Author Archives: jwadesherman

About jwadesherman

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. Jeff currently works as a Project Manager for a Phoenix based small business. All rights on written and creative ideas are reserved.


For Full Version see the This Could Be Phoenix Post:

For the past two years, Downtown Phoenix has hosted the pre-event celebrations for both the Super Bowl and College Football Championship. These activities have centered on an asphalt parking lot in the heart of our city. This is “Block 23” on the original town map from 1885 and it is bound by Jefferson Street, Washington Street, First Street, and Second Street.

Now that the big events are over, development rumors for this block are again starting to circulate. However, before painting a new picture of what this block could be, it is important to know what this block once was: the original town plaza.


1800’S – 1920’S:

William Hancock’s original town plan set aside two blocks for civic functions: block 76 for the courthouse and block 23 for the plaza. While some southwest cities were planned using a Spanish grid system—with a plaza at the 0,0 street coordinates—Hancock planned Phoenix based on a scaled down Philadelphia model. While the plaza at Block 23 does not show up in any of the few photos from that time, it does show up in the official 1885 town sketch. This was Phoenix’s own version of Philadelphia’s Washington Square, and the site where in 1879 over 400 Phoenicians conducted Wild West justice by hanging two alleged murderers.[1]


In 1887, a voter-approved bond was passed, funding the construction of the original City Hall at the center of the plaza. The vote occurred only after a long debate by “some shortsighted private interests, with feelings that the public squares were too valuable for governmental or recreational use and insisted on subdividing them for business blocks.”[2]

City Hall was built despite these objections and became the tallest building in Phoenix. This new building was used for both City and Territorial business until the existing State Capitol building was finished. There are many pictures of the block from this period, and despite the building at its center, the original plaza design stayed basically intact.


1930’S – 1950’S

In 1931, once the construction of the “Old” City Hall at 1st Avenue and Washington (Block 76) was complete, Block 23 was sold to a private developer for a new theater. What the developer built has been described as one of the most ornate Art-Deco movie theaters in the country. This was the location of the Fox Theatre which many argue was far superior to the now meticulously preserved Orpheum Theater. Later in 1953, the downtown J.C. Penney’s store was also built on this same block.


1990’S – TODAY

Over one hundred years after the original City Hall was constructed on this site, the City of Phoenix once again controlled Block 23. However, with the 1974 construction of Patriots Square Park at the city’s 0,0 intersection, there was no need for another downtown plaza and in 1992, the Phoenix City Council made a deal.

In an agreement between the Federal Government, Colliers International, and City of Phoenix, the City acquired the buildings and part of the land that now form Steele Indian School Park at North Central Avenue and Indian School Road. The rest of the park land was acquired in a second agreement between the City and Colliers in exchange for Block 23 and the current Colliers Center property. With the Fox Theater long gone, the J.C. Penney’s building was demolished leaving only a subterranean parking garage and the lot we see today.

The loss of Patriots Square Park, regardless of the terrible 1986 redesign, still lingers foul in the minds of many Phoenicians. The current CityScape rendition, while a good corporate plaza, is far from a point of public pride, and it continues to be a point of tension between parties involved. The construction of Civic Space Park in 2008 sitting just a few blocks outside of the original town site was one of the City’s best decisions and continues to serve residents, ASU, and non-downtowners well.

This however does not solve the fact or problem that Phoenix does not have a central focus or gathering spot within the original townsite. The central plaza of our city has three times been sold or re-modeled for development interests, and yet now there is an empty parking lot at its original historic location.



With the success of recent large public functions on Block 23 and negotiations on a new sports arena deal pending, now is an excellent opportunity for the City to show that it values public institutions as much as private development initiatives. The resurgence of Downtown Phoenix is here, and we must work today to secure the urban public spaces truly great cities are remembered for. While Block 23 development speculations may actually come to fruition this time, it could also continue to be an asphalt lot. We need to leverage this opportunity in order to try and regain some part of the original city planners vision.

Pride in a city starts with its public spaces and a city’s public plazas are instrumental for positive civic engagement. What a community values is what it believes important enough to hold in “common.” We Phoenicians like to pretend that this is a new city, but the truth is we are far beyond any adolescent years, and Block 23 tells us a lot about the life of our city through these development years.

Phoenix has a soul and Phoenix has a history that this soul was built upon. Cities have very few opportunities to reclaim their past. In this case, I hope by remembering what Phoenix was we can help influence what Phoenix can be. It is time to be a city that better prioritizes public funds for re-building the public realm, before we consider using public funds to finance a new downtown sports arena. At a minimum, I hope this post about what Phoenix had triggers a conversation about what we now want.


