in other contacts I had recommended as potential sources for his story. But he invited me into the studio to speak with Steve and him about Laveen, and how it fits into the big picture for South Phoenix and the city as a whole. I was honored, to say the least, that I would be included in their project -- still a little doubtful that anything I said would make it onto the air -- but I agreed to stop in at the studio and go on the record just to see what would come of it.

Given that this was a few weeks before my son, Tighe, started at daycare, I was left with no choice but to bring him along and hope that he would behave himself (he's just over two years old). At this point, I'm fairly certain that the surprise was on Nick and Steve.... They really should have considered contacting sources other than this part-time stay at home dad with a son who loves almost nothing more than audio equipment and buttons. Needless to say, this was not a working formula, despite their efforts to make it work. I couldn't help but be both embarrassed and humored by my naiveté, followed by a great deal of appreciation for Nick and Steve's insistence that we figure out something more workable.

While we did record a few bits of arguably usable content in the studio (which was not ultimately included in the aired interview, likely because of the toddler contribution), we all agreed to reschedule and change the venue to somewhere closer to my home. This made things much easier and it is how we ultimately ended up at a chain coffee shop in a relatively new big box shopping center, which almost seemed more apropos to the content we covered -- namely, the types of growth we had seen and expected to see for Laveen and South Phoenix. While I admit that I was a tad distracted by all of the commotion and perhaps rambled on more than necessary about several topics, we managed to have a great conversation. There were even a few useful sound bites as a  result of the interview, so I think we all left feeling relatively pleased with the results.

I have to admit that the whole experience left me feeling excited, both that I had contributed to something worthwhile and that I would thoroughly enjoy listening to the finished product. It didn't hurt that I was one of a select group of fellow Phoenicians, many of whom I know and respect a great deal. The series began with Mayor Phil Gordon, followed by downtown movers and shakers like Sean Sweat and Stacey Champion, along with business leaders like Kimber Lanning (a long-time influence, by the way) and columnist Jon Talton (a more recent influence). If you haven't already, I suggest following the above link and listening to all of the segments for a great deal of insight. My only wish is that the series continues, offering greater depth and more personalized stories about our home. I now look forward to Nick Blumberg's reaction.

From Nick:

It was, indeed, a suprise when Pat showed up in the studio with his (ahem) energetic son in tow. Despite our best efforts to otherwise engage Tighe, he felt fairly certain that his voice ought to be heard too! That aside, it was wonderful to get some perspective on Laveen. Although it's not part of any traditional definition of South Phoenix, it is technically in the south part of this city. It really interested me to look at Laveen in the story, both because it's an emerging area, and because I liked that it gave us an "in" to get at the concept that some parts of Phoenix (Laveen, Ahwatukee) that seem a lot more like suburbs than neighborhoods.

To be perfectly honest, I don't think I would have come up with the idea to include Laveen in the South Phoenix story had Pat not contacted me through the Public Insight Network. That's what's so cool about the PIN--it not only provides KJZZ and our regional Fronteras project with a great database of sources we can reach out to for specific stories, it also creates a new way for stories to come in to the newsroom. Journalists come upon stories in a variety of ways, and PIN creates just another opportunity, one that's perhaps more accessible for so-called "average" people to tell us about what's going on in their community and whether the media are or aren't covering the story.

We want to get as many and as wide a variety of people to join our network as possible. If you're interested, you can tell us what you know more about than most people (http://www.publicinsightnetwork.org/form/fronteras/29b8d24207c2/what-do-you-know-more-about-than-most-people) or what story we're missing (http://www.publicinsightnetwork.org/form/fronteras/fecd7489ba6b/what-story-should-we-be-covering). And if you want to talk with me more about what the heck this all means, or who, exactly, a source is, you can reach me at nblumberg (at) kjzz (dot) org.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Thoughts about South Phoenix

A friend of mine from east of 27th Avenue (local leader Victor Jett Contreras) recently asked on Facebook that I contribute to this questionnaire from Fronteras' Public Insight Desk, regarding South Phoenix. The working title of the piece is "Has South Phoenix Been Forgotten?" As a Laveen resident, I certainly haven't forgotten about South Phoenix. Aside from the Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway, I think South Phoenix holds some of the most important opportunity for Laveen's future well being. Not to mention, South Phoenix possesses many of the same characteristics that make Laveen wonderful, with a few variations.

