Arizona’s business leaders eyeing $800 billion economic stimulus proposal

Posted By Mike Padgett

Jan. 9, 2009

The eyes of Arizona’s business leaders are focused more than ever on Washington DC these days, and they’re watching more than the change of leadership at the White House.

Arizona’s construction and design community is studying how federal officials propose to divvy up President-elect Barack Obama’s $800 billion economic stimulus package among 50 states.

That huge measure is why Arizona’s architecture, engineering and construction industries and local and state officials are crafting plans to maximize the state’s share of one of the largest federal public works proposals in the nation’s history. The estimated cost of the measure – anywhere from about $800 billion to $1 trillion – keeps changing because it is still a proposal.

More than 400 architects, engineers, contractors and city, county and state officials met Jan. 8 in Phoenix to discuss ways to leverage the federal proposal with private dollars, and how tedious paperwork processes could be streamlined. The federal dollars could be used for a variety of public works projects, such as highways, freeways, airports, bridges and mass transit systems.

The meeting was organized by the membership of the Alliance for Construction Excellence at Arizona State University. ACE Director Gary Aller said Arizona’s construction and design community’s began working in December to organize the meeting. He said his members are frustrated over the state’s stalled economy as well as excited about getting a share of the massive federal stimulus package.

If approved, the federal measure will include new rules and regulations regarding distribution of the money, accounting and audits. It is unknown whether the money will be sent to the states for distribution, or whether cities, towns and counties may apply directly for it.

“We want to educate everybody because a lot of this is going to happen fast and furious, we hope, when the federal stimulus money comes,” Aller said in his comments to the group.

 

New state legislation needed?

Aller reminded the architects, engineers, contractors and city officials that to streamline Arizona’s application for the federal measure, new state legislation may be needed. The state Legislature begins its 2009 session Jan. 12.

“There may be other legislative changes we need, and we have very little time to get that put together for this legislative session,” Aller said.

He said a Web site will be set up “so that we can start collecting ideas and thoughts and things that we can do to take action to help Arizona come out of the situation that we’re currently in.”

The half-day conference’s first speaker was Rick Simonetta, chief executive of Valley Metro Rail. He said the federal proposal could help pay for expansion of the 20-mile light rail system, which became operational the last week of December. He said designs are 95 percent complete to extend the light rail line three miles north on 19th Avenue from Bethany Home Road to Dunlap Road. Other extensions are proposed into east Mesa, south Tempe and west from downtown Phoenix along Interstate 10.

Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon told the group that the federal money could help the city pay for more than “$2 billion in critical projects that are ready to go.” Those projects include police stations, water treatment plants, and expansion work at Sky Harbor International Airport.

Across Maricopa County, the Valley’s cities have about $7 billion worth of transportation-related projects that could be funded with the federal monies. Of that total, projects totaling about $1.5 billion are ready to start, said Eric Anderson, transportation director at Maricopa Association of Governments.

The half-day Jan. 8 conference at the Airport Marriott, 1101 N. 44th St., was cosponsored by ASU and the City of Phoenix.

 

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Jan 9th, 2009
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High-tech college’s new campus designed to spark students’ creative energy

Posted By Mike Padgett

Jan. 8, 2009

If he were standing in his old office at Collins College in Tempe, President Joshua Padron’s voice would echo off the walls. The office was bare. Good thing he was on vacation. Everything was gone – his desk, chair, computer and the executive accoutrements one could find in a college president’s office.

His office furnishings had been muscled onto moving trucks and hauled to his new office at his high-tech college of creativity’s new home in Phoenix. Padron is hopeful that someday his college’s future graduates will include the entertainment world’s next video game wizard, or another Stephen Spielberg, the former Phoenix resident-turned-movie mogul who created Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park and Saving Private Ryan, to name a few.

Padron, taking a deep breath, goes silent and smiles at his visitor at the thought of a Spielberg among his graduates. He admits that he has considered inviting the entertainment giant to his school. That possible invitation is still on Padron’s list of things to do.

“We’ve been here over 10 years,” says Padron, driving away from the old campus at 1140 S. Priest Drive in Tempe. He had stopped to talk with workers who were loading one of the last moving vans. Padron was headed on this rainy day to the new campus at 4750 S. 44th Place in Phoenix. There, his employees were supervising the relocation of their furniture and computers.

Padron, his staff and others were at their desks in their new offices by Dec. 29. Students returned to classes Jan. 5. The old facility had about 90,000 square feet. The new campus, which is in leased space, has more than 70,000 square feet. Collins College also has a film studio that will remain in Tempe at 1425 W. 14th St., Suite 101, and a north campus at 9630 N. 25th Ave. in north Phoenix.

The college’s old building was an office building modified into classrooms and other facilities. Padron says the new building is smaller because it was designed specifically “for our type of education,” which consists of design and technology.

“Seventy-five percent of what you’re going to see in our square footage,” Padron says, “is now focused on the student. About 25 percent is for administration.”

Padron beams with excitement on his power walk through his new facility. He points out classrooms, study areas, the library, administration, a student lounge, placement services, and areas where students’ works will be showcased. He hints at a new and innovative program that he expects will be announced later this spring. The program is not yet ready for publicity, “but almost,” he says.

The college’s new home is in a flex-space building in Liberty Cotton Center, a 280-acre office development southwest of Broadway Road and 48th Street in southeast Phoenix. The college’s new classrooms, offices and other spaces were completed Dec. 22. It has 39 classrooms. The contractor was Gioffre Cos. in Dublin, Ohio. The architect was Interior Architects in Chicago.

“This is where our motion-capture studio will be,” Padron says, pointing out the room where students will learn the techniques used in animation for video games and for such movies as Spiderman, Batman and The Matrix.

“Our students, from the graphic design part of our program, learn all the mediums,” Padron says. “Not only the print media, but they also learn the electronic media. They’re being placed, of course, in the Internet-type of graphic design environment.”

The college’s two campuses serve about 1,200 students, most between the ages of 18 and 27. The programs include Film, Video and Visual FX; Interactive Media; and Visual Arts and Design. Tuition is about $5,000 a quarter, or $60,000 for a bachelor’s degree.