[1] Talton 23

[2] Phoenix  27




Now that some additional information has been made public, I have compiled a short post on code changes and RFP components that I would like to see as part of this project. Due to the potential street changes involved with this development, some modifications and additions to the Downtown Form Code will be necessary in order to guide future developments. There are also many key items that I feel should to be included as RFP requirements. Below is a breakdown of some things to consider in both regards.

-Polk and Taylor Streets:

While it looks un-likely that a Paseo or street will cut over from 6th to 7th avenue, I am pleased that all scenarios for the Pappas site re-development include a Paseo and road combination. However, I still feel both Polk and Taylor alignments should be a part of the project, and that they should be positioned in line with their west 7th avenue counterparts. The Polk alignment is critical because future developments to the South may not be controlled by the City. Therefore, as stated in my first post, this project at a minimum must break up the block at the mid point between Fillmore and Van Buren (Polk).

Any newly created street would not have guidelines under the current form code, but because one of them would be created as part of the Taylor Paseo some basic rules can be established. The South side of the street should be maintained as a pedestrian corridor with enough room for temporary off-street table venders during events, and a solid tree wall to protect pedestrians from cars. Two way traffic would be expected with curb cuts on each northern block at the natural alley points. Curb cuts on the southern parcels should be minimized due to the Pedestrian Paseo. All of the adjacent blocks require 50% lot coverage and either (Stoop Door, Door Yard, Storefront, or Gallery arcade) frontages; new streets should be no different. One of the new 5th Avenue intersections should follow the guidelines for an ‘Enhanced Corner’ under the code as this will help define the urban sense of place. 1207. M.

M. Enhanced Corner Guidelines. The uses that generate the highest pedestrian traffic should be located on enhanced corners and provide the following: +2

  1. A primary entrance that faces both streets and serves the greatest number of occupants.
  2. Additional building articulation that emphasizes the corner and promotes activity.
  3. Active uses identified on the Land Use Matrix (Section 1204.D) should occupy the ground floor level. +2


Fillmore is already established in the Downtown code but all proposals should be encouraged to develop restaurant/retail along this frontage. This also serves as an opportunity for the city to create a separate bike lane on Fillmore, preferably protected. Fillmore is also one of the natural connectors between the Downtown Neighborhoods and a traffic light is desperately needed at the 7th Avenue intersection!  On this item the Streets Department needs to take action, because this development will increase the need for a better pedestrian connection to Grand.

-4th, 5th, & 6th Avenues:

These streets should have on-street parking incorporated into the development frontages as appropriate, with minimal to no curb cuts. 5th Avenue should be the focus of commercial activity for any development on these parcels. It is highly desirable that the alley between 6th and 5th be kept in place throughout the parcels, in order to create a more pedestrian friendly development pattern.


The  possibility of an urban elementary school being built as part of this project was announced during the public meetings. I fully embrace this possibility, and encourage a small shared park space be incorporated as well, preferably adjacent to the Paseo.

-Low Income Housing:

There are two low income housing developments just south of this site. The city is contemplating using this opportunity to redevelop these properties. At one time in life I wrote a small dissertation on finding ways to mitigate the livelihood impacts of In-situ (in place) re-development projects, and therefore I will be personally watching this closely. However, let me clearly state that there will be impacts to the individuals involved, and the City has an obligation to minimize those impacts. While in-situ re-development is the best option, issues like moving expenses, days off work, utility cost variations, breaking up of social cohesion, and loss of place-making are all potential concerns. Therefore, a third party Livelihoods impact study and mitigation plan must be required as part of any low income housing redevelopment.

-Some RFP Points:

Many individuals, including myself are already concerned about issuing a single RFP for this size of development. Good Urbanism rarely happens when a single developer or architect has control over such a large swath of land. Many of the things that I have suggested in the above text are deliberately pointed to make a large repetitive development difficult. Previous Downtown projects should also serve as a lesson to ambition; many promises and half built projects still linger from former attempts at ‘savior developments’. Therefore, parcels not developed within a time-frame should be turned back over to the city, and any major modification to the project needs to have public scrutiny, with an opt-out option. Here are my thoughts on some basic RFP stipulations that may put community members at ease.

