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Heath: The time is ripe for downtown Scottsdale’s rebirth


Downtowns die for two reasons. They fail to replace functionally obsolete real estate with a modern, sales-tax-inducing streetscape, or they die from depopulation.   

U-Haul’s heading out of Scottsdale is not our city’s problem, but our downtown is most certainly showing its age. 

One area ripe for rebirth is across the canal from the iconic Scottsdale Waterfront building on the southwest corner of Camelback and Scottsdale roads. I say iconic, because that condominium midrise building is filled with wealthy owners who provide an economic windfall to area merchants and the city’s sales tax base. The city seems to appreciate that midrise building, because they feature a picture of it on their website.

I remember when that corner used to be a vacant dirt lot and Scottsdale Fashion Square was two detached, dying malls. Thankfully, a forward-thinking city council voted to fund a parking garage for Nordstroms. That wise political decision (which included then council member David Ortega’s vote) resulted in the development of the Nordstroms wing of the mall, and the contiguous Waterfront project, including all the high-rent restaurants around it.

The logical path of progress for downtown Scottsdale is across the walking bridge over the canal to the somewhat dilapidating area on the south bank. However, the city council has a vote before it to reduce building heights in that area by 30 feet.

That’s enough to wreck development budgets given concrete and steel construction costs, and land costs which were based on current permitted height. It is also a “taking” of private property rights, and I suspect the owners of those properties agree.

Standing in the way of the metamorphosis of the south bank are a handful of property owners who are among Mayor Ortega’s biggest political donors. They were also the largest funders of an earlier protest which blocked development of a luxury project planned and approved for that area. 

I cannot fathom why neighboring property owners would not be thrilled to have wealthy professionals and downsizing baby boomers residing across the street from their properties, but it seems politics-as-usual rather than what’s best for the city.   

Another impediment to downtown Scottsdale following the gentrification path of every other urban city in America is a band of always grumpy Scottsdale NIMBYs. They want to keep things frumpy, with ranch style houses as far as the eye can see.

There’s an art to urban planning. Fighting it out zoning-case-by-zoning-case is not it.  Proactive planning works far better. 

Scottsdale’s five years away from buildout. Now’s the time to get things right.

Do we really want to hang our municipal hat on a downtown filled with a 1950s streetscape, or do we want to welcome sales tax-inducing luxury properties? 

Metro Phoenix is named after the mythological bird which was raised from ashes to rebirth. It’s time for Scottsdale to get on board with that rebirth mantra.

Reader reactions, pro or con, are welcomed at AzOpinions@iniusa.org.