The year-round college offers bachelor’s degrees in game design; visual arts with a major in game art; graphic design; interior design; and film and video production. Associate’s degrees are offered in digital video production and graphic design.

“Everything that we do is focused on design and creativity,” Padron continues. “Keeping our students involved with new ways of thinking, areas where they are able to challenge each other and become creative, that’s what we try to do.

Collins College is a private, for-profit career college. It began in 1978 as Al Collins Graphic Design School, founded in Phoenix by Al and Florence Collins. It was moved to Tempe in 1985. In 1994, it was acquired by Career Education Corp. The north Phoenix campus was opened in 2003. Both campuses have 104 faculty and 80 other employees.

Padron says his college offers similar programs found at major universities, like Arizona State University. However, he adds, Collins’ smaller classes offer students more mentoring and more hands-on experiences. He says there are 12 students to each faculty member.

He adds that because the college offers year-round instruction, students in a bachelor’s program complete their studies in three years, instead of the typical four years at a major university.

As he pulled out of the parking lot of Collins College’s new campus, Padron says he expects his enrollment to begin increasing in response to laid-off workers seeking new skills.

“We’re expecting a great return of students who may not have finished their bachelor’s (degree) and they may want to go ahead and finish it,” he says.

Another type of student he expects to see is the employed or jobless individual who simply wants certification in a special skill, such as in PhotoShop. Collins College will consider offering those classes on Friday nights and on weekends, Padron says.

“We feel that the adult market is going to increase due to the fact that they’re losing their jobs and they’re coming back to school,” he says.

 

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Jan 8th, 2009
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Boom is over, bust is running its course in metro Phoenix housing market

Posted By Mike Padgett

Jan. 7, 2009

A high-tech forecast five years into the future of metro Phoenix’s housing market is planned later this month by the publisher of the monthly Phoenix Housing Market Letter.

But instead of hosting 1,000 attendees at a Valley resort, RL Brown Housing Reports co-owners RL Brown and Greg Burger will offer the conference on the Web, allowing attendees to view the presentation on their office or home computers.

“This may be the most important housing market forecast of the decade,” Brown and Burger say in their invitation. “The boom is over and the bust is running its course.”

The live Web conference begins at 10 a.m. Jan. 22. Although it will be a one-way presentation, attendees paying the $50 fee could invite their employees, associates or others to crowd around the computer and listen. Later, they can contact Brown and Buger via e-mail or phone for more information.

“For $50, they can bring in their whole team into their conference room and listen,” Burger says. “They can’t talk to us but they can see our screens on their screens and they can hear our commentary.”

Burger adds that the live Web conference will allow attendees to save time (they can stay at home or at their office) and money (the fee is less than the usual $75 registration fee, or $750 fees for tables for 10).

“We’ve got an outlook that suggests that now is the time to take the position to be ready for the new market,” Burger says. “It’s going to be a recovery that’s going to be prolonged but healthy, in our view, as it changes.”

Burger agrees with veteran builders that the rebound is most likely to begin in late 2009, or possibly in the first quarter of 2010. “We think that’s going to be a healthy environment, and that’s what we’re going to talk about here at the forecast,” Burger says.

“I see the fourth quarter (of 2009) as still being a tough quarter because I don’t think all of the programs that the government puts in place are going to have completely kicked in,” Burger says. “I personally think it’s going to be first quarter of 2010 before we really feel like this is behind us.”

Other market analysts add that this recovery period will be difficult for some homebuilders as well as for lenders and some speculators and homeowners struggling with foreclosure. At the same time, it will be a time when investors will become aggressive in buying properties for investments.

Permits for new houses in metro Phoenix peaked in 2005 at 63,570, up from 60,872 in 2004. The decline started in 2006, when the total was 42,698. In 2007, the numbers tumbled to 31,172. For 2008, the total (which is still being tabulated) is expected to be less than 15,000, Burger says.

Burger says the annual sales volume up to 2005 was a steady increase, when prospective homebuyers in those final years “were lining up at the door and the lottery sales and all of that stuff that we all remember.”

Contributing to the current inventory of vacant new houses for sale were speculators buying several homes for resale as well as buyers who, sometimes with approval from salespeople, fabricated their incomes and debts. According to many recent news accounts, and verified by industry veterans, the speculators later found they could not sell their new homes, and foreclosures were started on homes bought by buyers whose incomes were too low to match their mortgages.

“If you were breathing and you wanted to buy a house, they (sales agents) got you in the house one way or another,” Burger says.

The father-son team of Brown and Burger has been working in the metro region’s residential market, or analyzing it, for many years. Brown started his company in the early 1980s. Burger obtained his real estate sales license in the early 1990s, which is the time when the Valley’s real estate market began recovering from a slump in the late 1980s. It was in the early 1990s when the real estate market got back on its feet and soared until the current economic situation.

To register for the Web conference, click here.

 

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Jan 7th, 2009
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Luxury home upgrades include a $198,000 Bentley coupe in the garage

Posted By Mike Padgett

Jan. 7, 2009

The think tank at Five Star Development Group in Scottsdale has an idea guaranteed to turn heads.

The development company is offering a $198,000 lavish upgrade on wheels to the buyer of one of the company’s two custom homes offered in Paradise Valley. The six-figure, 12-cylinder upgrade is a 2009 Bentley Continental GT. It will be parked in the driveways of the seven-figure homes during open houses over the next two weekends. The homes will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Jan. 10-11 and Jan. 17-18.

If buyers are not interested in the Bentley, they have the option of trading it for a 50-hour NetJets card or a one-month-a-year lifetime ownership in Marriott Vacation Club International.

The luxury homes are:

• A 7,848-square-foot Old World European Villa at 8625 N. Via Buena Vista. The walled and gated compound is listed at just under $5 million. The residence includes a master wing with a sitting room and coffee bar; a children’s wing with three bedrooms; an adjacent guesthouse; and a five-car garage.