-Basic RFP Stipulations:

  1. Split Rights With A Phasing Time Table: While it is ok to disperse the economics of underground parking across multiple blocks, anything a developer proposes above ground on each parcel should be financially viable without the rest of the development. This means that each block is self supporting, so that while the developer can keep ‘Subterranean’ rights if they build underground parking across blocks, the City can re-claim Ground and Air rights over any block the developer can’t make work within an acceptable time frame.
  2. No two blocks shall look similar, and preferably a different architectural firm will be hired for each block.
  3. A significant change of use or density on a particular parcel after the RFP is awarded to a developer should require citizen review and the ability for an opt-out by the City.
  4. A Polk Street alignment shall be part of any development, creating equal block division between Fillmore and Van Buren
  5. Any In-Situ relocation of affordable housing must first require a livelihoods impact study and mitigation plan.

-Final Thoughts:

My main intent here is to provide some ideas and basic thoughts about this project. Ultimately, the community and all of the downtown organizations will need to be heavily involved in this process. My concerns are with creating the 50 year infrastructure and less on the actual uses proposed. Given the current market conditions, I would rather see the City just create good urban blocks, follow a more stringent Form Code, and with the exception of the low income housing and the school, just let multiple developers build what the market can provide. Cities and neighborhoods work best as an eclectic mix of financial, social, and creative interests. One development team having such a large financial stake in a single neighborhood still creates an imbalance, despite how well we construct the RFP. With that said, many of my major concerns have seemingly been addressed within the pre-planing stage. Hopefully we see good proposals from developers who actually understand quality urban neighborhoods.

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

South Fillmore and The Pappas development RFP- Part 1- Breaking The Western Blocks

With the next few posts I intend to work through, and discuss aspects of the major projects announced for the Westside of Downtown. While the public will have limited input on the Wood Partners- Alta Fillmore project, what little say we have, should be focused on fixing the long urban blocks, as that will have the longest lasting impact. I will expand on this idea below, but the only way I see to do this is by utilizing some of the ‘Taylor Paseo’ provisions in the zoning code. Unfortunately, the developer may be substantially beyond making any such changes to this project, but I feel it is worth bringing the point up just in case. Luckily, The City’s Pappas school site RFP process will allow for a more flexible and robust community conversation over the coming months. Therefore, I look forward to posting more on this topic as that process starts.

Breaking The Blocks:

One of the best opportunities presented by this city assemblage is the ability to fix the ‘Long Block’ problem on the western side of downtown. Instead of creating homogenous neighborhoods as intended, long city blocks tend to isolate not insulate, they breakup commerce, increase traffic congestion, and hinder pedestrian activity, all of this creates urban economic development dead zones. While many downtown projects over the last 50 years have eliminated key portions of the standard grid infrastructure, this project has an opportunity to create streets, and open up what is typically seen as an urban planing mistake ‘The long block’. Let me be very clear, from an urban development standpoint breaking up these blocks is far more valuable in the long-term than any structure that will occupy the parcels in the short-term. Below is a quick sketch and description of how this could be done.

Current Blocks  (Yellow-COP, Blue-WP)                                                                          

West 1

Possible Blocks  (Yellow-COP, Blue-WP) 

West 2

Taylor 4th to 5th Avenue:

I am encouraged by the willingness of the City to push developers into creating an east-west street as part of any proposal. Following Taylor’s alignment from across 7th Avenue would form one natural break-up point for these blocks allowing two small transition blocks at the north of the project creating a buffer for The Roosevelt Historic Neighborhood. This would allow for better access to parcels at the natural alley cuts, keeping 5th Avenue pedestrian and bike friendly while possibly providing a natural entry into the Alta Fillmore’s project. I am fine allowing this street be built by developers if need be, because any large project may want to combine parking under/over this roadway and therefore Taylor’s natural alignment as a street just needs to be included into the RFP.

Polk 4th to 7th Avenue:

From a geographical standpoint Polk works as a natural mid-block break between Fillmore and Van Buren. For Three reasons I feel every effort should be made to connect Polk from 7th Avenue to 4th Avenue, despite the City not controlling the Alta Fillmore property. First, with The Streets Departments plan to change 5th Avenue back to 2 ways, and the potential increased residential/commercial activity from within these parcels, an additional east-west connection would help take pressure off of Fillmore and Van Buren. Second, it would enhance the connection to The Grand Avenue neighborhood, and create better development opportunities for the Polk to Van Buren section between 6th and 7th. Finally, it would allow the city to re-interpret but implement the ‘Taylor Street Pedestrian Paseo’, and create a more connected pedestrian neighborhood. However, this infrastructure improvement needs to be led by the Streets Department with the assistance of CEDD, and cannot be developer led.

