Since its inception in 1987, Valley Partnership’s mission to advocate for responsible development has remained the same, but its strategies, platforms and effectiveness have evolved alongside the organization over time.
For the last 30 years, Valley Partnership and its members have worked to engage and collaborate with Arizona’s cities, public and elected officials on strategies to establish public policies that advance the interests of the commercial, industrial and master-planned real estate development industries at all levels of government by creating strategic alliances, public/private partnerships, forums for educational discussions and cooperation within the industry.
“It’s not something that happened over night,” says Rick Hearn, current vice president of leasing at Vestar and former Valley Partnership chairman in 2012. “It’s taken those three decades with obvious ups and downs through the process.”
Having weathered two major economic recessions when so many companies in the development community were forced to close their doors, Valley Partnership’s resiliency and evolution is a testament to its role as a trusted industry resource and partner as it continues to cultivate its relationships with cities, public and elected officials and the development community.
30 years of bridging the gap
Founded in 1987, Valley Partnership was created out of demand, necessity and the forward thinking of five founding members: Grady Gammage Jr. from Gammage & Burnham, John Graham from Sunbelt Holdings, Ron Haarer from Westes Homes, Lee Hanley from Vestar and Paul Johnson, the former Mayor of Phoenix.
“When Valley Partnership started it was about how do we work out a more cooperative arrangement between the real estate community and public side of regulation,” says Gammage.
It was a time when the development community wasn’t too popular in Arizona. In fact, during the recession of the late ’80s, the atmosphere and culture around commercial real estate develop was at a major low. People felt like developers were coming in and not taking into consideration the well-being of its communities and citizens, says Johnson.
There was an overall disconnect between the private and public sectors regarding new developments compounded by a general lack of awareness and understanding around the potential economic development benefits.
On top of that, Gammage says, “There was a further problem with the fragmentation of the development community between residential developers, retail shopping center developers and office and industrial developers.”
While each had a national association representing it, Valley Partnership became the umbrella organization where all the parts of the development community came together under a powerbase of informed individuals and constituency members centric to the state of Arizona.
“From 1987 going forward,” Hearn says, “there was a concerted effort to figure out ways to grow the collaborative spirt by sitting down with legislatures, community leaders, planners and developers.”
That first took shape as part of a regular process where Valley Partnership’s leaders routinely met with groups, associations, public and elected officials, residents and stakeholders to talk about issues such as infrastructure, infill development, skilled labor shortage and all sectors of commercial development.
Gammage says, “The really important insight that the original founders of Valley Partnership had was that if you can create an organization where both the development community and the cities were actually at the same table in a meeting or committee meeting to work on issues, you’d be much more likely to find common ground.”
Over the years, Valley Partnership, its leaders and membership identified the best way to effectively communicate the benefits of commercial development is by showing residents and businesses the potential benefits it can have on them.
By educating opponents to a project on the economic development advantages connected to it such as sales tax revenue, employment opportunities and synergistic development opportunities, it gives them evidence as to why it’s worth supporting.
“There needs to be an education process that gets everyone thinking about the bigger issue and what we can do to solve it,” explains Johnson. “It takes the architect, engineer, developer, land owner, site selector, neighborhoods, everyone to fully grasp the complexity of the issues.”
For example, “There was a period of time when people believed the single most important thing we needed to do was keep low density,” adds Johnson. “Overtime that’s changing, people are beginning to recognize the benefits of density.”
Today, the latest buzz is around infill developments, mixed-use projects and market demands for higher densities in urban cores.
“There are all types of ways to bridge those gaps but the beginning of it is communication,” says Johnson.
To facilitate that communication, Valley Partnership hosts a multitude of educational forums, committees and programs throughout the year to help spread awareness and understanding and bridge the gap between the private and public sides of the development debate.
New and improved focus
“One of the evolutions that happened at Valley Partnership is its presence at the State Legislature,” says Gammage. “Since the last downturn, there’s been a shift in the dialogue at Valley Partnership where it is more plugged into the economic development side of things than just the regulatory side.”
Early on the focus was on cities and changes to things like zoning regulation, ordinances and review codes.
“In the last few years, the people at Valley Partnership have realized that the way the development community and cities relate to each other doesn’t just have to be about regulation,” explains Gammage. “It can also be about how do we use the power of government to encourage economic development.”
That conversation is one of many taking place every month at Valley Partnership’s Friday Morning Breakfasts, which draws sellout crowds in the hundreds and special guest speakers the likes of congressmen, state senators, city officials, mayors, community leaders and industry experts.
Gammage says, “It’s not just that you’re there with members of your industry networking for business, you’re also there to learn about what changes are coming down the pike and you wind up talking to other people in the industry about what’s going on in the program that morning.”
Each breakfast is given a theme with a specific predetermined topic or issue to focus on such as development of tribal lands, selling of state lands, emerging development trends, projects and issues like water, energy and the impact of new innovations.
Last year in August, U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake spoke at the monthly breakfast about Arizona’s industrial and manufacturing sector. The next month, former U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl spoke to members followed by U.S. Sen. John McCain in October to name a few of last year’s special guests.
“When you’ve got state senators, the governor, legislature, all wanting to speak to our audience,” Hearn says, “that’s when you know that you’ve created that collaborative spirit and culture.”
Johnson adds, “Over the years, Valley Partnership played a role over and over again in bridging the gap. The role they play is very important if we are going to continue this type of growth, and do it in a way that is the most cost effective for the public while protecting and building on our inner city areas.”
Today, Valley Partnership’s conversations with its members, cities, public and elected officials focuses on how to best position Metro Phoenix to compete with other metro areas outside of Arizona.
Hearn says, “The Valley of the Sun is a term coined years ago and its one that doesn’t single out one community because of that, no matter where you are in Arizona, you have an equal seat at Valley Partnership’s table. It’s not based on per capita size.”