Important Scottsdale Lessons Learned

Politics and development can both be important aspects of life. And, like most everything else, it helps when you live and learn. That certainly appears to be the case for a recent redevelopment proposal, tentatively labeled The Scottsdale Collective, for an area of largely non-descript buildings east of Scottsdale Road and south of Camelback. It’s mostly known today for numerous bars.

Having learned from the debate over its Marquee office building and observed the contention over Southbridge II in another part of Old Town, the redevelopment proposal appears to avoid some if not many of the controversial elements that arose with those projects.

Indeed, the new plan would expedite the evolution of the downtown bar area into a multi-generational, mixed-use area with new residences, boutique hotels, pop-up art parks, solar, shade and arts installations that will bring sorely needed new economic activity and character to the ‘bar district’, long a target of some City Hall skeptics. The first phase would also replace the existing Dakota Bar with a boutique hotel, followed closely by a redevelopment of the Mint Bar site, which has been problematic over the years for nearby neighbors. Purportedly, these adjacent neighbors are pleased with the proposed plans.

The project is headlined by a $3 million to $4 million private arts investment by Stockdale Capital Partners, which is spearheading the effort. It would be the largest private arts investment in Scottsdale’s history and is being curated by Valerie Vadala Homer, founding director of Scottsdale Public Art and also a founding creative force behind the internationally recognized Canal Convergence event, which is held just across Scottsdale Road.

Southbridge II along Fifth and Sixth Avenues and Stetson Drive in Old Town had supporters and critics alike. It was passed with good intentions, but well-heeled opponents had other ideas. It largely became contentious for its proposed demolition of existing shops and restaurants in a “quainter, charming” part of Old Town.

But there is nothing “quaint or charming” about some of the bars or buildings in the proposed area.

The redevelopment would upgrade sidewalks, provide shade (where little now exists) and enhance pedestrian corridors with plenty of open space at grade and above. It would have 61,399 square feet (almost 1.5 acres) of open space or close to 14 percent of the total property. That compares to 25,300 square feet or 5.8 percent of the site for Southbridge II.

The proposed revitalization would also have double the building setbacks from Scottsdale Road as proposed for Southbridge II. And unlike Southbridge II, no amended development standards are proposed to bring buildings closer to Scottsdale Road.

With its request for additional building square footage, Southbridge II stirred a debate over the transformation of existing sections of Old Town.  But this new proposal would not increase the building square footage over that already allowed in the area, under its existing zoning. That’s a remarkable statistic.

After COVID 19, the economic recession and recent riots, downtown Scottsdale needs something to get excited about. The few bemoaning potential additional traffic might want to travel to downtown Scottsdale. There is no traffic. But a $400 million to $500 million investment with cool design and maturation of the Entertainment District may be the kind we now need, especially if it truly learns from prior contentious debates to help make a better downtown Scottsdale that we can all be proud of.

We are encouraged by recent responses from current City Council candidates to questions about Old Town’s future posed by local newspapers. Despite differences on growth there seems to be an emerging consensus that height on the fringes of downtown is or might be acceptable, but not in the core. This makes sense both in the short-term as Scottsdale seeks recovery but also in the long-term as it seeks to preserve character. The best downtowns in America, and Scottsdale’s can be among them, are not one-size-fits-all designs and densities, but instead a colorful quilt.

Fringe versus core was one of the reasons Museum Square was approved unanimously, and the Scottsdale Waterfront too.

The current City Council has done a commendable job balancing various interests in the community. That is why recent public opinion polls, pre-COVID and protests, give the city high marks. But unlike the near universal regard for the McDowell Sonoran Preserve an approach by acclamation for Old Town has remained elusive. But thanks to a spirited, learned proposal from The Scottsdale Collective, that may be changing. If so, it would be good for the city as evolving through debate and dialogue can be a magnificent maturation just as this proposal may help a key part of Scottsdale grow up, in a good way.