Inextricably tied in many ways throughout history, our two parts of town may be slightly different, but they are best served together, like Phoenix's own Wallace and Ladmo (if you grew up here, you remember those guys). Just as the rest of South Phoenix will benefit from the big box commercial growth, new hospital, and other amenities planned for Laveen, this is only half the battle in making our community better going forward. We also rely strongly on continued growth and development opportunities in South Phoenix, such as a light rail link along Central Avenue and the re-emergence of a historic main drag along South Central. Likewise, we benefit from enhancements to the Baseline Road corridor and South Phoenix's increasing share of unique bars, restaurants, and other infill amenities. So without further ado, here are my thoughts (please click the link above to share your own):

How does South Phoenix fit into the city as a whole?
South Phoenix provides a vital link between various communities within the city of Phoenix and its surroundings, as well as having a rich heritage of its own to lend to the city's overall character. As a community, South Phoenix is nestled between the re-emerging downtown area to the north, the nation's largest municipal park at South Mountain to the south, new growth in Laveen to the west, and the vibrant college town of Tempe to the east. South Phoenix is home to some of the city's most noted agricultural history with its flower gardens, citrus groves, tree nurseries and other various farming operations. It also boasts several major populations of unique cultural groups, with a track record of increasing affluence and celebration of the community's diverse qualities.

Do city leaders adequately address the needs of South Phoenix?
South Phoenix has faired well enough on its own in recent years, with the help of its two dedicated representatives in Phoenix's city council, Michael Nowakowski and Michael Johnson. Councilman Nowakowski represents District 7, which covers South Phoenix, Laveen, and parts of Estrella Village and downtown Phoenix, which gives him a unique level of insight into the needs of this entire area and how they can be better integrated to accommodate its continued growth. Councilman Johnson represents District 8, which covers the rest of South Phoenix as well as the airport and parts of downtown and eastern Phoenix (north of the airport, up to the Biltmore area). Both districts are incredibly diverse in their composition and needs, which necessitates a careful balancing act from both our city representatives in meeting South Phoenix's needs. This means that our two city council representatives often find themselves at odds with political and economic interests from growing areas of north/northeast and west Phoenix, as well as Ahwatukee. While many of us can understand why a strong central core, including the south side of town, is good for the whole area, South Phoenix often loses the battle for city resources because we are all too often outgunned by the rest of the city. We must also sometimes seek compromise between competing interests from within and between our two dedicated council districts, which works with effective collaboration, but may also weaken our standing against the rest of the city at times.

How has South Phoenix adapted to address its own needs?
South Phoenix boasts a strong sense of community, fortified by its independence and interdependence on the rest of the city. For instance, whenever the rest of our city has failed to specifically address issues important to South Phoenix, we have often seen people willing to step up and take on important advocacy/leadership roles. This trend has grown in recent years, especially as South Phoenix has seen a continued growth in relative affluence and diversity. While others outside South Phoenix often to fail to understand our community, South Phoenix and Laveen residents "get" why the south side is one of the few parts of town still building houses amidst our generation's worst housing crash ever, and why we boast such amazing gems as the James Beard Award-nominated Quiessence at the Farm at South Mountain or the breathtaking Nina Mason Pulliam Rio Salado Audobon Center. It's a wonderful part of town and most people here are willing to work to keep it that way.

Is there anything else you'd like to add...
Oh yes. The city has too often overlooked the overall lifestyle and economic benefits that could be realized by bringing updated infrastructure and growth to South Phoenix. A light rail extension along South Central Avenue could reinvigorate a classic historic main drag corridor, with unique retail, dining, and other cultural amenities (or "transit-oriented development" to use a more desirable vocabulary for the city). Not only would this benefit South Phoenix and surrounding communities, but it would enhance the city's tourism and economic development efforts downtown. Part of the reason people choose to visit and relocate to the Phoenix area is our incredibly unique natural beauty, as well as our renowned resorts and restaurants. In past decades, Scottsdale and Paradise Valley have excelled in capturing both, but Phoenix is halfway to becoming unbeatable with our impressive new downtown facilities, our scattered collection of national award-winning restaurants, and our visitor-friendly nature trails at South Mountain and at the Rio Salado Audobon Center. All we need now is improved access and enhancements to the surrounding corridors.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Let's Keep Our Infrastructure Smart

