Future of Old Town Scottsdale rests in ballot box result, mayoral candidates contend

Posted 6/3/20

Local voters will see a ballot of five candidates who have emerged in pursuit of becoming the next figurehead of the City of Scottsdale as the mayor’s race heats up in The West’s Most …

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Future of Old Town Scottsdale rests in ballot box result, mayoral candidates contend

From left are Scottsdale mayoral candidates: Lisa Borowsky, Bob Littlefield, Suzanne Klapp, David Ortega and Virginia Korte.
From left are Scottsdale mayoral candidates: Lisa Borowsky, Bob Littlefield, Suzanne Klapp, David Ortega and Virginia Korte.
Posted

Local voters will see a ballot of five candidates who have emerged in pursuit of becoming the next figurehead of the City of Scottsdale as the mayor’s race heats up in The West’s Most Western Town.

Scottsdale hosts a primary election Tuesday, Aug. 4 meanwhile a general election could be held if needed, which would be Tuesday, Nov. 3. To be elected at the primary election, a candidate must receive a majority of all of the legal votes cast.

The field of mayoral candidates include two current incumbents but none are strangers to the political limelight. They are:

  • Incumbents Suzanne Klapp and Virginia Korte.
  • Challengers: Lisa Borowsky, Bob Littlefield and David Ortega.

Independent Newsmedia offers its weekly question-and-answer series with mayoral candidates providing insights to paramount issues facing the city and its people.

For the next installment, Independent Newsmedia reached out to each mayoral candidate to better understand their view of the future of downtown Scottsdale and how that vision coincides with the beloved vision of Old Town Scottsdale held close by the community’s old guard.

Bob Littlefield

• What do you believe will be the future of downtown Scottsdale?
Downtown Scottsdale is unique and special and we need to keep it that way. To accomplish that goal we need to protect downtown Scottsdale from unbridled over-development and only approve quality, character-appropriate development that pays for itself. If we let downtown Scottsdale become a pale copy of “Anytown USA” tourists and shoppers will be less willing to come there and spend money!

• Does the branding of downtown as “Old Town Scottsdale” make sense? Does that help or hurt the marketplace?
Yes and yes. Again, we need to keep downtown Scottsdale unique and special to attract tourists and shoppers who drive our economy.

•Is there a problem with downtown Scottsdale? If so, what is it?
Yes. The problem is unbridled over-development, which cheapens downtown Scottsdale’s special character.

•How will you solve that problem?
I will solve that problem by only approving quality, character-appropriate development that pays for itself.

• Some say downtown Scottsdale is only a viable area because of the Entertainment District, do you believe that?
Just the opposite! When David Smith was city treasurer he did an analysis, which proved the bar district doesn’t even generate enough revenue for the city to pay the costs it imposes for maintaining public safety, much less for the cleanup costs!

• How has the outbreak of COVID-19 changed your perspective of how downtown Scottsdale ought to evolve? Does live, work and play still make sense?
No, they do not. One of the big lessons of the COVID-19 lockdown is how much work and teaching can be done from home rather than in centralized buildings. The demand for office space will clearly decrease, and people will have more options regarding where they live. The future will be distributed and decentralized!

• How about parking? Do you believe parking will be a concern as we continue to step into the sharing economy as ride-share becomes more and more normalized?
Unless we see a decrease in retail space I expect parking requirements to be about the same. I expect ride-sharing to become less popular because of concerns about sanitizing.

Virginia Korte

• What do you believe will be the future of downtown Scottsdale?
That will be decided by the outcome of the current city election. Either downtown will be a vibrant neighborhood where people live, work, and fulfill dreams all within walking distance --- or it will continue on its current path of declining sales tax revenues and aging buildings beyond their useful life with tumbleweeds blowing down Main Street.

We must recognize that some parts of our downtown need to be reinvented. Residents’ needs are changing and trends in the housing market have people looking for a vibrant and walkable downtown. I am optimistic about the future of Old Town, though we must be adaptable and creative to redevelop our older areas to appeal to future residents and tourists to keep our economy vibrant.

• Does the branding of downtown as “Old Town Scottsdale” make sense? Does that help or hurt the marketplace?
Downtown has always had vague boundaries and once was defined as several different districts each claiming their own unique identity. We can think of “Old Town” and downtown as both different and the same --- a blend of the best of our history and the best of our future. By protecting both, we enhance its value and attractiveness.

