Tag Archives: Downtown Phoenix



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.


1. https://www.azmag.gov/Projects/Project.asp?CMSID=1076

2. https://www.azdot.gov/planning/CurrentStudies/PassengerRail

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