We're all well aware of the proposed Loop 202, right? It is generally regarded as the key to Laveen's future in many ways, and we know that policy makers at the local, state, and federal level hold that key. As we've discussed repeatedly in the past, the freeway is probably the only way we will see our hospital plans come to fruition. It is also the only way to justify the development of any large retail and entertainment centers, such as Laveen Spectrum, or any substantial employers locating in the area. And if we want to get far more pie-in-the-sky in our thinking, how about a major league Spring Training facility in Laveen. This idea seems far-fetched now, but it has been proposed and a freeway can only help make it a reality. In other words, the Loop 202 freeway means huge economic growth for Laveen and Phoenix as a whole.

But there are other ways, too, that we can build Laveen and "they will come." We need continued development of transportation options besides the Loop 202 freeway, such as extended bus service and better surface street flow in heavy traffic corridors, or even better alternatives (hint: look up AZ Route 801 and consider it expanding eastward). We need connectivity for our sidewalks and biking/horseback riding paths, as well as safety in integrating all of the above. We need to build the additional schools we were promised and maintain or improve performance as the Laveen Elementary School District grows. In short, we need to catch up with the urbanization/suburbanization of Laveen to make our village more livable for all our residents.

My family chose the Rogers Ranch area, north of 47th Avenue and Baseline, when we decided to settle in Laveen in 2005. We liked the area for its proximity to the only neighborhood shopping at the time, as well as the proposed Rogers Ranch Elementary School and the LACC green belt network. We selected this neighborhood because we thought it was quite walkable and bike-friendly, and it would be a great place to grow as a family. We had the added benefit of being a comfortable distance from the freeway that would eventually be built a little over a mile west of us and all the amenities it would bring. While we were mostly right about our assumptions, we've had to be very patient over the years.... Sound familiar?

Just yesterday, Councilman Michael Nowakowski announced a major victory for people in Laveen relying on bus service: Thanks in large part to his office, Route 77 on Baseline is finally going to extend west to 75th Avenue, which opens up bus service to thousands of additional Laveen residents. This announcement comes on the heels of a lesser victory in mass transit for our village, which is a park and ride facility planned for the corner of 27th Ave. and Baseline. While many will benefit from this park and ride facility, I completely fail to understand its placement -- it was a "me too" project for our village, which even Valley Metro and Phoenix Transit officials admitted would have been better placed on the empty parcel adjacent to Cesar Chavez Park (coincidentally almost identical in its dimensions to the parcel on 27th). Near the park, an expanded transit facility could have doubled in off-peak hours and weekends as an amenity to the park itself, while also serving the library, school, and helping to promote increased connectivity for existing and future commercial development. But instead we get part of the solution we need and must make do.

Please don't get me wrong. I am always grateful when we see improvements that will directly and indirectly benefit us here, but I still ask that Laveen residents demand more from our leadership. For starters, let's continue to demand more in the way of mass transit access for our neighbors, as well as demanding other community amenities -- even the small stuff, where victories may come easier. Our new skate park? Awesome! But how's that community center coming along, or South Mountain trail access? Sidewalks, pedestrian crossings, and other improved traffic control measures? Yes, thanks for the road expansion and sidewalk now being constructed on Baseline west of 47th, but can we please speed up these projects a little more? Let's provide safe pedestrian crossings at every intersection of our urban trail system and a major road (you'll understand if you've ever tried to cross 51st Ave. at the LACC crossing). Park and ride? Let's make it better -- move it a mile west. Loop 202? All we're asking is for a more galvanized support base from our representatives. Let's get these projects going so that we can realize the benefits sooner rather than later.

To be continued....

