As an independent chronicler of all things downtown, DPJ takes a comprehensive approach to covering the urban living movement in Phoenix and, with this Conversation series, spotlighting the people who make it move.
“What we need next is focus and execution.”
We sat down for coffee recently with Ed Zito, President of Alliance Bank, a locally-owned, Arizona-based bank headquartered in CityScape. A long-time downtown advocate, Zito has been involved in many of the economic development changes over the last thirty years in Phoenix and is a member of the board of Downtown Phoenix, Inc.
He’s been in Phoenix since 1981, when he started his involvement in downtown through his position on the Corporate Contributions Committee of First Interstate Bank. “Sitting on that committee opened my eyes to the array of development challenges we had at the time, and the alignment we needed to meet those challenges,” said Zito.
“The alignment began when the business community took hold and took leadership on the importance of revitalizing downtown,” he continued. “But the business leadership couldn’t do it alone. They needed to align with the public sector, the philanthropic sector and the academic sector to create not just a vision, but a collaborative environment to take Phoenix to the next level, or two or three.”
“…the business leadership couldn’t do it alone. They needed to align with the public sector, the philanthropic sector and the academic sector to create not just a vision, but a collaborative environment to take Phoenix to the next level, or two or three.”
From Zito’s perspective, a specific development that has had tremendous impact on downtown was the coalescing around bioscience and life science that led to the creation of the Translational Genomics Research Institute (better known as TGen). Zito served on Governor Napolitano’s Committee for Innovation and Technology, which grew an ecosystem around TGen and the life and biosciences, and he sees this development as a key step in revitalizing downtown. Coincidentally, the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce just selected TGen to receive a 2014 Economic Driver Impact Award.
He also points to the creation of the sports venues; the collaboration to overhaul the Phoenix Convention Center (“a beacon of the public and private sectors working together”); and CityScape (which represents “downtown coming into its own and flourishing”). These key developments build off the synergy of others. “The light rail, the growth of Local First, the impact of the arts community and thriving daily growth in downtown…it’s all part of the central nervous system.”
Alliance Bank was a key player in making CityScape a reality. “Alliance is only 11 years old,” said Zito, “but we made the $40 million loan for this entire block in the middle of the Great Recession. We closed that loan for RED Development on December 28, 2009…really the trough of the recession.”
For Zito, the key to long term vitality in downtown is the ongoing nurturing of the public/private partnerships that have brought us this far. Alliance is the largest, locally-owned bank in Arizona and he believes that “it’s in our DNA to be part and parcel of economic development. We understand that growing the pie is in everyone’s interest.”
He’s very proud of the fact that Alliance Bank is locally owned. “We believe in putting our money where our mouth is,” added Zito. “It resonates from our CEO, Robert Sarver, all the way down. We have an ‘investing forward’ mentality in our organization that is very powerful. One of the things we’re focused on is passing on that DNA deeper into the organization and the next generation of leaders.”
“We have a great mix of talent on the (DPI) board. What we need next is focus and execution.”
When asked what he believes are the most significant lessons we’ve learned in downtown over the last 20 years, he said, “Lesson one is think big, leadership counts, and the alignment that comes from that can be really powerful.”
The last twenty years or so have seen tremendous progress in the development of this alignment among all of the key stakeholders, but, for Zito the biggest challenge ahead is capital needs. “We continue to be blessed with great leadership in all of the sectors (public, private, philanthropic, academic). It’s very encouraging, because these are the four pillars that support continued growth and development, but it is critical that we meet the capital requirements to do the next generation of bold and audacious things.”
Zito sees the creation of Downtown Phoenix, Inc. as inspirational. “DPI gives us the ability to really take it to the next level. We have a great mix of talent on the board. What we need next is focus and execution. We need to agree on our needs in downtown. For example, if we agree that it’s more residential development, then let’s focus on that and execute it really, really well. Make the process diverse, accessible, inclusive and user-friendly. If we do it well, the leverage you get out of it is phenomenal.”
“We’ve spent too long as a real estate-centric economic story, and now we’re much more multi-faceted and diverse.”