Alta Fillmore property & Polk:

The natural alignment for Polk from 7th Ave to 4th Ave falls directly in the path of the proposed Alta Fillmore development by Wood Partners. This would take away around 22K Sqft of privately owned property and likely make 18K Sqft unbuild-able without further acquisitions. I do not suspect the city is willing to pay outright for this piece of property, however if this new Polk alignment was created as part of the Taylor Paseo then there are some automatic negotiating options.

“Sites that are required to dedicate and construct the Taylor Street Paseo shall have no maximum lot coverage, maximum density requirements or required minimum open space.” Section 1221 E. (see diagram)

Taylor Paseo

While the Paseo is slated to run a couple hundred feet south of this area, the Polk alignment is a straighter path overall, and therefore better meets the intent of a downtown pedestrian corridor.

The current density restriction on the Alta Fillmore property is 218 units per acre, yet the Height restrictions are 600’, (the highest in Phoenix). Changing the density maximum on these particular parcels creates a significant potential value increase for the owner when looking out over a 30-60yr time frame.

The current project Wood Partners is building may help stabilize this section of downtown but it is ultimately a tear-down project. They may see these concessions of sufficient value to negotiate a deal with the city, or they may be too far into pre-development to change designs, thus dismissing the idea. Either way it is worth suggesting as it would also temporarily reprieve a fight over demolishing the building at 347 W. 7th, and drastically open up 4th,5th & 6th Avenues to economic activity.

My next post will be about key points for the  RFP.

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

Phoenix Commuter Rail: The Beginning of A Plan

With the Talk Transportation community engagement in full swing I figured it is time to dedicate a full post to Commuter Rail and its importance to Downtown.

Why Commuter Rail is important to Downtown Phoenix:

Downtown Phoenix gets over 85 thousand daily commuters, plus thousands more for sports, concerts, and entertainment events. These individuals all add vibrancy to the core, but their cars limit us from obtaining a walk-able / bike-able urban environment. Downtown Phoenix will always be a commuter destination, and if it is to continue as the hub of commerce, knowledge, and entertainment then we need to add capacity at the same time we are trying to pedestrianize our streets. Light rail is helping to refocus our growth patterns along its route, and new developments will help create options for people who want to live/work in downtown, but this is not enough.
Great cities serve as hubs for transportation networks. Phoenix and Downtown in particular needs to reassert its self as the epicenter of the regions transportation infrastructure network. Phoenix has to do this because the knowledge based economy is dependent upon bringing qualified people together, and for downtown businesses, it is imperative that their employees can get to and from work seamlessly. Therefore, if we are truly looking at ways to reduce our freeway congestion, grow downtown businesses, and create a comfortable safe pedestrian space, than commuter rail is the only high capacity option.

A reasonable plan:

I know many people who agree with the thoughts above, unfortunately the two organizations who should take the lead on commuter rail, ADOT and Valley Metro seem too entrenched in there respective methods ( Highway building and Bus/Light-rail) to look at the third alternative. MAG (Maricopa Association of Governments) has been more forward leaning on the topic conducting the 2010 study that helps to form the base for the suggestions below, but MAG has no way to implement projects.1 ADOT however, is studying Phoenix to Tucson intercity rail options, one of which (the Yellow option) corresponds with Phase 1 of my basic proposal. They are also studying high speed passenger service to California and Nevada as part of the general state rail plan which corresponds with Phase 2 & 3. 2
What is envisioned below is a three layered passenger transportation network, Maricopa Commuter Rail, Inter-city regional rail, and an Inter-Airport transfer service all built upon the current heavy rail freight infrastructure. Because all of these can operate on the same improved track and because the current rail system sits where these connections need to be, the improvement costs are lower and the capacity is higher than many other transportation options. This also creates a shared maintenance and operations burden between multiple stakeholders.

How to start:


Phase 1
MAG’s proposed Southeast alignment runs directly from Downtown past Gateway Airport. Currently Transfers between airports requires a private shuttle van service at around $25. Connecting these airports by train allows Gateway airport and its budget regional airlines to effectively link into the national/international hub and spoke system. This allows Sky Harbor to focus more of its facilities on the economically vital national and international carriers while Gateway grows for budget service and East valley commuter flights. Reliable, baggage friendly, scheduled service is key to making transfers between airports work. While Gateway is currently struggling, it is still geographically positioned to serve as Sky Harbors relief airport over the next 30 years and so it is critical that we plan that infrastructure connection now. While Airport to Airport train service typically only takes place in Tier 1 cities like London and Shanghai, Sky Harbor’s proximity to downtown and the strategic placement of Gateway, Goodyear and Tucson airports if joined effectively could create a robust transportation network for the region.


