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

Sundt adding division for mining, water treatment and renewable energy projects

Posted By Mike Padgett

Nov. 25, 2008

Sundt Construction is adding a new division to focus on the specialized type of construction work sought by its mining and industrial clients.

The company’s new Mining & Industrial division will focus on projects for the mines throughout the Southwest as well as for water and wastewater plants, renewable energy facilities, and other large industrial projects.

The new division will be headed by Steve Robinson, a Sundt project director with many years of experience managing industrial construction projects.

Sundt is building Glendale’s $55 million Oasis Water Treatment plant; a $90 million water treatment plant for Gilbert and Chandler; and a $4 million project for Resolution Copper Mining that includes excavation, backfill, site grading and concrete foundations.

The company also recently completed Peoria’s $106 million Butler Water Reclamation Facility.

Sundt’s other units are the Building, Heavy Civil and Federal divisions. For more information, visit




Nov 25th, 2008
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Arizona’s housing crisis fueled by many factors; end not yet in sight

Posted By Mike Padgett

Nov. 21, 2008

Arizona’s housing crisis is a complex issue sparked by a long list of factors, ranging from the current national economic crisis, to inadequate state regulations, to families who accepted mortgages they cannot afford, according to Arizona Town Hall’s newest report.

Other key influences include speculative investing in new and resale houses and the higher costs of fuel, which cut into family budgets, according to the “Housing Arizona” report posted today on the Town Hall Web site,

Other sections of the report focus on the growing need for housing in rural areas and in Native American communities as well as the need in metro regions for better housing for lower-income families.

 One major factor fueling the state’s housing crisis, however, is the national economy, which “has had a dramatic negative impact on Arizona’s housing industry and its overall economy,” the report says.

“During the housing bubble, Arizona developed the perfect storm – many builders ready to build homes, cheap land, lots of homes and a lack of regulation of home loans,” it says.

The 34-page report is the result of the 93rd Arizona Town Hall, which was convened Nov. 2-5 at the Grand Canyon. The participants, numbering about 130, included representatives of city councils, counties, development and contracting companies and Native American communities. Other participants included educators, attorneys, local housing officials, real estate agents, retirees and community volunteers.

Complex problem, complex solution

Answers to the ongoing mortgage crisis should include the many players involved, from mortgage borrowers to banks and other lenders as well as title companies and the state, the report says.

“The general lack of overall mortgage industry regulation in Arizona contributed to this problem,” according to the report. “During the housing bubble, there was an international infusion of capital into Wall Street and unregulated mortgage products, which caused some problems, given Arizona’s relatively unregulated conditions,” it says.

It goes on to say that Arizona’s regulations “must be enhanced to prevent mortgage fraud and lending abuses and increase penalties for such violations.”

It says those new regulations “should be aimed at mortgage brokers, real estate agents, appraisers and others involved in the home-purchase process.”

More control over lending is needed, the report says, “to discourage predatory lending and encourage other alternatives to the payday loan industry.”

Home sales have plummeted, sending a ripple effect throughout the jobs market. Builders have laid off workers, as have suppliers of furniture, appliances and other consumer goods.

“Building permits are down, and there is a glut of foreclosed houses on the market,” the report says. “There are too many single-family houses available for rent, or vacant and abandoned.”

Worsening the housing and employment picture is the change in immigration laws, which the report says has “adversely affected the rental housing market and contributed to the oversupply of single-family homes.”

One of the keys to resolving the issue of workers living in one city and driving to jobs in another, contributing to traffic congestion and pollution along the way, is establishing more high-density, mixed-use developments that offer housing and jobs in one area, says Town Hall President Tara Jackson.

Jobs, tax revenues dropping

For the near future, the state’s housing picture looks grim. The report says “a significant number of Arizona homeowners now have little or no equity in their homes.”

It says that as people’s “net worth has declined, some have lost access to credit, and others must delay retirement.” These homeowners have cut back on discretionary spending, which – as any economist will confirm – means less sales tax income for local governments.

“Sales tax revenues have declined, and property tax revenues will decline in the future,” the report says.

Owners of vacant homes are converting them into rentals, which are attracting tenants of multifamily developments. As a result, “apartment rental vacancies have skyrocketed,” forcing owners of apartment buildings to lower their rental rates, the report says.

Real estate analysts and developers expect the Arizona market to reach bottom and begin rebounding in mid- to late 2009.

Realtor Tim Mullan was one of the Town Hall participants. In an interview broadcast Nov. 18 on KAET-TV Channel 8’s “Horizon” program, Mullan said homeowners from many income levels in Arizona “are dealing with situations where they are unable to afford the houses they are living in.”

“And they have to make a decision whether they can stay in their house and provide for their family, or do they go and give it back to the bank, and rent or find an inexpensive home,” Mullan said.

Also on the program was another Town Hall participant, Patricia Garcia-Duarte, executive director of Neighborhood Housing Services of Phoenix. Garcia-Duarte says part of the problem of families facing foreclosure is poor family budgeting.

“One of the things that we discussed at the town hall as well was the whole need for financial literacy,” she said. “Too much debt, that’s a fundamental problem. We’re a society that wants everything now, and we want to charge it. And that is a big problem. We need to do more financial education at the schools, from K to 12. And then hopefully, as adults, better financial decisions are made. That’s the root of the problem.”