• A 7,536-square-foot Tuscan estate at 6305 E. Arabian Way. Beyond the expected master suite and a gourmet kitchen, the home has a library, a children’s playroom, a wine cellar with space for more than 600 bottles, an outdoor kitchen adjacent to the pool, and a four-car garage. The list price is nearly $4 million.

The listing agent for the luxury homes is George Hajjar of The Hajjar Group with Realty Executives. As an incentive for Realtors, Hajjar says the buyer’s agent will receive a Breitling Bentley GT Chronograph steel watch (for men), priced at $7,695, or a Cartier Pasha watch (for women), priced at $5,150.

Five Star Development Group, with headquarters in Scottsdale, owns and develops projects in residential, hospitality, retail and industrial categories in Arizona, California and Texas.

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Jan 7th, 2009
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Colliers International names Bob Mulhern to head its Phoenix region

Posted By Mike Padgett

Jan. 5. 2009

A veteran of the metro Phoenix commercial real estate and office development industries is the new boss at Colliers International’s Phoenix office.

Bob Mulhern started work Jan. 2 as the managing director of the office that oversees the company’s Phoenix and Scottsdale operations.

Mulhern has more than 25 years experience of managing brokerage, development and property management organizations. Mulhern previously was president of Reliance Companies, a Valley development firm that specializes in office and industrial development and property management. Before Reliance, Mulhern was vice president of development for Ryan Companies; senior managing director of CB Richard Ellis in Phoenix; and vice president and portfolio manager for The Koll Company.

“Bob brings tremendous leadership and industry experience to the role of managing director and will play an integral part in leading our professionals and clients through these turbulent economic times,” said Dan Spiegel, senior vice president of U.S. operations for Colliers. Spiegel adds that the Phoenix market represents a unique opportunity to build on the extensive growth the area has experienced in the past decade. He says Mulhern “possesses the depth and breadth of experience necessary to guide Colliers to be the top commercial real estate services firm in Arizona.”

Mulhern, in a prepared statement, says a key focus of his management will be developing a strategic plan to grow the Phoenix and Scottsdale offices in defined market segments and expand the client base. A strong priority will be to fully integrate the platform of services offered through Colliers’ business lines and partner firms, including Real Estate Management Services  (REMS), PGP Valuation, Cohen Financial, MHPM Project Managers, and McKinstry Co., a design, build, operate and maintain firm.

“Colliers’ extensive local, national and international platform, combined with the capabilities of our partner firms, provides us with an exceptional opportunity to deliver superior services to our clients and assist with all their commercial real estate requirements, regardless of location,” Mulhern says.

Mulhern is a past president and current board member of the Arizona chapter of the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties (NAIOP). In addition, Mulhern is:

• President of the board of Veritas Preparatory Academies, a liberal arts charter school.

• Founding board member and treasurer of Greater Hearts Academies, a non-profit school management organization.

• President of the Phoenix chapter of Legatus, an organization of Catholic business leaders.

He also has a Certified Property Manager designation. He earned a Master of Science and Master of Business Administration from Arizona State University.  Bob resides in Phoenix with his wife Tina and their eight children.

Mulhern replaces Mike Fitz-Gerald, who resigned in October to return to the private sector.

 

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Jan 5th, 2009
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Copper shining on ASU’s newest downtown Phoenix building

Posted By Mike Padgett

Jan. 3, 2009

The newest building establishing its presence in downtown Phoenix is ready to turn as shiny as a new penny.

Work on Arizona State University’s College of Nursing and Healthcare Innovation is at the halfway point, and much of the exterior of the elegant glass building – designed by the Phoenix office of SmithGroup – will be clad in copper. The five-story building at Third and Fillmore streets is to be completed by DPR Construction Inc. in mid-2009, in time for the fall semester.

Construction started in mid-2008. The work has been distracting me for weeks, starting when workers began assembling the building’s steel bones. Then workers hung a color rendering on the construction fence. That’s what turned my head – a design for a new building coated partly in copper.

I called SmithGroup for details. Spokeswoman Sommer Caraway put me in touch with architect Mark Kranz. The three of us recently walked around the construction site.

Kranz says copper is not as expensive as many think. Plus, he adds, the metal is a key part of the state’s history, and coating a building in copper makes a powerful design statement, which fits with ASU’s vision for its downtown campus.

“It’s going to make a significant splash for the campus, once the (copper) skin starts going up,” Kranz says.

Agreed. Will it become part of the iconic look of ASU’s downtown campus? Maybe. This building is bold eye candy. Its look of sophistication is a positive design statement. It is a refreshing departure from the look-alike glass-and-steel towers and squat stucco boxes that for too long have dominated the Valley’s often-dowdy design palette. In design, this new building’s cutting-edge look places it alongside the new Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications just two blocks away at Central Avenue and Fillmore Street.

SmithGroup’s design portfolio across the nation includes several university buildings. The company’s design for the new nursing college is unique because it is not on a campus proper, like ASU’s main campus in Tempe or the University of Arizona’s campus near downtown Tucson.

“So there’s an added level of complexity and expectation here for what the building is going to contribute to the development of downtown, the vibrancy of the street, the livability, the shade, and the kind of activity that everyone is hoping that downtown will eventually have,” Kranz says.

ASU’s nursing college first opened its downtown Phoenix facilities in August 2006 in renovated space in three buildings – the old Park Place office building on Taylor Street, between Second and Third streets; in the office building at 411 N. Central Ave.; and in the Mercado complex at Seventh and Van Buren streets.

At that time, ASU officials had hoped to open the College of Nursing in a new building at the current construction site, which is next to Park Place. But one could say that ASU, by waiting, is getting more than it anticipated because the original plan for the nursing college was a new three-story building. After more discussions, that design was boosted to the five-story building now under construction. It will have about 84,000 square feet.

The new building’s first floor – wrapped mostly in glass – will have classrooms, offices and a 200-seat auditorium with breakout space for seminars. From the second floor up, the building juts out over the sidewalks to the curb, a design innovation that creates shade for the sidewalks. That innovation also required a zoning change from the city of Phoenix.

The second floor is designed for students. It includes classrooms, a lounge and a balcony that overlooks the lobby. The third floor will have space for research and administration.