MAG’s 2010 estimate for the track improvements needed on this Southeast section was $477 Million. This number also includes building 10 stations, which is not necessary because Commuter Rail stations can typically be privately funded or worked into a PPP (Private Public Partnership) thus reducing cost. Nonetheless, globally many large transportation projects actively seek voluntary investments or connection fees from major Airports, Stadium Districts, and Retail complexes, so a capital investment from the airport and other organizations should be expected in any future commuter rail plan, with the goal to provide a sufficient amount to help fund this first section. 3

ADOT’s focus then can be on the Gateway to Tucson corridor and maintenance assistance for the commuter section. The key is that Airport transfers and inter-city trips are not expected to be subsidized rates like normal public transport. A $20-25 fee is potentially very close to covering the maintenance and operational needs for Airport transfers on this line and a trip to Tucson would then be a bit higher.

A proposal by the Airport and Phoenix to investigate the feasibility of such a project, and the initial prospect of some capital would likely be enough to politically bring Tempe, Mesa, Chandler and Gilbert into a realistic conversation about adding commuter rail along the same route. ADOT would then be able to latch on, selecting to extend this corridor to Tucson. The further hope being that Valley Metro joins as the transportation organizer with a proven commuter rail operator (maybe BNSF) in charge of operations and day to day logistics.

Why The South East line First.

The passenger estimate for this route from Queen Creek to Downtown is 6450 boardings a day and MAG’s operation and maintenance estimate was $9 per boarding. There are many flaws to these boarding numbers given that tourists, special events, and potential transfers between airports, light rail, and other lines will add to the counts. Plus none of this takes into account generational or development shifts all likely to favor more passengers. Taking that the Rapid bus service currently costs $6.50 per round trip a $2-2.50 subsidy is reasonable and the $9 is well below the national commuter rail average of $11. Figuring in the unaccounted boardings I listed above, possible profit sharing with station retail/airport transfers, and the reduced maintenance cost due to private stations, very little Federal or local tax assistance may be necessary for this starter section.

For some practical, political, and financial reasons this Southeast commuter line should terminate at the State Capitol with a new private development station. There should be very little added cost for this extra two miles but the increased ridership and political statement is important. Historic Union station can be brought back to serve as both a commuter rail stop for the downtown government district and future regional intercity passenger rail hub incorporating commercial space. Also, a mixed use development/station somewhere between 4th & 7th Streets, possibly incorporated into the ballpark, would serve the sports and business district.


PHX-TUC Airport Connector.

A typical PHX-TUC train would depart from Union station, stop at Sky Harbor to pick up plane transfers and more Tucson passengers. This train would then be a direct to Gateway, making the airport connection and bringing on board more intercity passengers. A stop in Eloy could potentially serve Casa Grande before Downtown Tucson and then Tucson Airport. The ‘local’ commuter line and freight lines can then run on the improved tracks behind this service.

Phase 2

The next phase should be the Yuma line (Airport to Buckeye). Once again there are benefits to the Airport due to a possible connection with Goodyear Airport. While it is not used for passenger service at this time it has the potential as a west valley provider in the next 30 years. However, the major use I see for Goodyear Airport is in freight and cargo. It has one of the longest runways in the southwest, currently sits in the growing west valley warehouse transfer area and is close to the potential I-11 corridor (not that I like it). It is an asset with huge economic and employment potential and connecting it into the transportation network is essential to regional economic growth.

The Yuma line also runs less than 2 miles south of the proposed I-10 light rail extension. If a solid alternative was presented there may be political room to stop the I-10 extension boondoggle. I am a huge light rail supporter but building light rail ( a system designed for street activation) down the middle of an interstate for commuter traffic is a disastrous mistake for the system. Especially when we have heavy rail tracks so close. If $400 million of the $1.1 billion dollars slated for the I-10 west extension was used to create a commuter rail option; which is MAG’s estimate for this section, the other $700 million could go to the South Central light rail extension which is a far more suited light rail line (this also keeps the money in the same district). The Yuma line would also effectively replace the I-10 rapid bus service so while MAG shows this as a low boarding route it is the cheapest to build and has future potential.

