By Terrance Thornton
Independent Newsmedia Inc. USA
Members of Scottsdale City Council say the local governing board’s No. 1 priority is to help — in any way possible — the cultivation of the revitalization of the McDowell Road Corridor.
Scottsdale City Council discussed the topic at length during a two-hour April 1 work session discussion meant to clearly identify council priorities and to show tangible efforts to attain those goals.
Supporters of the revitalization of the McDowell Road Corridor, in particular the Scottsdale Gateway Alliance, say they are encouraged to see Scottsdale City Council making serious strides toward the effort. One members says she can feel the momentum building at City Hall.
The Scottsdale Gateway Alliance, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, seeks to advance investment and revitalization opportunities in southern Scottsdale and along the McDowell Road Corridor, according to its mission statement.
SGA Treasurer Dana Close attended the April 1 work session and says it sounds like something will stick in terms of changing the revitalization of the McDowell Road Corridor from idea to fruition.
“I am very encouraged and excited see to what our future will be,” she said in an April 2 phone interview. “It is really happening.”
Ms. Close says she heard tangible ideas articulated.
“I think just overall, it was the sort of united consensus that we are were getting closer and closer,” she explained. “I just think it was the willingness on the council to really flush through what can really happen.”
Although no new incentive offerings have been crafted nor new policies made, Scottsdale officials contend planning, zoning and transportation projects and issues will be addressed a bit differently along the McDowell Road Corridor.
Municipal and community leaders say a major goal of the redevelopment of the McDowell Road Corridor — roughly the area of McDowell Road west from Loop 101 to 68th Street — is to bring more people to the area.
Two city council-approved south Scottsdale multi-family housing projects may spur the rebirth of the McDowell Road Corridor, proponents say.
The first, a Mark Taylor Homes project, allowed by a rezoning amendment of 24.5 acres of land at the southeast corner of 74th Street and McDowell Road, facilitates a mixed-use development of a new, three-story, 536-unit multifamily residential community within the existing commercial district at 74th Street.
The second, a Scottsdale Mar, LLC project, has been approved to construct a 154-unit apartment complex at the northwest corner of 68th Street and McDowell Road where a Pitre Buick auto dealership once stood.
Those projects will come online in the next calendar year, officials estimate.
There was a time when the McDowell Road Corridor was a major commercial artery pumping a constant flow of revenue into the coffers of local proprietors and the municipality of Scottsdale.
But what was once coined the Scottsdale “Motor Mile” saw, over the last decade, low- and high-end car dealerships seek greener pastures in different parts of the Valley of Sun.
Scottsdale Vice Mayor Virginia Korte says it’s time for citizens, elected leaders and hired hands at City Hall to roll up their sleeves and get to work on better facilitating economic growth on McDowell Road.
“This doesn’t come from the mayor, this comes from the entire council,” she said in an April 2 phone interview. “It (the McDowell Road Corridor) has been neglected far too long.”
She says both multi-family housing projects along McDowell are creating an air of interest and excitement along the once proud thoroughfare.
“They are actually building now,” she said of apartment projects breaking ground. “There is just some real good synergies — I think the city has come up with some good strategies.”
Vice Mayor Korte contends government cannot be a major player in the revitalization of McDowell Road.
“It is all about getting government out of the way and letting private investment,” she said. “We don’t have any incentive money, that is not what I am talking about. We want to make it easier for that investment to that happen.”
Redevelopment is no easy task, Vice Mayor Korte explains.
“It is riskier for investors to redevelop a project then just a blank plot of land,” she said. “Until you dig into the site, you don’t really know what is there.”
Scottsdale Councilman Guy Phillips says he was encouraged by the hours-long conversation on the topic of McDowell Road.
He’s pleased with the amount of apartment projects coming online within Scottsdale city limits — but, for him, apartment buildings have nothing to do with economic development.
“What we did was talk about some relaxed standards in the new standard procedures we have now that are holding up business development,” he said in a April 2 phone interview.
“Properties like the ones that are there — like an existing building — it’s hard to redevelop it. The city can come in and say (they) have to put in new sprinklers and that is a $100,000 … that keeps people away from redevelopment.”
Councilman Phillips says he is all for relaxing the critical lens of Scottsdale engineers.
“The concerns there is that is you don’t want it to become a slum area, so (standards) will have to be on a case-by-case basis.”
Councilman Phillips says the dot.com startups and high-brow educators at Sky Song need to stop being an island onto themselves.
“It is becoming more and more of its own little world and its not contributing to the community at large,” he said of new dwellings coming online specifically to cater to Sky Song users and employees.
“I would like to see a dialogue on Sky Song that can be productive for Scottsdale and the community. Let’s become a player in Scottsdale.”
SkySong is an incubator-type facility designed to help companies grow by providing business services and programs offered or facilitated by Arizona State University, according towww.skysongcenter.com.
New view of SOPs
Scottsdale Planning and Development Director Randy Grant says his department will not be lowering development standards but rather finding which standards really fit for a particular parcel along McDowell Road.
“We are not proposing to reduce the city’s high standards for quality,” he said in an April 2 written response to e-mailed questions.
“Properties in the corridor have some unique challenges, and addressing those challenges may require looking at reinvestment in new ways.
“For example, some commercial buildings in the area were built when development standards and codes were less stringent than they are now. A new business may decide not to locate here if costs for bringing the property into conformance with all current requirements are imposed.”
Mr. Grant says a solution is looking at adopting “adaptive re-use” policies to help stimulate reinvestment in the area.
“The city’s role is to create and maintain an environment in which businesses and residents will choose to locate and be successful,” he said.
“That can take the form of physical improvements such as landscaping and infrastructure construction or regulatory changes that promote new investment.”
Scottsdale City Council has brought several ideas to the table, Mr. Grant says.
“Council has articulated a number of principles: Actions must be realistic and have tangible results. Costs and benefits must be proportional. Business recruitment in the corridor should include innovation, high-tech, and education enterprises,” he recalled.
“The private sector will respond to opportunity, and the city should identify and effectively communicate the area’s potential. Success should be measured and celebrated. Revitalization should be encouraged, and simultaneously neighborhoods should be protected.”