Floors four and five are open spaces available for tenants, possibly for lease to private companies or for offices for the city of Phoenix, which is the building owner. City bonds are paying for construction.

The north face of the nursing college building will receive little, if any, sunlight, so its glass facade requires minimal shading. If I had a choice, this is where I’d like an office, with unrestricted views to the north.

The east and west sides of the building will receive direct sun, so they will be shaded – the east side with fixed aluminum louvers and the west side with perforated copper sheeting.

The building’s west façade features two balconies and an exterior stairwell, all clad with solid and perforated copper panels creating shade from the harsh afternoon sun. Solar panels will be on the roof to heat water for restroom faucets.

Kranz is telling us about the project while we’re standing at Third and Fillmore, across the street from the construction site. He makes an excellent point, calling the new building “the corner gateway for the entire downtown campus.” Motorists southbound on Third or traveling on Fillmore will be distracted by the new building’s copper skin and by its total design.

“You can argue that getting off the (Interstate) 10 and coming down either Seventh or Third streets, this is the corner place where you arrive on the campus,” Kranz says. “So for the university, this is the gateway building.”

Which is why the building’s design was increased to five floors and upgraded with copper sheeting. The original three-story design “was not necessarily, from anybody’s perspective, an appropriate use of downtown real estate or an appropriate gateway building for ASU,” Kranz says.

Even at night, when the copper skin will go largely unnoticed, the new building will be hard to miss. Its exterior stairway, enclosed in frosted glass, will be illuminated, making it a giant torch visible for blocks and signifying that even at night, the building pulses with energy.

“At night it will glow and really pronounce this corner as a significant kind of entry to the campus,” Kranz says.

He adds that over time, the building’s copper sparkle will be replaced by a weathered patina. “We like the idea of the copper staying new-penny shiny forever, but we also like the beauty of copper as it weathers,” Kranz says.

The College of Nursing is just east of the twin towers of Taylor Place, ASU’s first downtown dormitories. The first tower opened a few months ago. The second tower is opening this month.

And immediately west of Taylor Place is the Cronkite building, which also opened a few months ago.

When the nursing college opens in June, it will be the fourth new ASU building opened in downtown Phoenix in less than 12 months. Collectively, the four buildings are expected to become a hub of ASU’s downtown presence. They are in three consecutive blocks between Central Avenue and Third Street, from Fillmore to Taylor streets.

ASU officials, when work on the new college began in mid-2008, said Arizona has an average of 681 registered nurses per 100,000 residents, compared to the national average of 825 nurses per 100,000 people. They said the need for more nurses in Arizona will increase in response to an expanding and aging population.

The renovations and addition of new buildings for ASU are being paid for by the proceeds of $233 million in bond sales. The bonds were part of the $878.5 million bond package voters approved in 2006.

(Photos of construction progress are available at: http://nursing.asu.edu/news/pr/newbldg_progress.htm.)

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Jan 3rd, 2009
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Downtown Walkabout: City of Tempe welcomes light rail

Posted By Mike Padgett

Dec. 30, 2008

(Writer’s note: Downtown Phoenix rules the school these days, with the headlines dominated by the new Metro light rail, the expanded Phoenix Convention center, the new 1,000-room Sheraton Phoenix Downtown Hotel, Arizona State University’s expanded downtown campus and other new developments. But there is more to the Valley than Phoenix. As part of an occasional series, I plan to talk with mayors, city planners and business owners in the region’s other cities. If you have ideas or concerns about the Valley’s suburbs or downtown Phoenix, send me a note. Thanks.)

A historic and popular business in Tempe is at once rooted in the state’s territorial past and a short walk from the region’s economic future.

Michael Monti saw the link between the past and the future become obvious on Dec. 27, the first day the Valley’s light rail system began carrying passengers. His restaurant, Monti’s La Casa Vieja, is a short walk north of a light rail stop at Mill and Third Street.

Monti’s, opened in 1956 in a structure that dates to the 1870s, was busier than expected on the first days the light rail trains ran. The rides were free last weekend, and about 150,000 passengers boarded the $1.4 billion light rail system. Two days later, just before New Year’s Day, and the rail cars remained packed, likely because of the holidays and the rides remain free until Jan.1. The system stretches 20 miles from 19th Avenue and Bethany Home road in Phoenix through Tempe to Mesa.

Those standing-room-only numbers, generated over two days by the uniqueness of light rail to the Valley, probably won’t be seen again. But Monti sees the light rail, called Metro, offering two immediate advantages – the mass transit system is a new way for residents and tourists to get around, and it creates a new economic corridor along its route.

The Metro also offers a new opportunity for East Valley hotels and restaurants to market themselves as a group to Metro riders heading to or from downtown Phoenix for sports events and other attractions at the new Phoenix Convention Center. The new facility’s north building opened Dec. 27, the same day light rail began operations.

For example, conventioneers unable to book rooms in downtown Phoenix will be able to consider staying in Tempe hotels “and ride the train to the convention center” in Phoenix, Monti says.

“They can now stay in Tempe and enjoy downtown Tempe but ride over to Phoenix for the other events,” Monti says. “I personally believe that downtown Tempe has more to gain from that (light rail) connection than downtown Phoenix does.”

Tempe’s selection of restaurants should benefit from the light rail because it is a short ride to and from Chase Field and US Airways Center in downtown Phoenix. While Phoenix officials naturally recommend dining at restaurants in their city, East Valley residents could walk or drive to the light rail stations in Tempe, ride the Metro to the Phoenix arenas and then return to Tempe for dinner, says Nancy Hormann, president and executive director of Downtown Tempe Community Inc. and Mill Avenue District, nonprofit organizations that help the city promote its downtown.

Monti, an admitted skeptic of light rail, says his restaurant at 100 S. Mill Ave., saw results of light rail traffic on the system’s inaugural run. He says several passengers getting off at the Third Street train stop visited his restaurant bar.

“We’re about 100 feet north of the light rail, so we’re really close,” he says. “Our bar got really busy during the first day just because people who were walking around stopped in for a drink.”

