If we heard about an area like Downtown Phoenix’s Roosevelt Street developing in another city, we’d be pretty jazzed about the concept.
What’s not to love about an organic arts district and an established historic neighborhood coming into their own, with small businesses, events, community engagement and more taking hold. We could imagine the streetscape, historic buildings, retail opportunities, and increasing number of pedestrians populating the sidewalks.
Naturally, the pièce de résistance of that vibrant, connected, city scene are chic bicyclists safely riding to and from markets, art galleries and cafés.
So, imagine our surprise (quelle surprise! – yes, we think in French when musing about urban bicycling) when we read this online petition posted by Greg Esser of the Roosevelt Row Community Development Corporation.
Could it be that a current street improvement plan excludes bike lanes, on what is one of downtown’s busiest, and one would think, multi-modal oriented thoroughfares?
The petition explains:
Roosevelt Street currently experiences a high volume of bicycle use. Bicycle lanes significantly increase safety for bicyclists, vehicles and pedestrians. Phoenix City Council adopted the Downtown Plan in 2008 which recommends installation of bike lanes along Roosevelt Street between 5th Avenue and 7th Street.
Wouldn’t we, as a community, want to show off the Historic Roosevelt district’s beautiful streetscape to roaming pedal-pushers? And as destinations continue to pop-up in the Evans Churchill Neighborhood, wouldn’t any plans of development include this critical mode of transportation, especially given the proximity of a popular Light Rail station at Central/Roosevelt?
It seems the current answer is “no.” If you want to try and change that, you might want to add your name to the growing list of petitioners.
If you’re confused by the real estate market, don’t worry. It’s changing as fast as the GOP presidential race changes its front runner.
Let’s try and unscramble the very complex real estate market in Downtown Phoenix and quickly contrast that with the national picture you hear about every day.
Phoenix, like any of our great cities, intensifies everything you see in the suburbs into much smaller micro markets that have dramatically different pricing and sales from block to block.
When you turn on the news, the stories won’t reflect your very local market. They are usually national, taken from what’s called “lagging stats,” and often reported quarterly. An average listing can take 60 to 90 days to sell, three months to close, then add another month or two to report the quarter. The news you are hearing is really really old.
Leading stats are rarely reported in anything but a hot market. Active listing prices and pending sales are leading stats, a reasonable, but not guaranteed, measure. Let’s look at some on a valley-wide level.
Michael Orr of ASU reported in The Cromford Report how pending sale prices are rocketing skyward this month in the valley (see right). A leap from an average $82/sf to just over $88/sf is a scary reflection of the heady days of 2005. But this is still macro. How is this affecting Downtown Phoenix?
Let’s take a quick look at condos. A great example of micro market and perception. Portland Place, One Lexington and Summit at Copper Square are three “new” builds, all walkable, with great amenities, and built to excellent standards.
- Summit: six recent sales avg $110/sf, two pending avg $121/sf, two active avg $137/sf.
- Portland Place: four recent sales avg $174/sf, two pending avg $179/sf, two active avg $219/sf.
- One Lexington: six recent sales avg $231/sf, one pending $189/sf, three active $250/sf. (note the pending sample is just one lower level unit)
As you can see, the trend is clearly upward, per Mike Orr’s stats. But the pricing is simply down to perception. One Lexington hasn’t gone through the foreclosures and chaos of the last few years. Portland Place and Summit have.
To sum up, that’s exactly why some areas are still lagging and some are leading, they just went through a harder time than the rest. Think how confident the market is in your subdivision. When your micro market recovers, your home will do the same. Don’t listen to the national news. Listen to the micro market you are buying or selling in and talk to a local realtor to learn more.
About the author
David represents Russ Lyon Sotheby’s international Realty and runs a real estate team, Habitat Urban, that specializes in the major downtown areas of Tempe, Scottsdale and Phoenix. As a Londoner and someone who had never lived in a home younger than 70 years old before moving here, David has a soft spot for Downtown Phoenix and the central corridor. He finds himself in a love affair with both the historic districts and the energy and ambition of the new buildings in this young and vibrant city. Recent Phoenix developments David has represented include Portland Place Condominiums and One Lexington. As a recognized expert in condominium sales, he has appeared on NPR’s “Here and Now,” Fox News Network and as an expert resource for local Phoenix media. He is also partner in DPJ’s Live Here Real Estate section, launched in 2011.
A community conversation was held this morning at the Ro2 Lot, on the northeast corner of 2nd and Roosevelt Streets, to discuss temporary use projects for empty lots in Downtown Phoenix.
