Location & Scottsdale Sapience

While on the Scottsdale City Council Bob Littlefield and David Ortega voted for the Scottsdale Waterfront and two buildings there with 150’ heights.

Scottsdale City Councilman Guy Phillips voted for the same heights at Scottsdale Fashion Square and the proposed Museum Square.

Scottsdale City Councilwomen Kathy Littlefield and Solange Whitehead also supported 150’ heights for Museum Square.

We think all of those votes were sagacious.  Yet, all of the people just mentioned also opposed the recent Southbridge II proposal.

Why?

Call it an ability, even a strength to diagnosticate.

The reason Southbridge II ultimately fell was not just the well-funded opposition from nearby property owners.  It was the recognition by many that this part of Old Town was different, low-scale and should stay that way.  Location, Location, Location.  In other words, there were good arguments on both sides, and this was reflected by a narrow council approval (4-3) and split debate during the referendum drive.

Conversely, Museum Square was passed by acclamation not only because it would replace an abandoned transit station, but because it was NOT embedded on Scottsdale’s charming Main Street.  If it would have proposed replacing chunks of the area rather than beyond it the outcome would likely have been similar to Southbridge II.

The Scottsdale Waterfront debate and result nearly two decades ago had similarities.  That corner of Scottsdale and Camelback was hardly a neighborhood of charm.  It was populated by a struggling grocery store, old movie theater, nightclubs and a smattering of other stuff that defined hodgepodge.  What has replaced it is undoubtedly taller, but also undoubtedly better.

Fast forward to last week’s reports on plans to redevelop large chunks in and around Scottsdale’s Entertainment District, south of Camelback and east of Scottsdale Road.

The area reminds us of the former Scottsdale Waterfront site and offers none of the charm of other parts of Old Town.  None.  Walking tours of the area with some of the city’s toughest activists and graders last year appeared to open many eyes in this regard.

As proposed, new buildings would replace old bars.  This is already making some neighbors in close proximity to existing uses happy.  The architecture by Nelson Partners, especially for the southeast corner of Scottsdale and Camelback Roads is remarkable.  So is the effort to introduce shade and art in a way Scottsdale has never seen.

And let us underscore this point:  while heights would be increased beyond current zoning in limited areas, the OVERALL SQUARE FOOTAGE ALLOWED UNDER CURRENT ZONING WOULD NOT INCREASE.  That’s remarkable.  What other recent development proposals can boast such a thing?

Contrary to the assertions of some, this is not an effort to rush an approval through for the sake of doing so or because of a make-up of the current council.  These plans have been underway for nearly a year.

Wise developers, especially those not only survived the Great Recession, but learned how to thrive from it, understand that improving properties now positions you – and the city – for success when we reach better economic times.  And those times will come.

Indeed, the first element seeking approval is to replace the Dakota Nightclub with a new hotel.  We don’t understand critics of the Entertainment District – we are not among them – decrying the area for what it is today and standing in the way of more sophistication for it tomorrow.

It is fair to acknowledge that the backers of the new “Scottsdale Collective” were also behind the controversial Marquee proposal that narrowly passed City Council last year.  But to their credit they learned a valuable lesson.  That process wasn’t enjoyable.  They didn’t want to do it again. So, they undertook massive community outreach to cull the proposal that was submitted to the city.  It’s impressive.  Is it perfect?  Of course not.  Additional public input and the public process will identify and improve components.

But as Scottsdale’s economy endures the trauma of collapse, we should be grateful that there are those who believe in the city’s future so much to risk precious capital now.

Once upon a time the Scottsdale Galleria was Scottsdale’s embarrassing white elephant.  It’s now a beehive of business activity, and hard to believe it’s now one of downtown’s points of pride.  Backers of the Scottsdale Collective are responsible for that.  They are not just propagators of Marquees and Mai Tais.

It’s now up to each candidate, councilmember and community member to decide this important proposal on their own.

Any city in Arizona would be thrilled to entertain a big investment like this in its darkest days.  And we hope Scottsdale sapience will again make an appearance, resulting in a unanimous approval to transform what has often been a controversial neighborhood, into one that is compelling and collaborative.

Height already IS a part of downtown Scottsdale.  In a lot of places.  That has been good and will be helpful from Museum Square to Scottsdale Fashion Square. And this discussion doesn’t include the important rights of HonorHealth to expand its critical operations.

But we are ones that share the opinion that height doesn’t belong everywhere in downtown Scottsdale.  It should be granted judiciously, just as occurred for the projects mentioned before, and where the merits and location make the element obvious.

We believe the Scottsdale Collective has and will meet that test.