Newly formed alliance positive sign for McDowell Corridor
Arizona Republic 07/24/2013, Page ZJ21

Goal is to revitalize south Scottsdale area

Three years ago, Jeff Berghoff’s newly purchased office space looked like most of the other car dealerships on McDowell Road: ugly, outdated and conspicuously devoid of activity.

Today, however, some 250 workers report daily at the 4-acre property across from Papago Plaza, now the headquarters of Berghoff’s thriving landscape design and maintenance firm. Inside, it resembles nothing so much as an art museum, with its high ceilings, hardwood floors and abundance of natural light.

There’s no mistaking the building’s former purpose, however. Berghoff, who says the renovations consisted almost entirely of repainting the interior and stripping away some paneling to expose original wooden beams, is quick to point out the vestiges of the former Nissan dealership.

Old service bays have been repurposed as temporary storage for saplings and shrubbery. Where salesmen closed deals with their customers, supervisors now meet with their crews. A parking lot once full of new cars is now, well, a parking lot, but one full as ever.

Berghoff has successfully rescued his property from decay, restoring it while retaining elements of its original character. Now, he intends to do the same for the street outside his front door.

As chairman of the newly formed Scottsdale Gateway Alliance, Berghoff is spearheading an effort to finally succeed where numerous past bureaucratic efforts have failed, in revitalizing McDowell Road and its surrounding neighborhoods.

The alliance, guided by a four-member board of directors, isn’t using any funds other than what it intends to raise from local businesses and residents who support its mission. It will be independent of any allegiance to the divisive factions at City Hall, and is so laser-focused on its aims that Berghoff declined to take a position on the potential implementation of light rail, calling that prospect too distant to merit comment today.

The group’s specific methods for effecting change remain unclear. About 60 businesses nearby are supportive of the alliance’s mission, Berghoff says, and it’s possible they could agree to offer cross-promotional deals to stimulate spending along the McDowell Road Corridor.

Treasurer Dana Close believes the group can help incite the same contagious passion for neighborhood restoration that she initiated in her Hacienda del Rey community, where residents recently voted to assess themselves $350,000 to improve homes that had fallen into disrepair.

Whether such efforts will work on a broader scale remains to be seen. But it’s refreshing, even inspiring, to hear residents of south Scottsdale do something proactively to improve their beleaguered part of the city.

“McDowell Road doesn’t need to be the laughingstock of Scottsdale anymore,” Berghoff said, correctly pointing out that his part of Scottsdale still boasts more history and character than anywhere else in the city.

McDowell Road was once a point of pride in this city, and it could be again. The Scottsdale Gateway Alliance deserves support for its emerging efforts.

A rickety wagon is rolling east through the desolate desert from the burgeoning farming community of Phoenix on its way to Fort McDowell. A scorching sun reflects off the baked desert floor. Travelers have no escape from the blistering heat except for their sweat soaked hats. The wagon horses hang their heads and tredge steadily toward the Verde River, a virtual oasis.

The year is 1865. The California Volunteers have established an isolated location on the west bank of the Verde as a safe haven. Camp Verde is the outpost created to protect travelers and those pursuing new lives in the West from attacks by the Apache. While Camp Verde was strategically located to provide safety for travelers, it was no match for the powerful monsoon winds and accompanying torrential downpours. When the outpost was rebuilt to withstand the weather, it was renamed Camp McDowell in honor of General Irvin McDowell.

General McDowell had an inauspicious start for a place in U.S. history, first drawing the attention of the American public when he and his union soldiers lost the first battle of Bull Run.

After the conclusion of the Civil War, President Ulysses S. Grant appointed General McDowell to oversee the Western States and all of its forts. Over time, McDowell redeemed himself as an excellent leader, which led to his lasting legacy of honor in the Southwest.

Today, McDowell Road, particularly the stretch through Southern Scottsdale, holds many memories and historic value. But, just as important, it possesses the potential to once again bounce back and become a boon for Scottsdale’s economy.

This part of Southern Scottsdale is a true Gateway to the city.

Like it has always been since Arizona was only a territory, the McDowell Road Corridor continues to be about location. It’s perfectly positioned for access from Sky Harbor Airport, Arizona State University, the Phoenix Metropolitan area, the Botanical Gardens and Phoenix Zoo. It’s also located near major freeways and offers terrific bus and trolley services for residents and visitors.

The Scottsdale Gateway Alliance is working to help McDowell Road capitalize on its location and potential — and pursue future memories for this iconic road named after General Irvin McDowell, who, ironically … never set foot in the area.

Running the entire length of the city, the street most identified with Scottsdale is its namesake, Scottsdale Road.  But, thanks to its character and heritage, by far the most interesting roadway is one that runs east and west through Southern Scottsdale:  McDowell Road.

The short two-mile stretch of McDowell Road from 64th Street to almost the Loop 101 is the Southern Gateway to the city – so it makes sense that its reputation over the year has had a lot to do with transportation one way or another.

And, if recent events are an indicator, things along the McDowell Road Corridor are about to start rolling again.

In 1960 McDowell Road opened between the picturesque Papago Buttes, making it the primary route connecting Phoenix with the East Valley.  That not only triggered increased retail activity and new development – it transformed McDowell Road into “The McDowell Road Corridor.”

Shortly after that, the first car dealership popped up on the Corridor at the prestigious corner of Scottsdale and McDowell Roads.  Brand new Impalas, Novas, Cameros and Corvettes lined the lot of Ray Korte Chevrolet.  It didn’t take long for other dealers to follow Korte’s lead.  Eventually, 32 car dealerships populated the McDowell Road Corridor – the largest concentration of dealerships in one area in Arizona.

That distinction earned the western half of McDowell Road the nickname of the “Motor Mile.”

Just down the street to the east of the dealerships was the home of Scottsdale’s iconic “Ollie The Trolley.”  There is no more recognizable vehicle traveling the streets of Scottsdale today than “Ollie,” the city’s unofficial ambassador to tourists and residents.  The trolley’s bright red exterior and throwback design brings a smile to faces wherever it goes.

“Ollie” and his fleet of friends at Dunn Transportation have helped keep Southern Scottsdale’s transportation tradition alive and well for more than two decades.

In the 7800 block of McDowell Road and nestled on the north side of the street is Eldorado Park, the city’s first park, which was built in the 1960’s.  On any given day at Eldorado Park, parents can be seen pushing baby strollers, while skaters glide down sidewalks and people of all ages on all types of bikes peddle through the park—the most courageous of them gathering at the Wedge.

Wedge Skate Park, a 20,000 square-foot skateboarders’ paradise, sits at the southern end of Eldorado Park next to McDowell Road.  Wedge Skate Park provides a safe, teen-friendly atmosphere with everything a skateboard or bike enthusiast would want to test their skills and agility—curbs, bowls, boxes and a quarter-pipe, pyramid and rails.

Today, entrepreneurs, long-time residents and property owners are driving a new era of economic development on McDowell Road, bringing a new vibe to the area that will revitalize McDowell Road Corridor.