What Zito brings to the DPI board is history and perspective, business acumen, and financial reality. “I’m a collaborator,” he said. “I can convene, but I’d rather coalesce with other leadership. The vision, time and talent of other board members, such as Mike Ebert and Don Brandt is unquestioned, but you mix that with a Kimber Lanning of Local First, add in the arts community, and the public sector piece with the Mayor and Ed Zuercher, the City Manager, and it becomes electric.”
Zito sees DPI as the next phase of the alignment and collaboration that downtown needs. “From the get go,” he says, “DPI has made a clear statement of inclusion and has been very effective at getting everyone to the table to take the city to the next level. There’s a stronger pulse and heart beat. We’ve spent too long as a real estate-centric economic story, and now we’re much more multi-faceted and diverse.”
In his free time, Zito enjoys visiting the Phoenix Art Museum and he follows a particular sports team (hint, hint…the Suns). He feels that there is a certain energy and spirit of hope that is created with the public when their sports teams are doing well. As he puts it, “a lot of hope and inspiration is part of what creates a successful urban environment. Our best days lie ahead.”
As an independent chronicler of all things downtown, DPJ takes a comprehensive approach to covering the urban living movement in Phoenix and, with this Conversation series, spotlighting the people who make it move.
“We need to do a better job of leveraging it all.”
Jeri Jones is a relatively recent transplant to Phoenix. After 20 years in Denver, Jones moved to Phoenix as the CEO for employer and individual business (the commercial and business program) for UnitedHealth Group only two years ago. She came to town just as the company was consolidating its workforce from five locations to two, including the main location at CityScape in downtown Phoenix. Still based in Phoenix, she moved into a new regional position with UnitedHealth to run their Medicaid program across the West about six months ago.
The consolidation made UnitedHealth one of the largest employers in downtown. Jones mentioned that initially the employees were not sure about the move. “People were a little nervous about moving downtown,” she said. “It took a little bit to win the hearts and minds of our team that it was going to be a good move, and a lot of fun.” To make the transition easier, UnitedHealth worked with local businesses to engage employees through activities like scavenger hunts that helped familiarize them with downtown. “Now that it’s been a year and a half,” said Jones, “everyone loves it.”
“We need to give people more options for living downtown; options that appeal to a broad spectrum of people.”
She values the impact that changes to downtown have had, including the building of the stadiums, the growth of downtown restaurants and businesses, CityScape and the building of the light rail. During her time in Denver, she watched that city go through many of the changes Phoenix is experiencing now. “I watched the same thing happen in Denver,” she said. “Before the light rail you would go downtown and there would be very few people on the street. Then came the light rail, which made it so easy to go downtown, to go to events.”
From Jones’ perspective, downtown now needs to go to the next level. “We need to give people more options for living downtown; options that appeal to a broad spectrum of people. We need to continue to combine residential with park-type areas. If people are going to live downtown, they need more green areas, places to be where they don’t have to feel like they are in a concrete jungle,” she said. “I feel like we are still in a little bit of a concrete jungle.”
In addition to building more residential options, and making sure there is green space, Jones believes that the key is to continue getting the word out about what is going on downtown, about what is available to see and do. “We need to do a better job of leveraging it all,” she said. “We need to be better at getting people downtown. We (UnitedHealth) do a lot of events in the evening and try to keep people down here. And with out-of-town visitors we encourage them to stay downtown, to get out and discover downtown restaurants.”
“Getting a cross segment of businesses involved in changing a city is the fastest way to do it, as opposed to just the city.”
Jones serves on the board of Downtown Phoenix Inc. and sees DPI as significant for the future of downtown because of the cross section of businesses, public sector and community leaders involved. “Getting a cross segment of businesses involved in changing a city is the fastest way to do it, as opposed to just the city. It seems like some of the previous attempts by different groups with different visions got a lot accomplished, but I am hopeful that having the umbrella of DPI over it all, bringing more diversity to the process, will make a difference.”
She singled out Dave Krietor, CEO of DPI, for his outstanding work bringing people together. “We have a lot of work to do and we have a great group of people. I love how Krietor is bringing all the different aspects of the neighborhood together. Sometimes I feel we’re not moving fast enough.”
As a resident of North Central Phoenix, Jones feels connected to downtown both through her work and her leisure activities. She enjoys the theater, eating out, concerts, and shopping downtown, and was almost tempted to strap on skates at the temporary CityScape ice rink this winter.
