Here's a picture of the original proposal:
I wonder where the model went?
I have to say that it's kind of hard for me to remember what it was like inside the place when it first opened. I was only 14 in 1990, but used to ride the bus (or bicycle) occasionally downtown from Tempe when I was staying there (I didn't live in Phoenix permanently at the time, just spent summers).
I do remember in like '92 or so there was a few national clothing boutiques in there (seems to me they were all chains like Arden B or something like that), there was a Waldenbooks, there was of course the food court. This stuff all coincided with the development of America West Arena and so Arizona Center sort of became the place to go before and after a Suns game.
I think that's why it so drastically changed over time in that there wasn't enough critical mass (i.e. residents) for mall type stores, but there were plenty of people there for Suns games. Remember that at that time, there wasn't much else in terms of restaurants in DT Phoenix and the city lagged greatly in terms of convention space.
After AWA went up, all the sudden there was competition for even restaurant business, with the opening of Majerle's and a few other places. The mid-90's accelerated this decline with some of the new destinations along Jackson Street (particularly the Jackson's on Third and Cooperstown). At that point, why would somebody park 6 blocks from the arena and go to Hooter's when there were much better restaurants available near the arena?
The opening of the BOB and Collier Center didn't help either.
I do recall that when the movie theater opened, there was much fanfare and AZ Center seemed much busier as a result.
So I don't know if that answered your question at all. When it was built, it was supposed to be THE destination point downtown. But at the time DT Phoenix was perceived as a rather dull and somewhat dangerous place. My guess is that this perception was part of the reason that the place isn't street friendly in any way. The demographic at the time said that people would drive there, park, enjoy the facility, and if they were walking anywhere, they would go SW toward the civic center, symphony hall, or the AWA. Why open the space to the west (parking lots), north (abandoned homes and parking lots), or east (the dilapitated Phoenix Union HS and more parking lots).
In a way, the design makes total sense for what DT Phoenix was at the time. I doubt they ever assumed there would be a 1000 room hotel across 3rd, or massive apartment complexes to the NW and North. Or that the PUHS would be redeveloped into the bio-tech campus.
I'd love to see Three Arizona Center (the office tower) built at some point, along with an apartment building (where the hotel was supposed to be), and then some retail (like a CVS and some neighborhood retail) along the north end of the site with some residential above. I think that AMC could lose 4-6 screens at the theater and re-orient the entry to the west (and open up to ASU). I also think the building along Third St should get re-worked and opened up to the west somehow. You have the whole 2-sided retail problem, but there's got to at least be a way to make it more friendly.
just my .02 for now...maybe I'll think of more later...