It’s important to know the “Old Town” brand grew organically. Years ago, patrons referred to the Entertainment District as “Old Town” and the moniker expanded to all of downtown. Organically grown brands support the marketplace rather than those that are contrived.

•Is there a problem with downtown Scottsdale? If so, what is it?
Scottsdale was once a shopping destination, not just for tourists, but for the entire region. More recently, our downtown has seen decades of declining revenues as nearby cities provide competing shopping options. In addition, many buildings have aged beyond their usable lives and the cost to renovate or upgrade is prohibitive. To have a vibrant downtown, we need a mix of uses where people can live, work, and fulfill dreams. The multi-family housing trends and additional hotels planned for Old Town are contributing to its resiliency.

•How will you solve that problem?
To have a vibrant downtown, we need a mix of uses where people can live, work, and fulfill dreams. While we adapt our downtown, we must blend our history with our future. We should also recognize that increases in density in the right places will bring more people that will support local businesses and support the significant investments needed to upgrade our physical assets.

• Some say downtown Scottsdale is only a viable area because of the Entertainment District, do you believe that?
Our downtown is becoming more vibrant and viable as we increase the number of people who live and work there. The Entertainment District is only one element of our downtown. The arts & cultural amenities, especially the Museum of the West and Scottsdale Arts contribute greatly to the viability of Old Town.

• How has the outbreak of COVID-19 changed your perspective of how downtown Scottsdale ought to evolve? Does live, work and play still make sense?
One thing we know with certainty is that Scottsdale will emerge stronger and healthier. Thanks to our history of strong fiscal management, we have a sound financial base to handle the economic impacts. Over my time on City Council, we have begun to diversify our economy so that we will rebound faster than we have in the past. Scottsdale will continue to be more desirable than other places for people to live, work, and fulfill dreams. Scottsdale’s downtown will continue to play an important role in our community.

• How about parking? Do you believe parking will be a concern as we continue to step into the sharing economy as ride-share becomes more and more normalized?
Many predict that we will need fewer public parking places in the future; however, we need to meet today’s needs particularly as we look at new developments. I have ensured that all the proposed developments in downtown have enough parking to meet their own needs while also providing additional parking to support surrounding existing businesses.

Suzanne Klapp

• What do you believe will be the future of downtown Scottsdale?
Scottsdale’s downtown will continue to be dynamic and the best central core in the Valley for a place to live, as a desirable workplace and for the experience. The new Museum Square project, with an eye-catching hotel, highly usable large plaza area, and great residential options will energize an area that is now dirt lots and out-of-date structures. It will inject new life into the Main Street businesses and the surrounding area.

The canal banks will be far more utilized for pedestrian and bike paths than today, and as Mayor, I will lead the effort to create a Master Plan to enhance the use of the canal banks from the Phoenix border into the Old Town area and to the Greenbelt. Other new developments are planned to bring a greater meaning to the downtown experience. Old Town’s future is incredibly bright, compared to its image as a sleepy area with vacant lots about 15 years ago.

• Does the branding of downtown as “Old Town Scottsdale” make sense? Does that help or hurt the marketplace?
When I hear others refer to downtown, most actually call it “Old Town.” It is the acceptable term already, so it makes sense that the city’s branding of “Old Town” refers to the entire downtown area and serves as a positive reinforcement of the identity. Branding helps market an area. “Old Town” has meaning in that visitors and residents know that the term refers to Scottsdale, whereas downtown is a universal term used by any city.

•Is there a problem with downtown Scottsdale? If so, what is it?
Some parts of Old Town are in need of a facelift and continued redevelopment to continue to attract people to the area and maintain its vibrancy. Many of the existing building structures are outdated and are not aesthetically pleasing. This is a normal aging process related to infrastructure in cities, with some buildings long past their useful lives. The city should encourage appropriate redevelopment and investment to ensure that our downtown area remains the envy of the Valley and nationally recognized for its energy, its history, and its sophistication.

