Alley: Southbridge referendum could splinter city into opposing citizen factions

A tale of two cities could emerge

Posted 12/25/19

Scottsdale has reached a fork in the road that leads to two very different futures for our urban core.

Sadly, neither of these options is what is being disclosed by those behind the referendum …

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Alley: Southbridge referendum could splinter city into opposing citizen factions

A tale of two cities could emerge


Scottsdale has reached a fork in the road that leads to two very different futures for our urban core.

Sadly, neither of these options is what is being disclosed by those behind the referendum against Southbridge II. If you believe their pitch that your signature will “Save Old Town Scottsdale” --- then what will eventually happen along 5th Avenue will ultimately shock you.

The referendum claims that Southbridge II will turn Old Town into Anytown, USA. To help illustrate why this is wrong, here’s a comparison using one element of this 10-acre project --- the hotel. The brands used are for example only.

There is an enormous difference between a 6-story Aloft Hotel and a 12-story 1 Hotel.

You would find Aloft in Anytown, USA. Only a handful of cities across the world are home to 1 Hotel.

Aloft looks nice and is a quality --- yet unspectacular --- accommodation. Most likely the building itself is designed by the parent company in a copy/paste/tweak fashion. The restaurant and bar have nothing that differentiates them from the one you stayed in last time. Above-grade parking lines the first floor or two. There are no shops to be found.

1 Hotel is a landmark of environmentally sensitive, custom, local design and materials. It’s a draw for tourists who enjoy a luxury experience in the heart of the eclectic variety Old Town has to offer, and also for locals who are looking for a great evening out or a spa day. Locally-owned shops and services line the ground floor. Parking is underground.

Aloft will be similar to what you will get if a referendum is successful. An option like 1 Hotel will be the type of brand we can look forward to with Southbridge II.

You can apply the same comparison to the five-story, stick-frame and stucco apartments scattered everywhere in south Scottsdale, versus the beautiful glass, steel, and foliage-lined Optima Towers that infill our most exclusive neighborhoods.

Both will still be significantly higher than what is there now, change everything along 5th Avenue, force the merchants to relocate, and block views.

I cannot emphasize this enough: Whether or not you sign the petition, something will be built along the 10 acres of land in the proposal for Southbridge II. No number of signatures or votes is going to save the buildings along 5th Avenue. It could be similar to the two choices I outlined above --- or it could be years of stagnation, tens of millions of lost tax revenue to the city, and eventually a new proposal by a new owner similar in scope to Southbridge II.

Which version of Scottsdale would you prefer?

You don’t need a crystal ball to forecast this. You just need a basic understanding of how development works. It is a very complex process and there is a reason why as residents we do not vote on every development that is proposed in our city. It isn’t because the proverbial “power brokers” don’t want you to have a voice. The truth is, you do have a voice. You just have to know when to use it.

The time to get involved in zoning decisions is not after council votes for or against something. It starts months earlier, during legally mandated open houses and Planning meetings. Spring Creek did a phenomenal job of outreach and incorporating feedback into the proposal prior to ever reaching council, with overwhelming support from stakeholders, contrary to what you are being led to believe.

This team has done great things in our community already, including the Royal Palms, Hermosa Inn, and Southbridge I, which completely revitalized our canal and created pedestrian connectivity between the Fashion Square district and Old Town. They genuinely care about building the best project for the people of Scottsdale --- this is their home, too.

Signing your name to a petition and casting a vote are easy. Equating a citywide vote on individual developments with democracy is easy. Selling people on the myth that they are going to “Save Old Town” and “stop skyscrapers” is easy.

But dedicating time to understanding the development process is a larger commitment than most are willing to make. Therefore, before you sign anything, I challenge you to consider the following questions:

  • Have you read the Old Town Area Character Plan? What is your understanding of it and how it accompanies the nearly 20-year-old General Plan, which was designed for a very different city than we have today?
  • Do you regularly attend Planning Commission or City Council meetings, and do you know where to find information on developments in town?
  • How will we address quality growth if every time something is proposed, we must go through a vote?
  • How will the act of a referendum against a privately-owned property impact future development?
  • What is the opportunity cost of stopping this development for the economy of our city?
  • Can you put together a financially viable plan to build low-scale on the city’s most expensive land?
  • Why do development teams consist of urban planners, architects, attorneys, investors, outreach specialists, commercial real estate brokers, economists, traffic engineers, elected officials and people who live and breathe proper management of our city’s growth to make these incredibly complex decisions, if instead we hand that decision to voters?

Those behind the referendum do not want to talk about how the city is different now than it was 20 years ago when our last General Plan was passed.

They don’t want to address things like population growth, market trends and shifts, the reality of property and construction costs, the benefits of a truly walkable neighborhood, or the fact that this year Scottsdale was listed as the No. 1 city for job growth in the entire country by Wallethub. Tourism in Old Town is not the only economic driver in our city, nor is “western charm” the only reason people visit Old Town.

We simply cannot freeze our city in time. We can preserve our history through adaptive reuse and overlays and grow for the future, but we have to do it right.
Leaders of this petition drive refuse to share what their vision is for Old Town.

They refuse to do so because they know that even if they get the signatures and the votes they need that the only thing it will stop is this one specific iteration of the development --- and their claims that your vote will “Save 5th Avenue” will be revealed as the empty promise that it is. On the other hand, we have Spring Creek, who has extended multiple olive branches, offered plenty of compromises, and has only been met with outright refusal to collaborate by the opposition.

This referendum, while legal, sets a terrible precedent and should not be what shapes our city. Meanwhile, those who support it are proving that they are too short-sighted to lead Scottsdale into the future. A big piece of leadership is the ability to see the full picture, understand the details, and help others envision what’s next.

Leadership is informed, measured, and collaborative. Leaders don’t let hysteria and popular opinion take over, and they certainly don’t stir it up or encourage it themselves. Leaders find a way to bring people together to create the best possible outcome for all. Instead of pushing an agenda that will cause our entire city to lose, those in leadership positions – or those seeking such positions --- should take this opportunity to help our residents get ahead of development issues before it’s too late --- and lead by collaboration and example.

So now, it is up to you to lead by refusing to sign your name to a sad chapter in our city’s history.

We have the gift of a development team who is willing to step on the front lines and listen, educate and collaborate with anyone willing to do the same. Put down the petition sheets, pick up that pen, and let’s write a better story as we step into a new year --- together.

Editor’s note: Ms. Alley is a resident of Scottsdale and community advocate