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Being a "Good" Laveen Resident

I recently posted the following article on our Laveen community Facebook group, with the suggestion that these pointers were good not just for gentrifying urban neighborhoods, but being a good neighbor wherever you live: http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/05/five-ways-to-be-a-good-gentrifier/

So let's deconstruct this advice for a Laveen-centric approach, using the original article's pointers as a starting point for conversation:

1. "Get involved, but first listen and learn." I posted a guide to getting involved in community groups about 18 months ago, and I hope it can continue to provide a good deal of guidance for new residents: http://www.ourlifeinlaveen.com/2009/12/getting-involved-in-community.html

2. "Say hello to people, and if you have a front porch, use it." Did you know that Laveen's residential development guidelines actually promote including front porches in our communities? I'd say that we've strayed a bit from this original directive in recent years, but I still like to think that we can all get to know our neighbors and be a real community. Let's not try to emulate other insulated suburban areas of Phoenix by closing ourselves off from one another. Quoting a neighbor, Brad, who commented on my original Facebook post on this topic:
Go out of your way to show respect to those who are different from you. Get out of yourself and smile at people you don't know when you come to them in the grocery aisle. Hold the door open at the bank. Ask advice of people. Cut people a lot of slack if they're grumpy. 
If we get out of our cars and walk and bike more we end up talking with more people. More conversations = stronger community.

3. "Have a baby or get a dog." Ummm, not mandatory by any means, but the original story's author was simply pointing out additional ways to break the ice with neighbors who you've otherwise never spoken to. Maybe a nice politically correct twist on this one, which would also provide a great deal of societal good is to consider fostering a pet from the nearby Humane Society's Campus for Compassion. Or maybe keep an eye out for abandoned pets from nearby vacant homes.

4. "Don’t automatically cross the street to avoid young, black kids." Ok, now I'm regretting pasting all of these pointers verbatim. I recommend referring to the originally cited article and consider replacing the terminology with a name for any ethnic or racial group or omitting that language entirely. Kids are kids. You once were a kid and the kids who make you feel threatened probably have a great deal in common with how you were as a kid. If you think about it this way and still feel threatened, then you were a bad kid. Sorry, but they're likely better than you were in many ways, although it's hard to admit. We've got some great kids in Laveen, from state basketball champs to honorary guests at the White House, and everything in between.

5. "Visit local, small businesses and take note of what they offer. Some sell things you actually want." Most people I know are already doing this and I thank you for it, as do the business owners. Going out for a drink? Consider the Spurr Lounge, which is a great neighborhood bar, or Native New Yorker, a local franchise where you're almost sure to run into the owner, Art Greathouse (also a football champ from my high school and university). Grocery shopping? Yeah, I know what I said before about Trader Joe's and Costco, but still, I have received great service at our Fry's and Safeway, and I love going to Food City and Phoenix Ranch Market -- both east of us on Southern. Need a printer or sign maker? Check out the new print shop on 27th and Baseline; Cesar would welcome the business. Chiropractor? Talk to Niels at In & Out Chiropractic or the place by Safeway. Doctor, dentist, veterinarian? Check, check, check. Restaurants? Try all the ones in and around Laveen before assuming you must venture elsewhere. Sure, we need to work on bringing in more local businesses, but we have a few here that may surprise you.

And that's the end of the list, but I will keep spouting off my views, since I still write with the same spirit as when I thought no one read this drivel.... Remember when I posted about civility last year? No, you probably don't. Here's a link: http://www.ourlifeinlaveen.com/2010/08/on-civility.html

I love the fact that the person I mentioned in that post was passionate about her neighborhood -- in fact I'd like to see more of this spirit -- but please go about it in a constructive and harmonious manner. We do not need hermits; we need engaged and caring community members. Are you up for it? Please say yes.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Retail Hopes and Dreams for Laveen

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but let's face it, Laveen faces an uphill battle with regard to desirable retail expansion into the area. We absolutely cannot take for granted all of the reasons we know, intrinsically, that Laveen should be more attractive to retailers. We may know the story, but do they? No, they do not. We're barely on the map for most retailers and our reasons for appearing on the map -- we must admit -- are often as much for good reasons as bad ones in the commercial real estate sector.

I'm inspired to finally write another blog post on this subject after responding to a facebook link from my friend Erika, regarding her renewed campaign to request Trader Joe's for the area. Add to this the fact that it's a Sunday afternoon and, as soon as our toddler son awakes from his nap, we will be headed out for our weekend shopping excursion to Costco, Trader Joe's, and maybe then to Grandma's house for dinner. This is a recurring theme for weekends that we're in town. We easily spend 50-75% of our grocery budget outside of the community in any given month because we simply cannot find the groceries we really want closer to home. And we know we're not alone -- many of our friends do the same thing, either traveling east toward Tempe, as we often do, west toward Avondale, or northeast toward Biltmore/Arcadia (our alternate choice if we're in the area). That's a whole lot of retail leakage, and it doesn't even account for all the big ticket items people buy outside the community.