•How will you solve that problem?
As Mayor, I will encourage development and redevelopment of the area to sustain and build upon its culture and activity in order to bring more economic prosperity to the city. In some cases, I will encourage adaptive reuse of older facilities that have a history here and should be preserved. Additionally, I will work with local residents to ensure that our nearby neighborhoods are protected and that any new development enhances the overall community.

• Some say downtown Scottsdale is only a viable area because of the Entertainment District, do you believe that?
All of Old Town is viable, including Fashion Square, the Fifth Avenue area, the Gallery District and Main Street shops, the entertainment district, and other shopping and business areas that connect to the Civic Center Plaza. The planned new Museum Square adds to the diversity and viability of Old Town. Visitors I walk around with tell me they love the evolving landscape of the entire area. There is something of interest for everyone. A mix of quaint and sometimes historic buildings with more modern development appeals to many visitors and residents.

• How has the outbreak of COVID-19 changed your perspective of how downtown Scottsdale ought to evolve? Does live, work and play still make sense?
Downtown Scottsdale should still evolve into an around-the-clock place. It is the main area in the city where we should encourage a 24-7 lifestyle, business and entertainment mix. Even during the pandemic, people who live in or near the area still love it there. We should think more about establishing delivery zone areas to better serve the Old Town businesses. We should be more welcoming to patio dining than we have been in the past.

• How about parking? Do you believe parking will be a concern as we continue to step into the sharing economy as ride-share becomes more and more normalized?
Parking will continue to be a concern when tourists return to the city. Right now, few people are visiting in the Old Town area; however, that will change over time. During the height of the future tourist season, there will be stress on available parking for existing restaurants, merchants and businesses. Ride-share and public parking is currently compromised because some people are not comfortable riding in any vehicle with a stranger; therefore, reliance on individual automobile transportation will be favored for some period of time. Longer-term, I believe we will see the popularity of ride-sharing return. This is a fluid situation, so the city must be nimble and parking plans put into place over the last year should still be maintained until we can get a better view on visitor trends and general growth in the area.

Lisa Borowsky

• What do you believe will be the future of downtown Scottsdale?
Downtown Scottsdale has been a tourist attraction for decades and it will continue to be a popular destination for residents and visitors alike. To ensure this, future development must respect the character of Scottsdale, add value to the neighborhood and the city, be designed to stand the test of time, be environmentally sensitive and address any new traffic it creates.

• Does the branding of downtown as “Old Town Scottsdale” make sense? Does that help or hurt the marketplace?
Millions of dollars have been spent branding the area and it is known nationally and internationally. It is important that we sustain what is currently there and that we re-develop the area with quality projects which attract quality businesses and tenants, serve the interests of residents, business owners, and continue to attract visitors.

•Is there a problem with downtown Scottsdale? If so, what is it?
The pedestrian infrastructure must be improved, as does the bike-friendliness of the area. There are traffic and parking concerns, and motorized rentals make the sidewalks cluttered and dangerous. For people visiting by car, there is a lack of integrated parking and access to the Trolley system.

•How will you solve that problem?
We need to start by creating a new downtown plan that includes stakeholders and addresses these issues in a meaningful and citizen-friendly way. As an example, we need to make sure that the bond proceeds for the downtown parking garage are spent wisely to improve the area for the benefit of our residents and visitors, not special interests.

•Some say downtown Scottsdale is only a viable area because of the Entertainment District, do you believe that?
No. There are many attractions to the downtown area and reasons to visit it.

• How has the outbreak of COVID-19 changed your perspective of how downtown Scottsdale ought to evolve? Does live, work and play still make sense?
It has not changed my perspective as to how downtown Scottsdale should evolve. The city should commit to advancing the live, work, play concept through thoughtful and sustainable improvements in the downtown area, which will draw residential stakeholders and business owners to our downtown.

• How about parking? Do you believe parking will be a concern as we continue to step into the sharing economy as ride-share becomes more and more normalized?
Downtown is under-parked and the development that has occurred in the area has not provided sufficient parking for prospective residents. Ridesharing is normalized but that doesn’t fix the problem of not having an integrated parking and Trolley system for the area. We need to make improvements which will make access in and around the area easier.

