How The West Was Won: Former Glendale Mayor Elaine Scruggs Reflects On The Pivotal Years She Held Office

Editor’s note: Few, if any, in recent memory have had a greater impact on the City of Glendale than Elaine Scruggs who served as Mayor from 1993 to 2013.

During her tenure, Glendale attracted University of Phoenix Stadium. The city built the Gila River Arena to host the Arizona Coyotes and the Camelback Ranch spring training home for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox. The Westgate City Center also went up under her watch. And Arrowhead Ranch came to life along with universities and other facets. Glendale has also hosted the Super Bowl and two BCS National Championship games while she was Mayor.

We asked her about her years in office and the motivations behind her decisions. The following is an overview she was kind enough to write for us:

In 1993, my immediate challenge was to position our city competitively within the region.  The recession of the early 1990’s coupled with the Valley’s exploding growth demonstrated that continuing as a semi-rural bedroom community was not an option.

Economic energy had already gravitated to the East Valley.  Those cities worked collaboratively to attract quality residential developments and sustainable commercial cores.   Glendale had a lot of catching up to do.

The 1993 the population of the 12 West Valley cities was less than that of Mesa alone.  East Valley legislative leadership and corporate executives united their efforts to bring transportation to their area.  The West Valley had none of those advantages.

At the same time “the Valley establishment” was fighting against freeways and mass transit, ignoring all growth projections.  However, developers’ eyes were on our metropolitan area and they would not be denied access.

“The Prop 400 defeat in 1994 led Governor Fife Symington to put forward his own freeway program. Among the freeways cut from the map were the Paradise Freeway, which would have run parallel to Camelback Road; and three west side freeways: the Estrella Freeway, which would later become Loop 303; Grand Avenue, which was then envisioned as a freeway; and the Agua Fria Freeway south of Interstate 10. The Governor also recommended fewer lanes, no lighting and no landscaping on remaining freeways. Mayor Scruggs vividly recalls standing in her kitchen when she received the call from Governor Symington’s chief of staff. “I was just stunned. Just absolute shock. As were my colleagues across the Valley. It was such a setback,” says Mayor Scruggs. “And if you think back, we, the Valley, were in a time of such feverish growth, and our whole transportation system was so far behind the times anyway.” Left on the map but unfunded were the Santan, Red Mountain, Sky Harbor and Hohokam freeways. The South Mountain Freeway was proposed as a toll road. The MAG Regional Council reluctantly approved the Governor’s plan.”

By the end of the decade clearer minds and sharper pencils prevailed and $500 million was back on the table. Negotiations resulted in completion of the Agua Fria/Loop 101 connecting the I-10 and the I-17 seven years earlier than planned — in 2000 rather than 2007.

Finally the critical piece was in place to develop economic sustainability in Glendale and also open the ‘front door’ to other West Valley cities.

Midwestern university’s choice of Glendale for its second campus hinged on timely completion of the Loop 101 which borders the north side of their property.   The university is a health, education and economic asset for the entire metro area. It came when Arrowhead Ranch was rebounding from the sell-off of property by the Resolution Trust Corporation.  The RTC did not care about master plans nor quality of life issues for existing residents.  Their job was to liquidate real estate acquired as a consequence of the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s.  Midwestern University’s decision to locate in arrowhead ranch provided protection from incompatible, low quality development for our existing neighborhoods.

The economic development value of a freeway is most evidenced by Glendale’s sports and entertainment district.  The plan to build an arena and ancillary uses on the site of the abandoned Los Arcos Mall was on its last breath. A member of the development team contacted me suggesting the same project for an abandoned mall in central Glendale.  The pros and cons of the two sites were eerily similar and the parcel size nearly identical.  An agreement was reached with the developer for a thirty-day timeframe to decide whether to go forward or not. 

During an aerial visit to determine traffic patterns, the developer discovered the farms adjacent to the just-opened Agua Fria freeway. He proposed building an arena and 200 acres of mixed-use development there.  After agreeing that he would also redevelop the troubled mall in central Glendale, we moved forward with what is now known as Westgate.  The freeway had opened in October 2000 and the development agreements were signed in April 2001.

That developer, Steve Ellman, was the first person to see potential for Glendale beyond mid-level residential construction.  Countless times homebuilders came with their rolled-up plans in hand for unimaginative rows of production homes on small lots. We stood our ground and waited for development that would benefit our city for the long term.

About the same time trouble was brewing at all the sites desired by the Arizona Cardinals for the new football stadium.  Glendale had been approached by the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority to offer a site and enter the bidding contest.  We did not bid.  It was a well-known fact that the team did not want to be in the West Valley.

Again, all sites under consideration were eliminated for various reasons.  In 2002 Glendale was again approached. That time we did present a proposal and were chosen. Sometimes it is good to be a bridesmaid.

Our site was the best all along. Even now there is no NFL stadium with the kind of freeway access and adjacent amenities we have.  A dedicated freeway off ramp, and lodging, restaurants, shopping, and entertainment all within walking distance.

When I retired in 2013 Glendale was no longer a semi-rural bedroom community.  Agricultural uses had also left most of the West Valley cities.  The area’s population had tripled.  The challenges faced today are really no different than they were when I took office in 1993.  Growth continues to run at high speed.  Choices need to be made about land uses. Now it is Loop 303 that is on everyone’s minds.  This is the same Loop 303 that had been taken off ADOT’s maps and declared to never need to be built.

A city only gets to paint its blank canvas once.  And transportation access continues to be dominant in determining the future of a city and a region.

It is not easy to shut the door on opportunities that are shovel ready. But the best advice I can give is to believe your city is usually worth more than what is initially offered.  Hold out for the wise choices that will secure Glendale’s best possible future.