And therein lies the problem, right? We make it too easy by driving to these retailers rather than making them come to us. Sure that's part of the story -- the easily explained minutia part of the story. The other part of the story is the real challenge we face, which is one of demographics and reputation. According to current measurements, which still mostly lack 2010 Census information, we boast very unimpressively average demographic numbers across the board (with a few exceptions that I'll discuss in a future post). But many of them are solidly above average, even if only a little bit, and we know that they tend to be stratified in ways that have yet to be fully analyzed. I would even go so far as to argue that there's gold in them thar' hills of data. For instance, even if we will never have the assortment of trendy restaurants that Old Town Scottsdale or downtown Phoenix boasts, can you imagine being the first to open one in Laveen? Or the second?

[Insert insensitive commercial investment truism that "pioneers get slaughtered and settlers prosper," which is the only reason I bring up being the second rather than first. That said, we know that Laveen boasts some notable exceptions to this rule.]

Better understanding our situation and helping others to do the same is the path to growth for Laveen. Yes, there is a ton of opportunity here and, as I've asserted before, it will be realized by some savvy investor(s) sooner than many people think. But we cannot go blindly forward without also taking note of our challenges. Take for instance our empty retail space: I adore the shopping center at 35th and Baseline, but I'm tired of hearing the braggadocio about its design as long as it sits mostly empty. Seriously, talk about a white elephant! I'd love to own such a beautiful and well situated center, if not for its cash flow problems (and again, I argue that its only real hope is a seriously discounted sale by the bank). Likewise, let's not forget about the failing Mervyn's shopping center or the persistent vacancies and business failures everywhere in Laveen besides 51st and Baseline. And please do not take for granted Terrazona's tireless efforts to bring in LA Fitness, which I still say was a major coup for Michael Moreines and his people, given the timing (search this blog for a history lesson about that deal). It's ugly out there, especially for retail in Laveen.

This is why I ask simply that people put themselves in the shoes of commercial real estate agents and economic development professionals as we encourage retail growth in our community. They are the major influencers, after all, and they are the ones with some serious explaining to do about the state of our market every time they pitch a business about expanding here. So let's help them out a little.

I proffer the following suggestion, and I welcome any and all thoughtful challenges or additions to it if it means we're starting a meaningful dialog:

Let's build a good old SWOT Analysis for the Laveen market and help change the paradigm for economic development in our community. Clearly something is not working on the macro level and, as always, we're generally neglected outside of our little burb, despite ongoing efforts by Councilman Nowakowski and State Representative Ruben Gallego, who have thankfully taken a particular interest in Laveen. Let's prove that we know our village better than anyone else, we know how to highlight Laveen's successes, and we know how to slice and dice the data so that it fits our vision for the area. If we don't, I promise that we will get more of the same, and who needs more nail salons, fast food restaurants, and dollar stores.

And while we put forth this immense effort, of which I know we're capable, I encourage you to send your own message to the likes of Trader Joe's (click here for TJ's request form). Here's my message to Trader Joe's, which I hope they read:

[Dear Mr. Joe (or Trader, for short),]

Laveen is probably not on your map, except for the recent barrage of requests you are likely receiving. But it is a growing area of Phoenix with a solid school district and above average reputation for community involvement (hence the ease of this letter writing campaign). Like many other newly growing areas of the Phoenix market, Laveen has faced some setbacks in the housing market during recent years. But unlike those areas, it is uniquely situated near the geographic center of the metro area and has a real promise of future economic growth resulting from a planned freeway, hospital, and other substantial commitments to the area. All of these factors, as well as the broad range of housing options, serve to entice more and more young professionals to the area, which would create an excellent customer base for your store or a competitor. For more information about Laveen in advance of the 2010 Census updates, please look us up on facebook, take a look at laveen.org, or feel free to reference my (outdated) blog at www.ourlifeinlaveen.com. Thank you for your consideration.