The East terminus for this line should be Sky Harbor which will also help with boardings and create a future direct airport transfer to Goodyear. This would require sidings and double tracks through downtown (and I hope a 50 year plan to bring the downtown section below grade). This is the only way I can see preventing a terrible mistake with light rail, and building a solid transportation network.
The flaw with MAG’s projection for this segment is in extending the line past Goodyear airport. The far west valley boardings are not sufficient enough to justify the maintenance and operations costs at this time. It is obvious that the study was trying to include all possible MAG members in the proposal, but any real project would have to be far more reasonable about costs/boardings.

Phase 3

One of MAG’s suggestions is for BNSF to be the system operator. If this was implemented then Phase 3 should be The Grand Ave commuter rail service. This line has the second greatest passenger potential and the tracks are BNSF owned. Unfortunately it is also the most expensive to implement, but between BNSF, Phoenix, Glendale, Peoria, Surprise, and the possibility of Federal support for a Las Vegas to Phoenix intercity line, adding this portion into an already operating commuter rail system becomes more feasible. Many of these NorthWest cities already understand the economic growth potential of commuter rail and have been pushing for leadership and movement on the issue. (see compass study) 4

What does it mean for Downtown?

MAG estimates 11290 boardings per day for these three lines. While I think this is a low estimate, and not all of these individuals will disembark in downtown this potentially captures 1 in 8 downtown commuters and could change the way we plan our urban environment. This also allows companies to feel comfortable locating offices and developments within our core because the parking and commute time become diminished obstacles and collaborative knowledge clusters become the draw. This will then allow us to look at our downtown streets more holistically. It is hard to have a political fight between the downtown community wanting slower pedestrianized streets, and commuters who have very few options in trying to get to work every day. There has to be a viable high capacity transit option for downtown commuters or unfortunately our city center will likely continue to be automobile dominated because of the political demands of suburbanites.




3. For examples see. Peterson George, Unlocking Land Values to Finance Urban Infrastructure (Washington D.C. : The World Bank 2009)



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

Comments on the Transit Center Proposal

I was glad to see the preliminary design for the Transit Center proposal released a few weeks ago. Given some of the comments that I’ve seen expressed, and my previous posts about this particular RFP I have decided to make a few early points. There is a lot of information I don’t know about the development constraints and the motives behind the developers decisions. Therefore, I am basing all of my comments below on the information that  has been made public.

First let me express the things I like about the proposal.

  1. A dense residential high-rise in the Central Business District.
  2. $800 studio rentals; of course we don’t know the unit size but they are likely 450-500 Sqft. Given the $82 million development budget this is the low end of what the building needs entry units to perform at, and is competitive with other Downtown rentals.
  3. At 390’ tall this would be the 4th tallest building in the State, and take over 44 Monroe for tallest residential. I think it is good to see some competition amongst developers.

Second, I have concerns with the following items but don’t see it worth holding the project up over.

  1. The building will shade the park in winter. I did two quick models to show what the current proposal would look like on December 31st (See Below). I also looked at moving the building South to Van Buren to show full sun on the main lawn. I am making the assumption that a North/South alignment is out of the question for the developer because of view sheds and direct East/West sun into the units. (Yes, there is a reason many of our buildings are oriented this way.)
  2. I would like to see Polk made back into a through street, at minimum a one way, or at least continue its use for some bus functions.
  3. The bus stops seem to be haphazardly moved in front of the historic Security Building across Van Buren. At best this appears to be an after thought, and at worst a perceived desire to disperse bus riders from the development site.
  4. I have no problem with a public dog park in the location shown, but a building exclusive dog park along Central Ave is not appropriate. This distinction is unclear from the site plan.

Finally, there is the item that concerns me most. The proposal needs to meet the Urban Form Code, and the current design appears to fall short. All references are from The Downtown Code-Chapter 12

  1. The maximum setback on Van Buren is 5 feet. A conservative measurement puts the building at 10 feet. Given the narrow sidewalks at this location this may be a variance worth pursuing.
  2. On Van Buren the building must front 75% of the lot. The site plan does not reflect adequate building frontage along Van Buren.
  3. The maximum setback on Central Ave and 1st Ave is 10 feet. The site plan reflects approximately 40 foot setbacks along each of these major urban streets. Due to these deep setbacks it is hard to argue that the building has any frontage along these streets, let alone the required 75%.
  4. The building does not enhance the major pedestrian corners as it is required to. These are two prime corners that would not be activated.                                                                                                        Enhanced Corner Guidelines. The uses that generate the highest pedestrian traffic should be located on enhanced corners and provide the following: +2

1.A primary entrance that faces both streets and serves the greatest number of occupants. 

