As the city looks at development opportunities for this parcel of land, there are two interconnected points that I would like to express.
Part I. Key Points
With the South Central and Capitol West light rail extensions still under study it is too early to quantify this site’s true value. The RFP for this parcel should be put on hold until a better understanding of how these new alignments, and subsequent passengers will interact within the current downtown station configuration.
Part II. Key Points
This site should be considered for joint development (PPP). A properly structured deal would allow the city to benefit from this site’s long term earning potential while adding to our urban vibrancy today.
First, I feel that the city is premature in its desire to develop this property. I personally would love to see this parcel developed to its full density tomorrow, and given its location within the city, a utility value alone would bring in millions of dollars for city transportation projects. However, the bus and light rail lines give this property extra value in the form of access, and while all city services are considered access in the economic sense; in an urban setting, transportation access is typically of most value. Hard transportation infrastructure like light rail and subways, provide developers and business owners a confidence in longevity that soft transportation infrastructure e.g. bus routes cannot. These are the basic economic principles behind Transit Oriented Development(1). Because this station receives more boardings than any other within the light rail system the TOD potential for this parcel is very high.
With Valley Metro still studying how it will integrate the new South Central and Capitol West lines into the existing system, I contend that the value of this land will likely increase substantially, especially if the Transit Center starts to be used as a transfer station for separate rail lines. This is because pedestrian traffic increases greatly when comparing a destination station and a transfer station. It seems inevitable to me that Valley Metro will need to have a line transfer station somewhere downtown, and given the current track configuration the transit center is the most logical spot. Here is why.
It is unlikely that Valley Metro will run individual trains from Mesa to South Phoenix, West Phoenix, North Phoenix and in turn trains from these segments back to all other quadrants of the city. Simply because of timing issues, this would be inefficient even if trains were to run 100% full. Most likely the system will be divided into 2,3, or 4 individual lines determined by needed directness vs efficiency within current engineering limitations. Therefore, certain trips will require passengers to disembark and switch trains, just as in every major mass transit system around the world. Given our current system, this transfer load could be distributed over multiple stations in downtown. However, this typically makes timings and connections more difficult, unless you’re running trains and buses every 3-5 minutes which is unlikely given the current system demand and operation budget. This leaves a single station with connected line platforms as the best option for sequencing train timings, and reducing transfer cost(2). The transportation center therefore is the obvious first choice that meets these criteria, while additionally already servicing connections between the light rail system and metro bus system.
It is imperative for this reason that the city knows how this station will work into the greater Valley Metro configuration before any RFP is accepted. This is important not only for how pedestrian traffic may flow through the site or if any possible station configuration modifications may need, but it is also an economic concern. If the analysis shows substantially more boardings per year at these two stations, then the retail earnings potential of this site increases dramatically, and in turn the value at which the city can profit from the land is increased. I would suspect that the original developer who approached the city on this project has likely already made this calculation.
1 I am quickly summarizing economic rents as applied to urban land (George, Ricardo, Smith)
2 ‘Transfer cost’ being all of the externalities that come from individuals switching between transit modes or lines.
Jeffery is a native Phoenix area resident and lives in the Downtown Evans Churchill neighborhood. He has a Masters in Globalization and Development from The University of Sussex – Institute of Development Studies and a Political Science B.A. From A.S.U. He currently works as a Project Manager for a Phoenix based small business. All opinions are strictly his own. All rights on written and creative ideas are reserved.