Over one hundred people showed up to hear Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton and William McDonough (international sustainability expert and the author of Cradle to Cradle) discuss urban sustainability efforts both locally and internationally, with a particular emphasis on ways in which the City of Phoenix can create incentives for private property owners to participate in temporary lot activation projects.
Stanton noted that as the economy begins to improve, we have “a unique moment in time” to rethink development, to “do it right” and not go back to “the same old same old.” As one way of “doing it right,” he proposed using empty city lots as demonstration projects to show what can be done. Appropriate temporary use projects could include gardens, arts spaces, pocket parks and more.
Mayor Stanton was quick to point out that there is nothing anti-private property about encouraging these projects and that a savvy developer can develop a great deal of good will in the community by allowing appropriate temporary use. He hinted that he will be making an announcement within the next thirty days involving “a big empty lot project.” The where and what remains unknown for now.
Beyond the issue of temporary activation of vacant lots, Stanton addressed the next evolution of transportation in a regional environment and pointed out that all transportation systems need to be supportive of our aging population, and that development along the light rail and walkability are important quality of life factors as we grow older.
He also addressed the role of historic preservation in overall sustainability efforts, mentioning the A.E. England building as a “great demonstration project” of how an historic building can be adapted to new uses, and applauding Michael Levine’s work in restoring the historic warehouses just south of Downtown.
The Lot – What Should Go Here? is a “Phoenix-based community project to help creatively activate and transform one vacant lot at a time into temporary spaces the community can enjoy until they are later developed.” Community partners in this initiative include Roosevelt Row CDC, the ASU Global Institute for Sustainability, Urban Initiatives, Continental Shift, Edge Industries/The Funk Lab, monOrchid , Champion PR + Consulting, and Envirogreen.
We are surrounded by small businesses in Downtown Phoenix, and we know much of Downtown’s success rests on the shoulders of these business owners. As we survey the current economic climate, it is critical to understand the impact a national retailer can have on the health of our local economy. Kimber Lanning, founder and executive director of Local First Arizona, provides insight on the ramifications of the current sales tax impasse between the State of Arizona and Amazon.
Last week at the Arizona State Senate subcommittee hearing Don Isaacson, the lead attorney for Amazon, took the podium to make the case that economies change over time. “We all remember the days of mom and pops,” he said, “and then there were the days of the big box retailers….” I surmise this to be a very honest glimpse into the world vision Amazon holds, but what does it mean for Arizona?
For the moment, let’s forget the fact that there are over 40,000 independent businesses operating in Arizona today, with a payroll of around 21 billion per year, and let’s focus on our state’s economy and what would be left of it if Amazon’s vision becomes reality.
“For every book store or hardware store that closes, one more accountant loses a job, one more web developer loses a client, one more graphic designer loses a project.”
Let’s say Amazon is successful in eliminating 20% of the independent businesses in Arizona. Most people understand the immediate job loss and can easily process the thought of, say, 5,000 people losing their jobs because businesses closed. “Amazon is hiring,” some people will say, and that’s true. So let’s be fair and say Amazon will create 1,000 more jobs over the next couple of years, leaving a net job loss of 4,000. But now, let’s move on to calculate the secondary jobs that were supported by the 20% of now defunct independent businesses. For every book store or hardware store that closes, one more accountant loses a job, one more web developer loses a client, one more graphic designer loses a project. Soon these supporting businesses will close down, because, well, Amazon isn’t hiring them for their services.
Now let’s measure the impact on real estate. How could we put a number or real value on the blight caused by over 8,000 closed up businesses littering our state? With no new start ups looking to rent commercial space, how many building owners would be forced into bankruptcy? What exactly would the world look like if we all decided to buy everything from Amazon? Where would we all work and how would we earn enough money to keep shopping on Amazon?
“With no new start ups looking to rent commercial space, how many building owners would be forced into bankruptcy?”
Given this bleak picture of the world, which may or may not come true, it’s unfathomable that Amazon has convinced so many people that they should not have to collect sales taxes as every other business has in the history of this country. Sales taxes, or transaction taxes, are collected to pay for services we all enjoy like police and fire protection, libraries, neighborhood services, parks, transportation, and additionally, a small percent of sales taxes are dedicated to education. Anyone interested in improving education in Arizona should be screaming for consistent sales tax collection.
The word TAX has become such a political lightening rod that people are not thinking clearly about which tax we are talking about. This is not a corporate tax that causes companies to have to reach into their profits to pay, nor is this a NEW tax. This is the tax that consumers have always paid on their purchases in order to be able to enjoy the services I outlined above. We could revisit our founding fathers’ logic and decide that we all want to opt out of fire protection or any other services provided by the city, county, or state, but it’s a safe bet that most people are not ready to fight their own house fires with garden hoses.