As to her role on the DPI board in particular, she says, “Hopefully, my role is to provide a different view because I didn’t grow up in it. Plus, coming from Denver and bringing a sense of what I witnessed there. Also, as one of the largest employers in downtown it’s important that we continue to get our employees more involved in downtown.”
It is clear that she has both a personal and a professional passion for downtown, and for what a vibrant urban core can mean to a city.
If you want room service, go to a hotel. Or, if you’re planning on moving in to the soon-to-be completed CityScape Residences in downtown Phoenix, you can just go home.
Sitting atop the 10-story Hotel Palomar, residents at the apartment complex can indulge in all of the luxuries of a hotel, from room service to valet parking, from the comforts of their own high-rise home.
And if that weren’t enough to attract the perk-loving person in all of us, expansive views of the city in every direction will impress Phoenicians who have been dreaming of a more urban lifestyle in their own backyard. Preleasing tours for the apartments, which will include studio, 1, 2 and 3 bedroom floor plans, are taking place now, with the first residents expected to move in on February 1.
Located on Central Avenue and Jefferson Street, the apartments are the final piece of the total CityScape project, which began construction in 2005 by RED Development in partnership with the City of Phoenix.
“Through our in-depth understanding of the Phoenix market, RED Development, the City of Phoenix, and our financial partners, saw the former two surface lots and an uninviting, seldom-used public park as an opportunity to contribute to and reenergize the core of downtown Phoenix with a mixed use project that is now today’s CityScape,” said Stephanie Whitlow, director of marketing and communications for RED Development, LLC.
“Once the apartments are completed this year, we will wrap up all project phases of CityScape.”
“RED Development and our partners, Alliance Residential, felt demand was strong in downtown Phoenix for new luxury, high-rise options, and at CityScape the residential component rounds out the project as not only a work-and-play destination, but one that offers city living with upscale amenities and incredible views,” she said.
Although certain floors will be completed by the initial February 1 move-in date, the remainder of the apartments will not be fully completed until April this year.
Laura Rubeck, senior business manager for Alliance Residential Company, which is handling the leasing aspect of the CityScape Residences, said the apartments would provide an “everything at your fingertips” living experience.
“The thing that really make this project unique is the ability to take advantage of hotel amenities while being part of an apartment complex,” she said.
“We have our own individual amenities, including a 24-hour pool and a fitness center, but we also partner with the hotel and with CityScape businesses to offer our residents even more,” she said, including a partnership with Gold’s Gym and nearby dry cleaning services for residents.
The units will begin leasing at $1,027 for a studio, with 1 and 2 bedrooms starting at $1,200 and $2,100, respectively.
The underground CityScape parking structure will serve as the resident parking garage, even as downtown dwellers inch ever closer to an entirely walkable city.
Images courtesy of RED Development
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CITY AND COUNTY STREAMLINE DEVELOPMENT PERMITTING SERVICES WITH CO-LOCATION
The Phoenix City Council and Maricopa County Board of Supervisors approved an agreement to streamline the development process by opening a Maricopa County Service Counter within City Hall. The counter will be located at Phoenix City Hall, 200 W. Washington St., second floor.
In addition to existing permitting services in the city’s Planning & Development Department, the services will now include Maricopa County Environmental Services (MCESD) and Air Quality (MCAQD) departments permitting functions.
“Phoenix and Maricopa County are stronger when we work together,” said Mayor Greg Stanton. “This is a great example of creative thinking focused on eliminating red tape and difficulties for business owners.”
“By co-locating county permitting functions at the city of Phoenix we create a seamless process – and a one-stop-shop – for those looking to develop in our city,” said Vice Mayor Bill Gates, chairman of the Finance, Efficiency and Economy Subcommittee. “There is not a finish line when it comes to innovations and efficiencies such as this. We will continue to look for additional ways to streamline processes and provide better customer service to encourage development in our city.”
Board chairman Andy Kunasek, praised the effort. “Phoenix City Council members Tom Simplot and Bill Gates were instrumental in putting this together,” he said. “And our staffs worked hard to make this happen. I hope this can be one of many partnerships between the county and Phoenix and other cities,” Kunasek added.
Craig DeMarco, founding partner of Upward Projects including Postino, Windsor and Federal Pizza, agreed. “When Phoenix and Maricopa County work together to streamline the process, it gives us more time and energy to focus on operating great restaurants,” DeMarco said. “We fully support this objective.”