Hormann isn’t surprised that Monti’s received more business. She expects the light rail system to help crank up the activity in downtown Tempe’s retail community and its three time zones. They are:

• 6 a.m. to 5 p.m., dominated by the under-40 crowd, which are young professionals, students, business people and some faculty from Arizona State University, which is a five-minute walk from downtown Tempe.

• 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., which is the 55-and-under dinner crowd, often the weekday workers stopping on their way home from their jobs for dinner and entertainment.

• 9 p.m. to 2 a.m., when 20-somethings are prevalent in the downtown bars and clubs.

From her office at the corner of Mill Avenue and Third Street and looking north, Hormann points out her door to the new light rail line, the Tempe Gateway office building that Opus West Construction Corp. is erecting across the street, Monti’s, and the western end of the 43-acre Hayden Ferry Lakeside development less than two blocks away. Hayden Ferry, which is a SunCor Development Co. project, is a mile-long commercial, office and residential development with up to 5 million square feet proposed in several buildings.

In mid-2009, work is expected to begin at Hayden Ferry Lakeside on a 14-story building that will include a 240-room Hyatt Regency hotel with 24 condominiums on the upper floors. Completion is projected for early 2011.

Hometown ‘streetmosphere’

Horman says downtown Tempe has a hometown business atmosphere that hustles to keep up with economic changes while offering the ambiance of a small town. Unlike many other Valley cities, downtown Tempe offers a variety of storefront designs. It has trees and building overhangs shading the sidewalks. The one lane of traffic in each direction on Mill forces motorists to decelerate. Hormann calls it “a streetmosphere.”

“The environment, to me, seems like a small town,” she says. “Downtown Tempe has texture. It’s comfortable. And with the mix of old and new, it feels so real, to me. The feeling I get looking down the street is, it’s real. It’s active. It’s a community gathering place. It has character. It has diversity. There’s a mixture of old and new, which I think is great. It’s the coolest place.”

Hormann says downtown Tempe, like other concentrations of businesses, has its economic peaks and valleys. Currently, because of the economic downturn, Tempe is experiencing a slowdown, like the rest of the state.

“We were a victim of the economy before the rest of the region was a victim,” she says. “We have a lot of people who were closing down and tearing down buildings to build new buildings, because of (the formerly strong) economy. They had developer agreements to build new buildings. They tore down viable buildings; they emptied out viable buildings that had retailers in them.”

As bad luck would have it, “the economy changed, nothing’s happening and we have empty spaces that would not normally be empty,” Hormann says. “It was very bad timing.”

That slowdown forced developers and property owners to put their plans on hold, “and here we are,” Hormann says, adding that the light rail system is expected to help the region’s economic recovery.

“Everybody’s excited about it,” she says. “There’s a buzz here. I think what we will see is more people coming here (to Tempe because of light rail) who have not been here in a long time.”

Hormann was working in Dallas in the mid-1990s and in Sacramento, Calif., when those cities started their light rail systems. Hormann says many downtown workers in those cities eventually left their cars at home and commuted on light rail.

She says Dallas businesses expanded or relocated along the light rail line. Hormann and Monti, among others, expect similar dynamics in Tempe, Mesa and Phoenix now that Metro is operating.

“I think light rail is going to help Tempe sustain its destination status,” Hormann says. “Right now, downtown Tempe is a destination. You come here to eat, to be entertained, to hang out. And now, it’s a much easier place to come to, having the light rail station right there. You get off and make a left, you go to Tempe Town Lake, but if you make a right, you’re in the heart of Mill Avenue. You don’t have to walk several blocks to find it – you’re there.”

“From what I’ve seen in transit-oriented development (in Dallas), the light rail should help increase the foot traffic here,” Hormann says. “That’s going to help us develop more businesses here, as we get more and more people using it.”

 Light rail skepticism

Hormann says the naysayers that for years have been critical of the light rail system in metro Phoenix remind her of the public opinion battles faced by the Dallas light rail.

“I saw, before it started (in Dallas), a sea of skepticism,” she says. “Every day. People were saying, ‘Why are we spending all this money? What a waste of time and energy.’ But from the time it opened, it took maybe four years for 60 percent of the people who worked downtown were riding light rail in Dallas. And they all drove or rode buses before that.”

She adds that the conversion to light rail took time. Dallas residents had to get used to the idea of leaving their vehicles at home and using public transit. Economic incentives will help accelerate the process in metro Phoenix, especially when employers or commuters realize how much they can save, she adds.

“You can’t shove it down people’s throats,” she says. “You have to let them experience it first.”

Hormann expects metro Phoenix employers with offices and other operations close to the light rail line to begin subsidizing their workers’ light rail tickets. She says that expense might be comparable to, or less than, the employers’ current expenses in paying for employee parking.

Monti says light rail’s impact on the economy will take time. “It’s not a magic bullet. It’s not the Midas touch for any business along the line.

“There is no such thing as a miracle solution, and this economy’s pretty rough,” Monti continues. “I’m very optimistic about the benefits this (light rail) line is going to bring.”

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Dec 30th, 2008
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Troubled Arizona teens learn leadership, journalism skills from Voices Inc.

Posted By Mike Padgett

Dec. 23, 2008

When Ruwaida’s father and stepmother brought her to the United States from Saudi Arabia in early 2001, she was a wide-eyed 13-year-old. She anticipated a bright future in a nation with freedoms for women as well as for men. She dreamed about becoming a teacher. Or maybe a journalist for The New York Times or National Geographic.

But soon after she started her new life in Arizona, the freedoms sought by this girl from Mecca began vanishing like rain in the sands of her homeland. Social workers took her from her family. She was sent to live in group homes in Tucson where other teenagers were fleeing personal demons or struggling with drugs. Ruwaida felt her inner compass losing its true north.

Today, Ruwaida Alansary is in a new chapter of her life. It has a positive feel to it.

Equally positive is the future of Reyes Suarez, another young adult who – in his own personal darkness – recalls standing at a life-changing crossroads. One path he knew would lead him into Tucson street gangs. He looked down the other road and strained to see where it led. All he could see was that it didn’t include gangs and violence.

