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Panelists join a GPEC ambassador event over Zoom

Ambassador Event: Transforming Places & Spaces

Greater Phoenix developers balance city growth with tradition

Community expansions are underway around Greater Phoenix and many developers have found an important line to balance: progress vs. culture.

Cities with large inflows of new businesses and residents need to expand their communities while preserving the cultures that already exist.

“I do like to think that a lot of the success that we’ve had is because we spend an inordinate amount of time listening to that community and respecting the opinions of the people that are there,” said Red Development senior vice president Jeff Moloznik. “We want them to use what we end up developing. That’s what’s critical to it.”

Regional leaders joined our recent ambassador event to discuss developments in Avondale, Mesa, Paradise Valley and Wild Horse Pass in Chandler, Ariz. Panelists included:

  • Ken Chapa, economic development director, City Of Avondale
  • John Graham, chairman and CEO, Sunbelt Holdings
  • Jeff Moloznik, senior vice president, Red Development
  • Jaye O'Donnell, assistant economic development director, City Of Mesa
  • Moderator: Carol Hu, Senior Director, Business & Industry Strategy, GPEC

Mesa’s expansions

Two central Mesa areas are currently being upgraded.

The Asian District came to fruition more than 10 years ago when the first business opened. Since, more than 70 Asian restaurants, retail spaces, grocery stores and service providers have blossomed organically along Dobson Road from Southern Avenue to Main Street.

The City of Mesa is incorporating a new immersive brand concept based on a tangram, a colorful 2000-year-old Chinese puzzle that can be arranged in different ways. In this, Mesa symbolizes the community, commerce and cultures of the district.

“We felt that it did symbolize the Asian cultures coming together in this unified district community while still maintaining the individuality of each culture,” said O’Donnell. “How do we translate that now into bringing the brand to life?”

O’Donnell said the city of Mesa ensured the community was involved in the process by posting on Nextdoor and handing out flyers at businesses to share information about upcoming townhall meetings and discussions. They also partnered with Arizona State University to invite Asian students to focus groups.

“(We) talked to (community leaders) about what we were trying to achieve,” she said. “I think it was good because we talked about how proud we were of the area and how we wanted to not replace the area, but really enhance it and elevate the area and tell the story.”

On Center and Main Streets, there will soon be three new developments in partnership the ASU Creative Futures Laboratory.

The laboratory will be home to the Sydney Poitier New American Film School, which will include education and innovation of artificial intelligence, virtual reality, augmented reality, 3D design and film.

“It’s the anchor to this entire development,” O’Donnell said. “We think the development was really the catalyst to bringing in new restaurants, and breweries, and just kind of a good synergy, a good vibe in downtown.”

In the northern part of the area is The Studios @ City Center, which is in tandem with the J. Orin Edson Entrepreneurship + Innovation Institute at ASU. This education facility will be on one floor, while the other two will be open for other business and corporate tenants.

“It’s really an adaptable, open design that allows for a wide variety of activities,” O’Donnell said.

To the south will be The Plaza @ City Center, which will feature a large open space with canopies, a pond to be converted into an ice rink each holiday season, and activities for the community.

“It’s really this dynamic, flexible gathering space for community and for our residents,” O’Donnell said.

Wild Horse Pass

At the southern corner of the Loops 101 and 202, with Phoenix in the west and Chandler in the east, sits a district on the Gila River Indian Community with 3,500 acres under development.

Currently, Wild Horse Pass has one casino with a second set to be complete in October, the Sheraton Resort, outlet mall, Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park and the Radford Racing School.

Rawhide, which hosts dozens of large concerts and festivals each year, was relocated to this area from north Scottsdale, and Phoenix Rising FC moved its soccer stadium here this season.

An 800,000 square-foot industrial project is currently under construction. This includes a 300,000 square-foot building that will serve as Trammel Crow’s headquarters and distribution facility.

“The secret sauce with what we’re talking about is work on things like past trails and open space, make them experiential. Mixed use, I think, is incredibly important. I think the entertainment component is going to continue to be a driver for all of us,” Graham said, adding that walkability was important in designing the area. “Lastly, make sure that it’s appropriate for the area whether it’s cultural or authentic. I think if we kind of keep those words in mind and execute with them as part of our DNA, that we’ll all be real successful.”

With this mindset, Wild Horse Pass was split into zones including entertainment, shopping, lodging and commercial.

“We’re seeing a lot of success,” Graham said. “Part of it is that the location of the property is just so incredibly good and being bounded by Phoenix on the north and then Chandler on the (east), but really are enjoying the opportunity to work on property.”

Paradise Valley Village

The decline of Paradise Valley Mall created an opportunity to rethink and redesign the area into a mixed-use, community area.

Red Development and Macerich partnered to purchase anchor stores including Sears, Dillard’s and Macy’s, and more than 91 acres of land with the goal of repurposing the area. The groups received approval from the Phoenix City Council in February and are slated to begin demolition as early as June with a target date of completing the first phase in late 2022.

“What was once a mall will eventually turn into a series of what I would call blocks and grid streets with open space, functional community space and all the things that you would typically find in a town center,” Moloznik said. “It will have its own kind of urban feel and be inviting from the outside-in as opposed to the inside-out.”

Plans include mixed-use development including retail shops, grocery stores, restaurants, multi-family residential, self-storage and other uses. There will be up to 6.5 million square feet of occupied building area and 2,500 multi-family homes.

“Paradise Valley Mall is incredibly unique because as big as it is in the middle of such a dense residential neighborhood, there’s so much community pride and goodwill relative to that mall,” Moloznik said. “It’s overwhelming, the amount of people that that mall has impacted.”

Because of that, developers must keep in mind the desires of the community that lived and grew up around Paradise Valley Mall over the nearly 50 years.

“It’s something that everyone desperately wanted to see something done with, but they were super afraid of what that would be,” Moloznik said.

Oldtown Avondale

The Oldtown Avondale district is getting an overhaul.

Chapa spoke about the renovations that are already being made to the area in a town that has a projected population growth of about 7,000 people in the coming years.

Over the last two years, the city has worked to acquire property to bulk up the 34 acres it had owned in Park Avenue District inside a corridor that has become known as The Boulevard.

This area is home to the American Sports Center, one of the largest indoor facilities in the state, and that are set to be filled by February 2022.

Last year, Avondale signed a lease with Phoenix Children’s Hospital for a 6,000 square-foot sports rehabilitation facility for young athletes.

Unique establishments in the area include To Die For Popcorn, which is the producer of popcorn at Arizona Cardinals games; Soda Bomb, a soda fountain and treat shop; and New Penny Café, a breakfast, brunch and lunch spot that was formed in collaboration between Enroute Coffee and Tea House, and Saddle Mountain Brewery.

To create an outdoor experience for pedestrians, Avondale is working on concepts with water features and lakes.

While doing this, Avondale is trying to maintain the community atmosphere of the town and continue its mutualistic economic relationship with Litchfield Park, Tolleson and Goodyear.

“There are people [who] have been living in that area since before Avondale was even a city,” Chapa said. “It’s got a lot of historical, Latino roots to it. Very, very proud families, very, very proud culture, and we’ve been working side-by-side with them to make sure that as we try to encourage development, we’re not trying to replace Oldtown Avondale – we’re trying to enhance Oldtown Avondale.”

Meet The Panel

Ken Chapa

Economic Development Director

City Of Avondale

John Graham

Chairman & CEO

Sunbelt Holdings

Jeff Moloznik

Sr. Vice President

Red Development

Jaye O'Donnell

Assistant Economic Development Director

City Of Mesa