David Ortega

• What do you believe will be the future of downtown Scottsdale?
Mayor Lane and council declared “open season” to blade downtown in favor of up-zonings over the last eight years. They placed blanket zoning, which allows 44-foot- to 150- foot-tall buildings everywhere. Their concept is wrong and fails to consider the guiding principles of view corridors, shaded walkways, building breaks and stewardship of our Scottsdale Brand and heritage. They violated the General Plan 2001 guiding principles.

I believe that downtown Scottsdale should not be wall-to-wall tall buildings. Yes, buildings are aged and need to be replaced, but the Scottsdale character should not be compromised. Council strayed when they failed to have the “vision” conversation known as General Plan 2011. I will listen to all stakeholders, learn from their point-of-view and lead to build a vibrant downtown Scottsdale.

• Does the branding of downtown as “Old Town Scottsdale” make sense? Does that help or hurt the marketplace?
Hurts. Calling the 75-block area “Old Town” was deceptive. But that is what the mayor and council did. Originally Old Town encompassed the historic Main Street area from the adobe Mission Catholic Church (1933) on Brown Avenue to Indian School and Brown Avenue to Scottsdale Road. Other distinct areas were known as West Main, Marshall Way and Fifth Avenue.

In 2018, mayor and council rebranded as “Old Town” the entire area from Chaparral to Earll Drive when they adopted the Old Town Character Area Plan (OTCAP). Council blundered by calling “Old Town” the massive area includes Scottsdale Fashion Square and the Galleria, extending from 68th Street to Miller.

Original Old Town (Main Street area) business and property owners are upset that Old Town is applied to the Old Town Bar District. They believe Council cheapened their Old Town identity.

•Is there a problem with downtown Scottsdale? If so, what is it?
Council mislabeled “Old Town,” but the fact remains, that downtown Scottsdale has limited infrastructure and fixed-street capacity. Not only does the “Old Town” blanket wall-to-wall tall buildings, but it also destroys the character of Scottsdale. And, infrastructure expansion is not authorized by citizens.

The SouthBridge Two (SB2) towers alone, would require upsizing a 2-mile long sewer line. SB2 demand was three times the existing capacity. Now imagine 25 more SB2 size projects.

•How will you solve that problem?
The short answer is elect Dave Ortega mayor. Build-out of the so called “Old Town” is in fact, an “UnScottsdale” downtown. Mayor Lane and Council are so out of touch, their “vision” would create a crippled, gridlocked mess.
Using round numbers, excluding the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, the population density of Scottsdale is approximately 1,500 persons per square mile. The “UnScottsdale” downtown adds 30,000 residents in a three-square mile area. It destroys view corridors and creates a heat island.

•Some say downtown Scottsdale is only a viable area because of the Entertainment District, do you believe that?
Pre-COVID-19, beginning Friday, the “Old Town” Entertainment (Bar) District attracted 10,000-15,000 patrons every weekend. Scottsdale Fashion Square attracts 1 million to 2 million shopper visits per month, depending on the time of year. Both are in so-called “Old Town.”
The bar district attracts 21-45-year-old adults mainly, nighttime. The wider area attracts more diverse patrons and all together make a vibrant downtown.

• How has the outbreak of COVID-19 changed your perspective of how downtown Scottsdale ought to evolve? Does live, work, and play still make sense?

No. My perspective is always free market-driven, based on the Scottsdale brand. Yes, epic transformation is underway and will result in many urban and suburban case studies. Scottsdale created a pocket of prosperity with high-quality of life, innovative business climate, desert embracing values and low-profile solutions.

COVID-19 and possible COVID-23 to come are pushing citizens away from high-density living and cramped mass transportation. This COVID-19 era is forcing new thinking, which actually reinforces our low-density Scottsdale formula.

• How about parking? Do you believe parking will be a concern as we continue to step into the sharing economy as ride-share becomes more and more normalized?
The three pillars of successful development are No. 1 Visibility; No. 2 Access and No. 3 Parking. Location for parking is best if it is at the perimeter of the downtown or development but generally is expensive to build public parking below ground. Employees should park farthest. COVID-19 has crippled all sectors, including mass transit and shared-ride such as Uber. I believe that small-scale autonomous vehicles will play a major role in the next 4-8 years, especially as neighborhood point-to-point circulators.

We are in uncharted waters. When the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, public parking in “Old Town” Scottsdale, will not diminish, in my opinion. Next analysis and decisions require study.

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