From different worlds but for similar reasons, Alansary and Suarez turned to Voices Inc., a Tucson nonprofit organization that helps troubled teenagers from lower-income families. The nonprofit’s programs help the youths develop journalism, leadership and higher education skills by encouraging them to tell their personal, family and neighborhood stories. Alansary and Suarez are now part of the organization that helped them. Both have compelling stories to share.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Troubled journey begins

Nine months after Ruwaida Alansary and her family arrived in America in January 2001, terrorists using skyjacked airliners as missiles attacked the World Trade Center in New York City, murdering thousands. That Sept. 11, 2001, act of terrorism led to the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which have caused the deaths and injuries of thousands of soldiers from several nations and untold numbers of civilians.

In Arizona, Alansary stopped wearing her traditional headscarf to avoid angry stares. Misguided onlookers angry over the conflicts and deaths equated terrorism with Alansary’s hijab, a symbol of the 13-year-old girl’s religion of peace. Their obscene gestures and vulgar comments cut like knives.

Two years later, as Alansary started ninth grade in Tucson, workers at Child Protective Services became concerned about her welfare at home. She says they removed her from the care of her family. Alansary, then 15, felt trapped living with strangers in group or foster homes. She became despondent. Her dreams of freedoms morphed into road kill.

Over the next two years, until she was 17, Alansary bounced from one group or foster home to another. Seven in all. One year, she ran away 10 times. She was in emotional freefall, but she clung to her Muslim roots. Alansary is wired that way.

Once, after running from a home and living with a friend, Alansary landed a job as a cashier. CPS workers located her through her Social Security number. Tucson police arrived. An officer put handcuffs on her and led her away. Her coworkers began chanting, “A whatcha gonna do when they come for you, bad boys, bad boys,” lyrics from the song, “Bad Boys.”

Alansary says the chanting during her arrest sparked grins from herself and others, even the officer who cuffed her. Alansary, now 20, and with an easy smile, talks candidly about her traumatic first years in America. She is an assistant writing editor at Voices. Alansary wrote her story for the organization’s annual publication, “110 degrees: Tucson’s Youth Tell Tucson’s Stories.”

Alansary agreed to share her story with me. It was a sunny December day, so we sat a tiny table outside a coffee shop in downtown Tucson. She nursed a Red Eye, an iced coffee with a shot of espresso. In the park across the street, a solitary man danced to music we couldn’t hear.

Alansary says 2006 was the critical year in her life. It was the year she turned 18. In the eyes of the law, she now was an adult. She was free from the state’s social service system. No longer would she be cooped up with strangers.

“It was a good opportunity for me to get down to the nitty gritty, get back into school, discipline myself, yeah,” she says, smiling and hitting her coffee again.

‘Come save me, take me away’

She returned to high school in Tucson, but she was bored. The classes were not challenging, unlike her studies in Saudi Arabia. One day, a guest speaker from Voices visited her high school. It was Kristen Suagee-Beauduy, who then was on staff at Voices. Today, she is a youth member of the board.

“She said, ‘Is there anyone here interested in writing, anyone who’s passionate, anyone interested in taking pictures,’” Alansary says.

“Out of the 200 kids who were there watching Kristen’s presentation, I was the only one who raised my hand,” Alansary says, shooting up her left hand to emphasize her desperation. “‘Come save me, take me away, I want to go,’ is what I thought. So I came down here that same day, filled out an application and got an interview that same day.”

She paused for more coffee. Alansary wrote her personal stories for Voices about her experiences in the group homes. She says her stories helped give her closure to a traumatic part of her life. That’s why she can talk about it openly today. And in sharing her story with other troubled teens, they see that they’re not alone, that other teens have struggles.

Alansary says that while she was in the group homes, she kept personal journals because she wanted to keep a clear connection to her past. Looking back at her experiences with CPS, she defends the agency that, at the time, she felt was not helping her.

In her 2007 story about her journey, Alansary wrote: “I know that CPS put a lot of effort into my case. They pushed me to pursue an education, they found private therapists who could deal with my case. But CPS workers are overworked and underpaid. The result is that children in the care of CPS don’t receive sufficient emotional support – they don’t have enough one-on-one time with responsible, caring adults.”

Alansary’s voice fades in the noise of the city bus pulling from the curb. She sips her Red Eye. She says the staff and programs at Voices have given her a foundation and stability and encouragement. She is taking core classes at Pima Community College for an associate’s degree in liberal arts. Her goal is a four-year journalism degree.

“It’s because of Voices that I continued going to school. I started college. Before Voices, I had plans to go to college, but it wasn’t something that I would jump right on. It was kind of like, ‘I’ll do that later.’ But with Voices, it gave me so much more of a reason to pursue higher education.

“It’s just completely changed my life,” Alansary says, finishing her coffee. “It’s given me confidence. A sense of belonging. A sense of identity. Critical thinking skills. Questioning, constantly questioning. Focused.”

Gangs and a mysterious photograph

Another young adult helped by Voices is Reyes Suarez, 19, who today is a student member of the nonprofit’s board. Suarez turned to Voices for help after he found himself drifting toward street gangs. His journey began when he was 8 years old and watched his parents get divorced. After that, he and his mother lived with her parents for about four years.

Suarez recounted his personal journey for me while we sat on sofas in the Voices office. He says that if he hadn’t visited the agency’s downtown Tucson offices and talked with Writing Director Katie Johnson in late 2006, he would not have received the encouragement he needed to complete high school. He lacked skills for employment, he was struggling in high school, and he needed cash. He had heard that Voices pays stipends to students accepted for the program.

“Before Voices, I wasn’t really hanging out with the right people,” Suarez says. “I was mostly with a bad crowd. I didn’t really fit in with them, but it was the only place I could go. This (Voices program) has just opened my world. It’s something I never thought I would be able to achieve.”

Our sofas were on the other side of glass doors from City High School, a charter school that offers classroom space for the Voices programs. As Suarez told me his story after lunch, students next door were coming and going.

