Posted: Jul 8, 2012, 7:33 PM
Join Date: Dec 2010
Location: Encanto Palmcroft, Phoenix
Ambitious Southeast Valley projects KO'd by recession
If the Great Recession had been averted, what might the Southeast Valley look like today?
A Mesa resident could be waking up in his 19th-floor Fiesta Towers penthouse condo, and glancing across to a neighbor in an adjacent luxury building.
Families could escape from the heat this weekend with a visit to Waveyard, an elaborate water park that once promised scuba diving and snorkeling in the middle of the desert.
Families attending graduation ceremonies at Arizona State University might have their pick of luxury hotels to stay at along Mill Avenue.
And, in place of dirt lots around Gilbert and Chandler, there likely would be dozens of mixed-use developments and mid-rise office condos.
Instead, a stalled market, developer bankruptcies and crippled lenders put an end to -- or delayed or significantly scaled back -- these and many other ambitious developments the past five years. Here is a look at what might have been around the Southeast Valley.
Original plan: Elevation Chandler was to be a mix of luxury condos and hotel rooms at the south interchange of Loops 101 and 202, the missing puzzle piece that would complement the nearby Chandler Fashion Center, Hilton hotel and Price Corridor. Instead, the developer lost financing to complete the building in 2006, and a botched trustee's sale resulted in a legal battle over ownership that was resolved this spring. For years, the project became an eyesore for Chandler residents and a headache for city officials who could do nothing to intervene.
What exists of original plan today: The skeletal frame of the partially -constructed building remains at the 10-acre site. In May, the Arizona Supreme Court awarded ownership of Elevation Chandler to the investors of Point Center Financial, the project's lender, clearing it to be sold.
Original plan: The 18-acre mixed-use project at the southeastern corner of Frye Road and Ellis Street, east of Chandler Fashion Center, was to include a high-end hotel, restaurants and retail space.
What exists of original plan today: Empty lot. The development was partially constructed in 2008, but torn down later. The city kept water lines, power lines and other infrastructure in place for future developers.
Cooley Center at Cooley Station
Original plan: Plans in 2008 had Cooley Center as the heart of Cooley Station, itself a 1,000-acre master-planned, mixed-use development in the Higley area. The 125-acre Cooley Center would have hotels, offices, residential space, retail, grocery, recreation and a "Cineplex," at Recker and Williams Field roads.
What exists of original plan today: Nothing of the center, although construction on homes in Cooley Station continues.
Original plan: Nationwide Realty Investors, which owns the Gainey Ranch Corporate Center in Scottsdale, planned to build as much as 5 million square feet of office and retail space on 250 acres near Gilbert Road and Santan Freeway. The site also was to have two hotels and a residential community.
"We see this as a sustainable development that will provide attractive employment to the nearby workforce and really enhance quality of life by minimizing commute times," Chris Thompson, Nationwide director of real-estate equities, told The Republic in 2009.
Developers noted that the finished project could take as long as 15 years, depending on market conditions.
What exists of original plan today: Nothing, yet.
"Even during the slowdown there still has been activity on these properties," said Kyle Merias,CQ planning manager for Gilbert. "We've had constant communication. It's not like everything just stopped and went away. It's just that nothing moved on to the construction phase."
Original plan: The vision for Gilbert's Heritage Marketplace included five buildings for 90,000 square feet of office, retail and residential space. Town officials had estimated that the project would bring as many as 350 jobs and $15 million in annual payroll to the Heritage District. As part of the agreement, Gilbert was obligated to pay $7.6 million to build a 365-space parking garage.
What exists of original plan today: Nothing. The developer's plans stalled, so the town never constructed the parking garage. However, in the past year, an art walk, farmers market, some surface parking lots and Postino's East restaurant -- unrelated to the original plans for Heritage Marketplace -- have cropped up in that area.
Fiesta Towers/Fiesta Lofts/Aquaterra
Original plan: In 2005, a Chicago developer pitched to Mesa officials Fiesta Towers, four high-rise condominium buildings at Westwood and Grove avenues that would have a luxury hotel and units ranging from $189,900 studios to $632,900 three-bedroom suites. The upscale towers would reinvigorate the Fiesta District, attracting young professionals and empty-nesters with gobs of disposable income.
The ambitious project started with two 19-story and two 10-story buildings, then shrunk to Fiesta Lofts. It was downsized even more to become Aquaterra, a complex of 332 condominium units and a 128-room Aloft hotel. Finally, the project shrank to become senior housing, before disappearing completely.
What exists of original plan today: Nothing.
I can't imagine anyone ever paying $650k to live in Mesa's Fiesta District.
Gaylord resort and conference center
Original plan: Original plans for the elaborate $800 million resort and conference center in southeast Mesa, approved by voters in 2009, called for the Gaylord to be operating by the end of 2014. The resort would be the largest in the state, including convention space, a championship 18-hole golf course, restaurants, retail shops and entertainment. City officials also hoped the resort would transform the Gateway area into a destination for conventions and groups.
What exists of original plan today: Nothing. In May, Nashville-based Gaylord Entertainment Inc. sold the Gaylord Hotels brand to Marriott International Inc. for $210 million. Company officials did not say whether it would put an end to the Mesa resort plans, which remain in limbo. Mesa had approved a three-year extension of the original Dec. 31, 2011, deadline for groundbreaking.
Original plan: In 2006, when Scottsdale-based Waveyard Development announced it wanted to build a $250 million adventure sports park and resort, Mesa and Surprise jumped in line. The developer chose Mesa, and the city's voters overwhelmingly approved the project in 2007.
Waveyard was to open in January 2010 and promised an elaborate water park, including whitewater rafting, surfing and scuba diving. However, the developer could not obtain financing, and not even a deadline extension granted by the city could save it.
What exists of original plan today: Nothing. Mesa retains ownership of the Riverview Golf Course and four nearby ball fields, the land on which Waveyard would have been built.
Original plan: In 2006, construction in Tempe began on what was planned to be one 22-story tower and three 30-story towers near Mill Avenue and Sixth Street, with units starting at $250,000.
Given the situation Tempe was pretty fortunate it got the two towers.
"It'll be on par with Miami's South Beach in the next 10 years," said Ken Losch of developer Avenue Communities in 2006.
The luxury buildings would be the tallest in Tempe, and city officials hoped they would attract the type of residents who would stimulate business and nightlife along Mill Avenue.
What exists of original plan today: The developer filed for bankruptcy in 2008, leaving the project in limbo with the second tower halfway finished. The unfinished condos finally were converted to West 6th Tempe luxury apartments last year. The apartments were marketed to college students, professionals and retirees, and more than 250 residents have since moved in.
Original plan: In 2006, the Tempe City Council approved plans to transform the 1960s-era brick buildings of Arches Plaza into University Square, a $500 million megaplex that would span a city block near University Drive and Forest Avenue. The project's original plans included a high-rise Westin hotel, office and retail space and condominiums, all part of a larger hope to inject new life into the Mill Avenue District and jump-start similar luxury hotel developments.
What exists of original plan today: Nothing. The project went into foreclosure, and the building gradually deteriorated. Sundt Companies purchased it in 2010 for $10.13 million.
Republic reporters Parker Leavitt, Dianna M. Náñez, Gary Nelson, Luci Scott and Jim Walsh contributed to this article.
Overall most of the cancelled developmends aren't a big loss from an urbanist's point of view.