2.Additional building articulation that emphasizes the corner and promotes activity. *2 

3.Active uses identified on the Land Use Matrix (Section 1204.D) should occupy the ground floor level. +2

5.   The tower should have a distinctive base. Base guidelines. 

a.All buildings over four stories in height should be designed with a base that is differen-tiated from the remainder of the building in order to relate to the street. The base may be between one and four stories in height, and should be scaled to the immediate context. 

b.The base of a building(s) should be placed parallel, and not at an angle, to the street. 

c.Building form guidelines. 

.(1)  Above 65 feet, tall buildings should not have massing that is boxy, bulky, and elon- gated. 

.(2)  Upper floors should be served by common entrance lobbies that shall be accessed from the Front or Pedestrian Street. 

.(3)  Large floor plates should be articulated to break down the mass of the building, cre- ate “street interest” and enhance skyline character. 

.(4)  Building towers should have a minimum separation of 20 feet. 

.(5)  The reflectivity of windows should be limited to 20 percent. 

.(6)  The uppermost floors of high-rise buildings should be articulated to achieve a dis-tinctive skyline profile. 

 In my opinion, all of these problems stem from the fact that this size of development is not appropriate for an entire city block. Below are some possible fixes.

  1. The tower should shift over from the middle of the property to either directly onto 1st or Central. Especially if it is kept on the Polk side, so that the building has some public street frontage.
  2. The development should only take half a block. Either focusing on the Van Buren side or the Polk side of the lot.
  3. The parking garage would need to possibly go up 2 more stories or underground 2 stories to keep approximate square footage and include street level activation. It is unclear how tall the current proposed parking structure is.
  4. The remainder of the block could be left in tact for continued transit functions or future development projects.

As the DPJ article states, the city is in negotiations with the developer. I hope that some of these issues are being addressed during that process. Below are some possible site massing, and the winter shade analysis pictures.

– Current Site plan 12:30pm December 31st Shade Shade2   – Rotated Site plan 12:30pm December 31st Shade Shade1 Suggestion #1 Van Buren focus Mass1   Suggestion #2 Polk focus Mass2

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

The Phoenix Downtown Comprehensive Transportation Study: perspectives from Columbia and Peru.

After seeing the preliminary plans for Downtown transportation changes, and given my recent trip to Columbia and Peru I decided to highlight a few examples from Bogota and Lima as a perspective. Plus with all the great things happening in Downtown this month, I needed a lazy blog topic….

Closing Central:
As I mentioned in the Transit Center posts from last year, the South and Western extensions to Light Rail will require major changes to how cars and people will get around downtown. The preliminary 10 year plan now seems to limit traffic on Central Ave from Jefferson to Van Buren. For many reasons I think this is short sighted, but I understand that it is the Street Departments reaction to a lack of forethought and future planning. (Intersecting all four directions, 8 tracks  At Grade in Downtown?)

However, should this plan be implemented a configuration similar to that of central Bogota would be a decent guide. With Light Rail, a shared bus / local traffic access lane, a dedicated bike path and a shaded shared space pedestrian design, there may be enough activity and access not to kill the adjacent businesses

IMG_0294nenoseqi-1349752519 IMAG0516

Mediate the 7’s:
I am fully behind the idea of putting large medians down the 7’s in downtown. I posted some of the pictures below while I was gone to illustrate the amazing pedestrian medians in Lima (Miraflores). However, these need to be on both 7’s from Portland to Jefferson and only allow left turns at Van Buren and Jefferson. There should also be future planning to add similar medians to McDowell and Lincoln truly defining the downtown boundaries.
These arterial roads in Lima carry a large amount of traffic and yet personally as a pedestrian walking along or across them I felt comfortable and un-intimidated. These main boulevard streets tend to become a prime real estate location for residential developments. I have very little doubt that had Phoenix implemented similar plans 10 years ago the idea of a gas station at 7th street and Roosevelt would seem as ridiculous to the council as it does to the community. Despite that, there is still enough infill opportunity along these current disasters, that with a little help, good urban development could take place.