“There are so many people who come here,” he says. “We have kids from neighborhoods I would have gotten into fights with just because we were from different neighborhoods.”

Today, Suarez is working in graphic design with his father. Suarez enjoys the creative challenges of his work. He sees it as his future.

As part of his studies with Voices, Suarez wrote a story about his grandfather for the nonprofit’s annual publication. Suarez wrote that his grandfather, Pedro Davis, who recently turned 80, was a major influence on his life. His grandfather came to the United States many years ago from Mexico.

It was while Suarez was writing about his grandfather that Suarez’s perspective on immigration and his own life became clearer. His grandfather is a retired construction worker who today works part-time as a school crossing guard. He buys canned and dried foods from Costco and takes them to relatives in Mexico.

“My grandfather was a really poor immigrant from Mexico,” Suarez says. “He came here because he just wanted to help his family. And in doing so, he not only helped us but he helped so many other people as well.”

Suarez, while he wrote about his grandfather, learned the background of a photograph that had hung for many years in his grandfather’s home. It shows his grandfather standing next to a silver-haired executive at a large dinner event.

When he asked his grandfather about the stranger in the photograph, he learned the man is President Clinton. It was taken while Clinton was visiting Tucson to support Congressman Raul Grijalva, for whom Suarez’s grandfather had worked as a volunteer for many years.

Just as he never knew the stranger in the photo was President Clinton, Suarez was unaware of his grandfather helping a U.S. congressman.

“My grandfather is a really humble man,” Suarez says. “He rarely brags about what he does. I never put two and two together until I did the story and I started asking questions.”

Suarez continues his story about his grandfather and about immigrants. “They’re a vital part of our structure. If we didn’t have immigrants, a lot of things would just fall apart. It’s hard for their stories to be told. Like my grandfather’s. Nobody would have known about my grandfather if I wasn’t there to speak for him.”

In Mexico, Suarez says, there are two economic classes – the very rich and the very poor. “There is no middle ground, hardly. And if you’re really poor, the only way to get out of that is to come here to the United States or to get into drug trafficking. That’s pretty much all there is to it.”

Annual applications, future challenges

Each year, the Voices programs serve up to 100 Pima County youth between the ages of 14 and 21. A maximum of 30 are selected for stipends, making the eight-month program “hugely competitive,” says Executive Director Stephanie Balzer.

Once the students complete the program, they become eligible to work as freelance writers for the Voices publication. They also receive three credits from Pima Community College.

“They can take that and transform themselves into who they want to be,” she says. “That’s our goal – using journalism skills to create a path for a brighter future.”

Balzer says the words of a former student, frustrated by the minimal selection of jobs she found in the workplace, define the challenges faced by lower-income students. The student “says that low-income youth aren’t paid to think,” Balzer says.

“I thought that was a really powerful idea, that the kind of opportunities that she saw available to her didn’t challenge her in an intellectual way (because) the jobs that were available to her were menial jobs,” Balzer says.

Balzer was telling me about Voices, its programs and its students over lunch at Café Poca Cosa, a restaurant a few doors east of the nonprofit’s offices. She says her board of directors is discussing how to expand its Tucson programs and whether they can be launched in metro Phoenix. “We’re in the process of thinking through how we can be broader and bigger as an organization and give more opportunities,” Balzer says.

Like all nonprofit groups in today’s economic climate, Voices’ future will be challenging, despite the opportunities it offers youth from disadvantaged families.

“I don’t know what will happen in the future,” Balzer says. “We’re not any different from other nonprofits right now. We’re really trying to think about how we can cut costs and what we can do and where any sources of revenue can come from and how we can focus ourselves for survival. It’s tough.”

In November, New York University Professor of Public Service Paul Light announced that at least “100,000 nonprofits nationwide will be forced to close their doors in the next two years as a result of the (current) financial crisis,” according to the Nov. 19 issue of Crain’s New York Business.

The economic challenges facing all nonprofit groups in the United States today mark new beginnings. Balzer says she and others at Voices Inc. “are starting now to think about how we can be ready in a couple of years so that when the economy bounces back, we really want to say, ‘This is our vision, this is our dream.’

“We’re hunkering down now, we’re going to be ready then,” Balzer says.

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Dec 23rd, 2008
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Arizona’s real estate market likely to hit bottom in late 2009, executive says

Posted By Mike Padgett

Dec. 18, 2008

By late 2009 or early 2010, Arizona’s struggling real estate industry should start improving. That is the expert opinion of Kurt Rosene, senior vice president of national development at The Alter Group. Rosene offers his thoughts about several aspects of the market in a column he prepared for ArizonaNotebook.com.

What activity do you expect in commercial and residential development in 2009?

During the next 12 months, it will be a period of adjustment as we see workouts of distressed assets, write downs by the large players and, ultimately, the return of liquidity as the $700 billion bailout takes effect.

Look to 2010 for a better year, although the underwriting will look much more traditional and credit will be scrutinized very carefully.

Have we hit rock bottom on current land prices?

The short answer is no. Land prices are partially related to what’s happening in the rest of the real estate market – particularly the housing market. Homebuilders acquired a lot of land inventory during the bull market. According to the Commerce Department, the housing construction has fallen four straight months, causing investors to liquidate their shares in homebuilders.

In order for the housing market to come back, we have to work through the excess inventory and open the spigots of financing for home buyers through Fannie and Freddie and the commercial credit markets.

When will the market reach rock bottom?

Our best guess is that the bottom will occur in late 2009 or 2010.

The liquidity issues in the market are dramatically affecting the land business as there is no debt for land acquisition. Therefore, the only land buyers are opportunistic buyers that are trying to read where the bottom will be.

The opportunity players will wait until they can maximize their investment. This will take some time and the horizon of return will have to be a couple years beyond the bottom. The stabilization of the residential markets will be required in order for land values to begin to correct. We are already seeing deeply discounted land values trade from owners and banks that require liquidation and that will continue for the future.

Bank lending issues?

