The Phoenix area — the fastest growing metro in the country according to recent U.S. Census Bureau reports — is unsurprisingly also experiencing a boom in commercial real estate.
Gargantuan multi-use plans have been proposed across the Valley, including projects in Surprise, far north Phoenix and near the downtown on long-dormant sites salted during the Great Recession, which are now finally fertile for development.
In Surprise, what some may describe as decades of contention, frustration and anticipation has finally yielded a result as landowners last week revealed a draft master plan for the vacant land, which surrounds city hall.
The Surprise City Center draft master plan hadn’t even been revealed for more than 15 minutes before the City Council was already gushing over it at its June 18 meeting.
“I just got goosebumps,” said District 4 Councilman Ken Remley, who serves the Original Town Site and other east Surprise areas. “That’s all I can tell you. I am so excited.”
The cause for the giddiness was the first glimpse into what is now two decades in the making.
Anybody who has moved to Surprise this millennium has been promised downtown development in the area between Bell and Greenway roads and Litchfield Road and Bullard Avenue.
But when Carefree Partners — the managing partner for the businesses who own the land in the City Center — revealed the rough draft of its master plan for the area, some council members said they felt it was closer than ever to really happening.
“‘Master plan’ was like a bad word around here for a while,” District 3 Councilman Patrick Duffy told Scott Phillips, the vice president of Carefree Partners and the city’s former top planner. “I think you nailed it, and I think you deserve a huge ‘thank you.’”
The draft includes walkable spaces, shade and meeting spaces, amphitheaters and a unique walking stream that will connect two new lakes that are proposed north of the current Community Lake.
“It checks so many of the boxes from the city, the community and sustainability,” Mr. Phillips said of the draft.
The plan Carefree Partners is rolling out will take decades to be fully realized, and that’s for a good reason: The amount of space to be developed in the City Center is enormous.
Mr. Phillips loves to overlay a map of Phoenix’s downtown over Surprise’s City Center to demonstrate how they are roughly the same size.
“Over time this could be a very dense urban center,” Mr. Phillips said of the more than 500 acres remaining to develop at the Surprise site.
It could take as long as 50 years or more before everything is built up, Mr. Phillips said, adding, “Phoenix is 100 years old, and they’re still trying to figure it out.”
More than likely, a good portion of the downtown area should be hitting its stride by around 2040, he suggested.
“You’re going to have varying waves of development and soft time,” Mr. Phillips said. “There’s going to be pieces of this that remain undeveloped for a long time.”
But initial development, including street work improvements and creation of three new interior streets, could start in as soon as 18 months to two years from now, officials said.
“Bullard and Elm is where we’re going to be putting our near-term energy,” Mr. Phillips said about the area in the northwest portion of the City Center. “So, they’ll have that main street, that place to be. We’re not waiting 20 years to give somebody something.”
Mayor Skip Hall called it an “ignition point,” which could help spark the market conditions of the area.
“Right now, the market isn’t demanding 12-story condos,” Mr. Phillips said. “In fact, the market may not demand 12-story condos for 25 years. But we want to make sure we can accommodate those when the time is right. We want to make sure we don’t use up all the land and eliminate the opportunity to do some of those key uses that someday will be a really important piece of this downtown.”
Carefree has had city approval to develop its land in the City Center for years.
As the draft plan continues to be tweaked, Mr. Phillips said he hopes to show it to the Planning and Zoning Commission as a courtesy — probably at one of the August meetings — and take it to the City Council one more time.
Two more outreach meetings are also planned, including one at Arizona Traditions during Mr. Winters’ monthly constituent meeting in August.
Mr. Hoover called the revealing of the master plan draft a “sneak peek” and an “evolving process.”
“There’s going to be continuous input from the public and hearing from residents and the business community,” Mr. Hoover said. “Over the last eight months of outreach we learned a lot — not just the master plan but how to engage with our residents.”
Mr. Phillips said he’s hoping the city will put the draft plan somewhere on its website since it’s part of the marketing push the Economic Development team will be using to help fill the spots.
“It’s about firing on all cylinders,” Mr. Phillips said. “The stuff that we’re doing here isn’t being done anywhere else. But it takes time to let the market to absorb that and understand that.”
Developers this week announced initial construction has commenced on the City North project in North Phoenix.
“City North has started construction on the horizontal infrastructure, including water and sewer. Construction will then begin above ground on the streets, sidewalks, landscaping, trees, comfort stations for shuttles and ride-sharing companies and streets,” according to a press release issued for Crown Realty & Development.
The first phase of development at the 100-acre site next to Desert Right Marketplace along the Loop 101 in North Phoenix will include a 160,000-square-foot, four-story office building along with 250 apartment units with an estimated construction cost of $20 million, which will comprise only 4 acres of the overall 32-acre project site.
Construction of horizontal infrastructure has begun with vertical construction for phase one is slated to start next year, according to the release.
But phase one is just a start and the project, once completed, will be substantially larger.
“When completed, City North’s entire multifamily residential component will consist of 2,600 units and will comprise 32 acres of the City North development joining Class A offices and other uses in the thriving Desert Ridge area of Phoenix,” the release states.
At final build-out, the site could comprise as many as 2,500 residential units, 500 hotel rooms, 100,000-square-feet of retail and 2-million-square-feet of office space.
A formal groundbreaking is planned in early October.
Massive growth potential will likely be realized near downtown Phoenix as well, not merely along the Valley’s perimeter, as city officials next month consider another mammoth development proposal for a property at Central Avenue and Indian School Road.
Commercial real estate firm The Pivotal Group earlier this month got approval from the Phoenix Planning and Zoning Commission for their plan, called The Central Park, which will encompass what planners again described as a live-work-play development.
“The conceptual site plan depicts a mixed-use development that includes residential, retail, office and hotel, all built on top of podium parking,” according to public documents obtained from the city.
At full build-out, the mixed-use project will comprise more than 2 million square feet including hotel, residential, retail and office space.
“The Central Park project is 2.33 million square feet of live-work-play mixed-use development located at the corner of Central Avenue and Indian School Road. The proposed program will consist of multiple office buildings, residential towers, senior living residential, lifestyle retail and hotel. The project mix will create a catalytic project that anchors the southwest corner of Indian Steele Park,” the report states.
The project is not only big, but it’s tall, migrating the character of the city core’s skyscrapers northward into the uptown area.
A pair of office towers with a maximum zoning height of 280 feet are planned to reach 255 feet in height, while two of three proposed residential towers will rise to 355 feet of the maximum allowable 390-foot limit.
Phoenix City Council is slated to consider adopting the development plan at the panel’s Wednesday, July 3 public meeting at City Hall, 200 W. Jefferson St., Phoenix.
Editor's Note: Jason Stone contributed to this report.