“Anyone interested in improving education in Arizona should be screaming for consistent sales tax collection.”
Recently the Arizona Department of Revenue handed Amazon a bill for $53 million to cover part of the taxes they failed to collect between 2006 and 2010, and there was some public outcry about this being “unfair” to Amazon. Think of this bill as a simple fine for breaking the law. With four distribution centers located here in Arizona totaling over 4 million square feet of space, Amazon is and has been refusing to collect transaction taxes on sales conducted to the people of Arizona.
Every other retailer operating in this state collects these taxes, whether they are on-line or bricks-and-mortar businesses. Order from Walmart on-line and you will pay AZ transaction taxes. Order from Land’s End and you will pay the same taxes because their parent company, Sears, has stores here in Arizona, even though Land’s End does not. They are law-abiding companies doing business here and enjoying a comfortable profit.
I have heard many Amazon defenders claiming that forcing their company to collect sales tax flies in the face of free markets. In reality, allowing one company to be exempt from a law requiring all transactions to include a tax for municipal services is absolutely anti-free markets. I don’t know a single independent business that wants a government hand-out. In fact, most are happy to compete as long as the playing field is level.
“Amazon is and has been refusing to collect transaction taxes on sales conducted to the people of Arizona. Every other retailer operating in this state collects these taxes, whether they are on-line or bricks-and-mortar businesses.”
Amazon will most definitely take Arizona to court over their $53 million bill, not because they feel they have a case, but just to drag the battle on longer. Meanwhile they continue to ignore the tax, which gives them a 9.3% advantage over all other businesses. They may offer the Arizona Department of Revenue a bargain and agree to collect the taxes starting in 2014, which is what they did in California, but in the duration how many other Arizona businesses will be lost?
Arizonan’s are currently the 7th LEAST taxed people in the union. If we fail to pay sales taxes our services will decay rapidly. Already it is estimated that Amazon has failed to collect upwards of $750 million in sales taxes, so let’s not be surprised when we get our next property tax bill and it’s double what we expected. The taxes have to come from somewhere. It’s in our best interest to stick to the agreement we have and pay our sales taxes and to require businesses operating here to collect the exact same taxes.
Senate Bill 1338 is currently moving through our legislature and will close Amazon’s last loophole by specifically requiring businesses with warehouse space OR retail space to collect the same amount of sales tax. This initiative, which supports the very fundamentals that makes capitalism work in this country, is nothing short of the only solution to save jobs in Arizona.
Located just off the light rail tracks, nestled beneath Midtown’s skyscrapers and surrounded by the bustle of the city is a neighborhood where the residents know each other’s names and still get together for holiday block parties.
The Willo neighborhood is Phoenix’s largest historic district, made up of more than 900 houses built from the 1920s through the 1940s in various styles such as Tudor, Spanish Revival, Bungalow and Ranch.
About 24 years ago, a group of residents decided to showcase their unique homes to the public. They created the Willo Home Tour, which has become an annual event featuring about a dozen historic homes.
It attracts around 3,000 people each year and has had visitors from places outside of the Valley such as Tucson and California, says Andrea Katsenes, Volunteer Publicity Committee Chair and seven-year Willo resident.
The funds raised by the tour help support some of the neighborhood’s programs and events, and also contribute to its maintenance efforts. By using the tour’s proceeds to install speed bumps and tend to parks, the Willo district helps save money for the city of Phoenix.
The self-guided tour, which is run by residents on a volunteer basis, is also about bringing the neighborhood together and sharing it with the community, Katsenes says.
“We feel like we own a kind of treasure in Phoenix, a little bit of history,” she says.
This year’s tour will include homes that have not been showcased the previous 23 years. To keep the line-up fresh, residents may only display their home once every few years unless they have made significant changes to it.
The only building that is featured every year is the district’s historic fire station, and it is also the only non-residential building included on the tour.
Katsenes says the longstanding traditions and signature projects such as the home tour are part of what make Willo unique.
“It’s just a real neighborhood feel that you don’t get in a lot of neighborhoods anymore,” she says. “We’re a very close group.”
The tour also includes a street fair each year with live music and local vendors selling food, jewelry, antiques, arts and crafts, and other items.
If you go
Where: Willo Historic District, which is between Thomas and McDowell roads and First and Seventh avenues
Date: Sunday, February 12, 2012
Time: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Tickets: Can be purchased online for $15 or at Walton Park at Third Avenue and Holly Street the day of the event for $18