For banks to start lending, first they need to workout their distressed loans and assets and improve their reserves. Once the bailout takes effect and banks start lending to each other, we should see the credit markets unfreeze. Some banks, those with low leverage and traditional underwriting, have withstood the storm well and stand to be in a great place to pick up distressed assets. The focus will be on much more traditional underwriting, which will place more emphasis on the type and performance of assets. The near term will restrict the ability for most banks to lend for new construction because most markets are overbuilt and the lease rates do not support new development.

 

Are we seeing a tenant’s market

We are seeing more rent abatements and incentives thrown into commercial leases for tenants. Rental rates are trending downwards and landlords are aggressively competing for what tenant activity exists. Down cycles historically present a good opportunity for tenants to analyze their options to move up in class and lock into lower rental rates for a long period of time. The tenant should take advantage of this time to trade up from B or C class space to A space which might represent only a modest gross rent increase and give them a better environment for their corporate image.

Location remains a critical factor?

Any time we enter into a down cycle in the real estate continuum, the product that weathers the storm is usually due to location. It is an old real estate adage, but you can never replace a well-positioned asset. Tenants will continue to look for amenities, visibility and immediate access.

This is why our Riverwalk development, located in Scottsdale and is adjacent to Loop 101, continues to see strong interest. Scottsdale’s office market is over built, but tenants continue to look at our development because they are afforded tremendous visibility to Loop 101 traffic, and we have immediate accessibility to a majority of the Valley’s workforce. Aside from Scottsdale, downtown Tempe and the Biltmore area will hold their own while waiting for the recovery to occur.

 

How will the new light rail system, set to begin running Dec. 27, impact future development?

It is too early to say how much affect light rail will have on commercial development. However, in the long term, we believe it could have more affect on residential development, but that will take another cycle to judge.

Commercial development will occur at light rail stops. In the near term, we believe that this will be true for Tempe and downtown Phoenix, which is where infill opportunities will support the product.

What predictions can be made for the real estate industry in next five years?

The next five years will see a lot of changes in real estate. There will be more regulation of the financial markets. For the short term, 2009 looks, at best, to be very similar to 2008.

We believe that the beginning of the end will occur in 2010, where we will begin to work out of this down cycle.Therefore, we will begin the mantra, “It will feel like heaven in 2011!”

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Dec 18th, 2008
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Arizona Real Estate Highlights

Posted By Mike Padgett

Dec. 16, 2008

Medical office building sold

Grubb & Ellis/BRE Commercial has announced the $1.9 million sale of a medical office building in Scottsdale. The building at 9745 N. 90th Place was purchased by PG&J Properties LLC from Scottsdale Medical Building LLC. The buyer is a group of local doctors. They plan to relocate their offices to the building, which was 35 percent leased at the time of sale.

The seller was represented by Ray Harris, vice president of office and healthcare at Grubb & Ellis/BRE Commercial. The buyer was represented by Eric Tollefson of Ensemble Devman Group.

Water department renews lease

The Arizona Department of Water Resources has renewed its lease for another five years in the Meridian Bank Tower at 3550 N. Central Ave., Phoenix. The lease renewal was arranged for Younan Properties by Transwestern’s Senior Vice Presidents Bill Zurek and Jim Achen Jr. and Vice President Vince Femiano.

Younan Properties is a privately-held real estate investment and asset management company with properties in Arizona, Texas and Illinois.

Leases renewed at 2800 N. Central Ave.

Two renewal and expansion leases have been arranged in the Midwtown submarket for the Gaedeke Group by Transwestern’s Phoenix office. The leases in the office tower at 2800 N. Central Ave. were negotiated by Transwestern Senior Vice President Jim Achen Jr. and Bill Zurek, Vice President Vince Femiano and Associate Travis Ives.

Oxford Life Insurance, which is based in Phoenix, signed a five-year renewal and expansion lease for 15,425 square feet on the fifth floor of 2800 N. Central Ave. Oxford was represented by Kelly McCone of Kelton Companies LLC.

Coppersmith, Gordon, Schermer & Brockelman PLC, a law firm specializing in healthcare, employment, litigation and corporate and real estate transactions, signed an eight-year lease rewal and expansion for 11,728 square feet. The firm was represented by Mark Seale of Lee & Associates.

Industrial space sold

LNR Property Corp.’s Commercial Property Group has sold nearly a third of the space in its Washington Airport Center, a 244,768-square-foot distribution building at 3425 E. Van Buren St. in Phoenix.

The $8.9 million sale for 74,268 square feet was negotiated for LNR by Mark Crison of CB Richard Ellis’ Phoenix office. The buyer, WT Cobblehill LLC of Denver, was represented by Tom Louer of Lee & Associates’ Phoenix office. The sold space is occupied by Sara Lee Bakery Group, which signed a five-year lease for the space earlier this year.

An additional 88,050 square feet of space in the distribution building is available for sale.

 

Media company leases larger offices

Bonneville International Corp. has negotiated a 15-year lease for 30,690 square feet in the Squaw Peak Corporate Center, a two-building, four-story complex at 7720-7740 N. 16th St. in Phoenix.

Bonneville International, based in Salt Lake City, is the parent company of KTAR Radio. The company plans to relocate the radio station in mid-2009 from its present facilities at 5300 N. Central Ave.

Jerry Noble, Pat Devine and Greg Mayer of CB Richard Ellis’ Phoenix office represented the landlord, Parkway Properties of Jackson, Miss. Bonneville International was represented by Stephanie Hickock of Grubb & Ellis/BRE Commercial in Phoenix and by John Goodman of Studley’s Chicago office.

Industrial land sold

An 11.2-acre parcel at 6420 W. Buckeye Road in southwest Phoenix has been purchased by Chamberlain Development LLC of Phoenix. The seller was Buckeye Distribution LLC of Honolulu, Hawaii.

The property is zoned for heavy industrial use. No plans for the land have been announced. The seller was represented by Barry Gabel, Mindy Korth and Mark Dancer of CB Richard Ellis’ Phoenix office. The buyer was represented by Joe Porter, Pat Feeney, Dan Calihan and Rusty Kennedy, also of CBRE Phoenix.

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Dec 16th, 2008
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