When Arizona State Route 51 was built, traffic along the 32nd Street Corridor in Phoenix dropped from 50,000 cars a day to 18,000.
While most cities could spend years and years trying to find consensus between the community, businesses, developers and city officials during such stark shifts, programs such as ULI Arizona Technical Assistance Panel (AzTAP) are meant to bring unbiased viewpoints to cities that may need some tough love and guidance.
“I find the process thorough and unbiased,” says Mike Hammond, president and managing shareholder of Cushman & Wakefield | PICOR, who sat through an AzTAP in Tucson. “It’s difficult to get that information when you’re trying to build consensus in a community.”
Returning to the 32nd Corridor, when Councilman Bill Gates was elected, commercial building along that stretch had some of the highest vacancies in the city.
“We reached that point where we said, ’It’d be great to reach some experts,’” Gates says. After securing an AzTAP panel, the corridor received a $5,000 grant. The area is now shifting from an area of emptied retail to one attractive to people. Gates says he had recently met with a developer working on single-family and multifamily builds. More than 100 people attended meetings about the corridor’s growth. Even North 32nd has a Facebook page with 1,200 followers.
In January 2014, a panel of development experts — volunteers who come at their own expense — descended upon the Town of Carefree to strategize and encourage the town to grow responsibly. Melissa Price, then a vice city manager for Carefree and now a councilwoman, was involved in ULI’s Carefree AzTAP.
“The Town (of Carefree) was cautious and town council divided about spending money on any capital investment projects,” says Price. “The mayor would only entertain capital investment if it was a donation or sponsorship.”
Kirsten Brown, owner and broker for Butte Realty and development entity Butte Companies, had previously served on an AzTAP panel for Fountain Hills about a decade before she found a city where she was trying to develop receiving ULI’s advice.
“Carefree is a small town, so they don’t have a ton of development going on, so some of their codes, if you will, just weren’t as current as other cities may be,” Brown explains.
Brown’s company was trying to develop a luxury condo site in Carefree but needed parking codes to be updated in order to accommodate the building’s mixed use purposes.
“That had a big impact on the project’s financial feasibility,” she says. “I feel like that panel had a very significant impact on influencing the town to put some focus on economic development in their town core, what they’re now calling a village.”
“I just think the AzTAP panel gave them the extra confidence,” Brown adds.
In Goodyear, a panel of 11 industry experts, ranging from finance to commercial industries, recommended a 40-point action strategy. Of those suggestions, Goodyear is implementing the expansion of Loop 303, south of Interstate 10, establishing a medical innovation corridor, improving arterial roads along employment corridors, recruiting and expanding employers near Phoenix-Goodyear Airport and seeking private investment for public infrastructure of shovel-ready sites.
Goodyear City Manager Brian Dalke is an advisory board member of ULI Arizona as well as the recipient of an AzTAP.
“The greatest surprise was the very specific, direct feedback from all of the participants on the panel,” says Brian Dalke, Goodyear city manager. “They did not pull punches or communicate in a way that was tailored to a specific audience. Their professional expertise is reflected in each of their comments, which are unabashedly blunt. There wasn’t a minute of their time that we can look back and say, we didn’t need that information. Everything had value to our mission to develop Goodyear moving forward.”
It’s not just the large cities within the Phoenix Metro getting AzTAP attention.
“While 90 percent of ULI’s programming and engagement takes place in the Phoenix Metropolitan region, there is significant involvement by seasoned ULI thought-leaders throughout Arizona via the ULI AzTAP,” says ULI-AZ Executive Director Deb Sydenham. “AzTAP provides communities access to high-level land use and real estate professionals bringing their vast expertise to bear on local land use planning, development and redevelopment challenges.”
Evelyn Casuga, of Central Arizona College and formerly APS, has seen two cities in Pinal County undergo AzTAP programs.
“ It brings expertise there’s no way the smaller communities can afford to have in their backyard,” Casuga says. “The rural communities in Arizona are the diamonds in the rough.”
Eloy and Bisbee are among the Pinal County cities getting “tapped” by ULI-AZ.
“In Eloy, revitalizing and positioning the downtown drove the discussion, in Cochise County the focus centered around rural open spaces impacted by changing development patterns and economic conditions, and in Bisbee, the ULI panel analyzed strengths to leverage in attracting new development, offered insight relative to market potential and identified redevelopment opportunities,” Sydenham says.
“I would encourage all Towns & Cities to take advantage of the opportunity to exchange ideas, information and experiences from these Industry leaders and policy makers who are dedicated to creating and sustaining vibrant and thriving communities,” Price says.
“The more we can shine the resources we already have from a historical or geographic aspects, I think rural Arizona can certainly and has always been an enhancement to Arizona, the brand,” Casuga concludes.