“This long overdue partnership is possible because of the common sense, vision and commitment of County Supervisor Andy Kunasek and County Manager Tom Manos,” said Councilman Tom Simplot. “It will save a few steps for new businesses and improve communication and consistency along the way.”
“Business owners will now be able to get their permitting in one place – a ‘one-stop’ shop,” said Councilman Sal DiCiccio. “It only makes sense to find ways to accommodate small business owners so they can save time and money and focus on creating jobs.”
As part of the development process, customers of the city’s Planning & Development Department are required to get permits from MCESD and MCAQD for projects such as restaurants, special events, septic tanks and dust control. This improvement will now allow owners to more efficiently pick up their permits.
“It’s always good when we can make doing business with government easier and more sensible for businesses and residents,” commented County Manager Tom Manos. “This will probably reduce the number of trips to government offices for those seeking permits.”
The counter is scheduled to open for business February 2014 during city business hours from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Images courtesy of City of Phoenix
Last week DPJ provided a step-by-step overview of the process behind the choice of Roosevelt Housing Associates (RHA) “The Row” proposal for developing the property along 2nd Street north of Roosevelt that also includes the historic Leighton G. Knipe House. City staff has requested that the Downtown, Aviation and Redevelopment Subcommittee recommend City Council authorization to enter into a development agreement with RHA.
There was some initial community concern raised regarding aspects of “The Row” proposal, so staff’s initial recommendation to approve was withdrawn from the Subcommittee’s November 6 meeting agenda.
As stated in an updated report submitted to the Subcommittee, this gave both city staff and RHA time to meet with representatives from the community to gain input and answer questions about the project. In the past month, they met with community groups, including the Downtown Voices Coalition, Evans Churchill Community Association, and Garfield Organization. Additional meetings were held with the leadership from Roosevelt Action Association, Roosevelt Row Community Development Corporation, and the Roosevelt Row Merchants Association. The City also responded to and offered to meet with individuals who contacted the City directly regarding the proposed development.
Following a dialogue with City staff and RHA at their neighborhood meeting, the Evans Churchill Community Association drafted a letter of support for the project, stating, “In a neighborhood that is both vibrant and in transition, such as Evans Churchill, careful consideration is needed to prepare a development that contributes to the community in a meaningful way, is financially sound, and can be successfully accomplished. The Roosevelt Housing Associates proposal meets those objectives. We look forward to engaging with the developer to ensure their project brings maximum benefits to our neighborhood and the surrounding downtown community.”
Based on the feedback, RHA agreed to make several changes to their proposal to enhance its appeal to the community and help integrate the project successfully into the existing neighborhood. The changes include:
1) develop approximately 15-20 percent of the units as market rate, with no age or income restrictions, creating a diverse, mixed income project;
2) require all tenants to sign an affidavit acknowledging they are moving into a vibrant arts district;
3) develop the street-level units as live-work artist studios;
4) actively market the project to artists; and
5) dedicate a portion of the common area space for local artists to prominently display their works.
Pending City Council authorization, City staff and Roosevelt Housing Associates will continue to work with neighborhood groups throughout the design process.
Event Parking Concerns
Another pressing concern for the community surrounding the proposed development was the need to develop additional public parking solutions to support the increasing number of events and other activities in the area. To ameliorate this concern, City staff have made a recommendation that the net proceeds from the sale of the property be applied to the planning and development of a district parking solution for the Evans Churchill/Roosevelt Row area, east of Central Avenue and north of Roosevelt Street. City staff will work with the community, property owners, business owners and stakeholders in the coming months to evaluate and develop options, and will return to the Subcommittee early next year with specific recommendations to address the parking issue.
The Downtown, Aviation and Redevelopment Subcommittee will meet again on Wednesday, December 4, to review the changes to the proposal and make a recommendation to the whole council to proceed with negotiations with RHA on the development of the proposal. The meeting is open to the public.
If You Go
What: Phoenix City Council Meeting of Downtown, Aviation and Development Subcommittee
Where: Phoenix City Hall, 1st Floor Atrium, Assembly Rooms A, B, & C, 200 West Washington Street
When: Wednesday, December 4, 9:30 a.m.