Bike lanes:
The simplicity of taking a few basic planters, paint, and maybe add a road diet to create protected bike lanes quickly and cheaply can be illustrated by Bogota’s example. However, (and I know this may be unpopular) whenever not enough space exists both Bogota and Lima continued the lanes onto sidewalks and into shared pedestrian spaces. We have some very wide and underutilized sidewalks downtown, and so continuing bike lanes from roads to sidewalks into shared spaces and back again needs to be an acceptable interim option. The key is continuation of the path.

IMG_0280 IMAG0556


Overall I was happy to see some good ideas in the preliminary downtown transportation study. But seeing that many cities were implementing similar ideas 10 years ago, we need to push our city to be more than just ‘caught up’ by the end of the decade.

2013 Review and Update

The Pin- Adams Street Activation- Taylor Street- The Proposed Interstate 11- Hance Park Re-Development- Urban Gas Stations- Central Station RFP-

Progress is rarely visible in the moment but can only be seen from a long perspective. I moved back to Phoenix after being away for two years and was amazed at the changes that took place. Now looking back on the events and topics I wrote about in 2013, I think that progress has continued. Thank you for letting me add my opinions and suggestions to the great mix of voices in this community. Below is a quick update and some potential 2014 conversations.

 The Pin-

Original Post-

Well, let us hope that the hype around this thing has faded. Very little has been heard from ‘The Pin’ or ‘The Toilet Brush’ or ‘The Water-Tower’ since this spring. Hopefully, with the pre-Superbowl construction window closed, and a new council formed, it will stay only a dream.

Moving the discussion to my semi satirical South Mountain comments. I am enthusiastically supportive of the South-central light rail extension, and I feel that the city’s prioritization of this alignment points to a positive change the transportation mindset. However, the proposed line termination at Baseline instead of the park, needs to be properly addressed. While from a federal funding standpoint the Baseline terminal makes sense, having public transportation access into one of the world largest urban parks makes great social and economic development sense. There is a need for private investment to help fund this missing section, and I hope the city starts looking for proposals over the next two years to accelerate that process.

 Adams Street Activation-

Original Post-

With the Gensler study complete and no pedestrian mall anywhere in sight, I can say that I’m in full support of the proposal.

Also as some of you who where at the Project Rising ( ) preliminary proposal presentation know, my suggestions for the Central and Adams lot has grown by about 16 stories. I look forward to seeing how this project progresses over the next few months. I will update here when appropriate.

 Taylor Street-

Original Post-

The big update on Taylor Street is the Law School. Wether you like how it interacts with the street or not, this is likely what we will get.

There is also a rumor that The Arizona Center maybe making minor changes to it’s Taylor Street entrance. It would be nice if they presented some of their plans to the community so that some suggestions to improve connectivity could be put forth.

 The Proposed Interstate 11-

Original Post-

All of the alignments ADOT is moving forward on include the Hassayampa freeway.

During the October meeting I asked if an overall capacity study was conducted looking at the entire load capacity of the long term regional plan. The answer was ‘No’ they only looked at individual routes in isolation. I also asked how the Hassayampa alignment was conducive to possible intercity rail. I was told ‘It is not.’  No duh… Yet ADOT is still trying to sell this as a multi modal corridor connecting Phoenix and Las Vegas.

I was glad to see this recent set of articles by The Arizona Republic regarding the need to re-think Grand Ave, and am interested to see what suggestions are made by the Compass study.

Hance Park Re-Development-

Original Post-

I need to say very little on this topic. I feel the design team took many of the communities suggestions (which also overlapped with my own) and created an exciting plan for the park. Now my major concern is Funding!!!

Come see the final design

 Urban Gas Stations-

Original Post-

Well!!! What do I say on this one. I applaud the community organizations who joined together in an attempt to force some urban design principals onto the 7th st. and Roosevelt Circle K proposal. I also applaud those organizations and individuals who plan to continue this fight on appeal. I guarantee that Circle K is looking at the other two downtown locations, so we need to make sure that the Urban Form code and organizations are prepared.

 Central Station RFP- Two Parts

Original Posts-

The City issued this RFP on December 24th. It was crafted in such a way as to try and protect the current transit center functions only. While I never expected to change the city’s position on this mater, I do believe the post sparked some discussion, which is always my primary intent. I suspect that the interested party who originally approached the city will likely be chosen, given the extra months they have had to prepare for this short RFP window. However, I look forward to seeing what the end product will be, and I personally hope for Transit oriented housing on a large scale.

Thank you again to everyone who made comments or gave suggestions on any of these posts.

Welcome to 2014 PHX Downtown

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