Light rail, job nodes critical to Valley’s future, says SunCor’s Steve Betts

Posted By Mike Padgett

Nov. 25, 2008

In four weeks, metro Phoenix will be headed back to the future with an electric public transit system called Metro. It is a modern version of the electric trolleys shut down by the city of Phoenix in 1948, and officials at SunCor Development Co. are betting that that the new version of electrified mass transit will play a significant role in the Valley’s future.

The Metro light rail line, reaching from northwest Phoenix to Tempe and Mesa, has 28 stops. One of the stops is less than two blocks west of Hayden Ferry Lakeside, SunCor’s 2.2-million-square-foot mixed-use development at Mill Avenue and Rio Salado Parkway in Tempe.

Rising fuel costs, frustration at commute times and an increasing interest in central city living will help boost Metro’s popularity.

“I think what we’re going to find is that the (light rail) ridership is going to vastly exceed expectations,” says SunCor President and CEO Steve Betts.

Arizona State University students are expected to use the Metro between the Tempe and downtown Phoenix campuses, as well as tourists and residents interested in reducing their commuting costs. Betts believes the system will attract “urbanites who have decided to live along the light rail and use it as their basic means of transportation to and from their jobs and to and from where they want to get to for their live, work and play (activities).”

He says the light rail station became a bonus to Hayden Ferry Lakeside’s office tenants and condo buyers, who were attracted to the development’s original amenities. Those include new office and residential buildings on the south bank of Tempe Town Lake, the proximity to three freeways, and the energy of Mill Avenue and ASU.

“The fact that we have a transit station a block and a half behind us was a big driver to their (tenants and residents) locating here,” Betts says.

The first condo building at Hayden Ferry Lakeside was opened two years ago. Sales in the second building, called Bridgeview, began last February. So far, in a market when condo sales are down, 40 of Bridgeview’s 104 units have been sold. Betts attributes that rate of sales partly to the development’s access to light rail.

“For us, for SunCor with our Hayden Ferry Lakeside project, we really see it as a real economic benefit to our land holdings and to our project,” Betts says.

He adds that this winter and spring, Hayden Ferry Lakeside is expecting several new tenants, including a bank branch, a deli and a high-end furniture store. Another new tenant will be offering tours of the development, ASU and Papago Park, using Segways, the two-wheeled self-balancing electric scooters.

Infill housing, shorter commutes

Betts adds that higher fuel prices are expected to spark more interest in infill housing across the Valley as well as in SunCor’s plans. Those include more development along Tempe Town Lake and the company’s new industrial park in the West Valley.

“People are going to want to move back into the city and shorten their commute times for two reasons,” he says. “One is (higher) gas prices and one is the unwillingness to pay the ‘time tax,’ that commuter time it takes them to commute out to the suburbs and back every day. They want to spend more time with their families.”

He adds that a third factor gaining more opposition from the public is the cost of adding infrastructure – streets, water, wastewater and utilities – to the new communities sprawling outward from the metro region.

“I think the public is waking up to that cost of continuing to grow at the fringes,” he says.

While SunCor has little experience in urban infill work, the company is adding that design to its portfolio. The company has “designed some product that we think will work well” in infill sites, which Betts says are available across metro Phoenix.

“When you look around the urban fabric of the Valley, there are a lot of sites that really will work well (for residential infill development),” he says. “There is virtually no city in the Valley that is so filled up that you can’t find a five-acre site or a two-acre site where you could go in and put quality urban housing on it.”

One solution to sprawl, he says, is creating concentrations of “job nodes” along transportation corridors, around airports and closer to residential areas. Those employment centers then could lead to the development of high-density residential areas nearby.

The result could be new urban cores offering workers shorter commutes, leading to reduced transportation costs, reduced pollution and increased time with families.

Future SunCor projects

Betts adds that the existing Hayden Ferry Lakeside development has only begun. When the nine-building complex was started a few years ago on the south bank of the lake, east of the Mill Avenue Bridge, the SunCor land totaled 20 acres. In mid-2007, SunCor acquired from ASU another 10 acres east of Hayden Ferry Lakeside and leased an additional 20 acres, also from ASU.

Those acquisitions from ASU “more than double the size of Hayden Ferry Lakeside and give us the opportunity to expand our project significantly” east to the Scottsdale Road Bridge, Betts says.

The result is the potential to add 3 million square feet to Hayden Ferry Lakeside, which already totals 2.2 million square feet.

Another of SunCor’s new projects is called Palm Valley 303, a 1,600-acre industrial commerce park launched in early 2008 with little fanfare. The development is a mile north of Interstate 10, on both sides of the Loop 303. The intersection is nine miles west of Loop 101. Most of the project is in Goodyear. Workers are adding streets and water, wastewater and utility lines.

The first building, a 500,000-square-foot industrial building, is complete. The development is zoned for 20 million square feet of warehouse, light industrial, office and flex office industrial space. “We have the ability to build the largest industrial commerce park in the Valley right there over the next 10 years,” Betts says.

The location could become home to corporate headquarters, warehouses, and small and large businesses. It has the potential to become a major ‘job node’ in the West Valley because it is within a 15-minute drive of several new and existing residential developments.

“It will very much be the job center for the far West Valley,” Betts says. “It will be where the large big-box industrial commercial users will go.”

For details about Palm Valley 303, please visit

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Nov 25th, 2008

One Comment to 'Light rail, job nodes critical to Valley’s future, says SunCor’s Steve Betts'

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  1. Nick Bastian said,

    Mike, what a well written post! I love the Hayden Ferry project and am glad to see new tenants moving in. The addition of the hotel will be a great fit as well. This really is an amazing location on the lake, close to the freeways, airport, Mill Ave and the light rail. No wonder some really great companies (and people) have decided to make this area their home.

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