Copies of the report released today will be sent to public officials, community and business leaders and others across Arizona, said Arizona Town Hall Board Chair James Condo, attorney and partner at Snell & Wilmer.

A summary report will be prepared for use in public outreach programs across Arizona before the end of January. The full report, its recommendations and a background report will be published and distributed for public review by February, Jackson says.

A 170-page background report for the Town Hall members was prepared by the Drachman Institute in the College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture at the University of Arizona.

The Arizona Town Hall, founded in 1962, is an independent, nonprofit membership organization. It “identifies critical issues facing Arizona, creates the forum for education and exploration of topics, and fosters leadership development,” according to the organization’s mission statement.

The 94th Town Hall is set for April 19-22 in Tucson. The topic is transportation in Arizona. Jackson says it will be the first time a Town Hall will be held in an urban area. Historically, the Town Hall has been held at the Grand Canyon to encourage participants “to step away from their professional and day-to-day work and concentrate completely on the issue at hand,” Jackson says.

Holding a Town Hall event in an urban area should encourage greater participation by residents and guest speakers, along with greater interest from the media, she says.

The keynote speaker for the 94th Town Hall is Mary Peters, a long-time Arizona resident and the current U.S. Secretary of Transportation. She was nominated by President George W. Bush in 2006. She was with the Arizona Department of Transportation from 1985-2001, serving as ADOT director from 1998-2001.

Full disclosure: Journalist Mike Padgett was a participant in the 93rd Arizona Town Hall. He was a member of Panel Yucca, one of four groups assembled for the three-day discussion. To read the complete report, please visit

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Nov 21st, 2008
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Entries invited for Arizona’s “canned” competition to help food banks

Posted By Mike Padgett

Nov. 21, 2008

The annual holiday “can-do” challenge to benefit metro Phoenix food banks has been opened by the Arizona chapter of the Society of Marketing Professional Services.

The challenge, under the auspices of the Society of Design Administration, is inviting team entries for the 3rd Annual Canstruction competition scheduled for Feb. 12-14, 2009, at Fiesta Mall in Mesa.

“Canstruction” combines the competitive spirit of a design/build competition with a unique way to help the hungry.

The $150 entry fee and registration form to the SMPS Arizona chapter are due Dec. 5. Competition is limited to the first 15 teams to register. The teams, led by architects, engineers and contractors, will design and create architectural structures made of canned foods.

Teams will have 12 hours to build their structures, which will be on public display at Fiesta Mall during the week of Feb. 14-21. After the entries are completed, the public’s cost of admission to view the entries is a can of food.

Awards will be given for “Best Use of Labels,” “Best Meal,” “Structural Integrity,” “Juror’s Favorite,” and “People’s Choice.” All the thousands of cans of food used and collectd in the competition will be donated to St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance, which serves 13 of Arizona’s 15 counties.

Photographs of winners in local competitions around the nation will be entered in national competition.

For entry forms and other information, visit

Following is a photo of “Somewhere over the Canbow,” from the 2008 competition:







Nov 21st, 2008
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Opus West secures tenants for future Chandler shopping center

Posted By Mike Padgett

Nov. 20, 2008

Opus West Corp. has started work and secured tenant commitments at Mill Crossing, a new shopping center scheduled for opening in Chandler in late 2009.

J.C. Penney Co. (NYSE: JCP) will anchor the 170,000-square-foot center at the southwest corner of Gilbert and Germann roads. Other tenants will include:

• Shoe Carnival, a retailer that is leasing 10,180 feet for its selection of footwear and accessories.

• Sears, Roebuck and Co. (NASDAQ: SHLD) appliance store, which is leasing 5,000 square feet.

• Restaurants Ah-So Sushi, Teriyaki Experience, and Berry Good Yogurt.

• Commercia Bank, McDonalds and Native New Yorker, which are leasing stand-alone pads.

Opus West Construction Corp. is the general contractor. Butler Design Group and Opus Architects & Engineers are the architects.

The shopping center location in Chandler, across the street from Gilbert and less than one mile north of the Santan Freeway offers substantial buying power from nearly 500,000 residents, Opus West officials say.

For more information about leasing, contact leasing brokers Chuck Gibson and Robbie Petty of Staubach Retail at 602-682-6000.

Mill Crossing is adjacent to 1.3 million square feet of retail space anchored by SuperTarget, a Wal-Mart Supercenter, Home Depot, Harkins Theatres and Barnes & Noble bookstore.

West of Mill Crossing is Chandler Municipal Airport. In this area, Opus West has completed the 180,000-square-foot Chandler Airport Center, a two-phase office development. The first phase is almost fully leased to CDW and Ottawa University.

Opus West also recently obtained zoning for Town Center at Longbow, a 50-acre retail power center at Loop 202 and Recker Road in north Mesa. The leasing brokers are Zach Pace, Greg Laing and Cameron Warren at Phoenix Commercial Advisors, 602-957-9800.

Nov 20th, 2008
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Phoenix water treatment plant earns national award

Posted By Mike Padgett

Nov. 19, 2008

The Lake Pleasant Water Treatment Plant in Phoenix, completed by Black & Veatch and McCarthy Building Cos., has earned a special award from the Design-Build Institute of America.

The 225-acre treatment facility near the southeastern tip of the lake has been awarded the 2008 National Design-Build Award from the Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA) in the “water/wastewater over $15 million” category.

The Lake Pleasant plant was finished in 2007 for the City of Phoenix. It was completed by the design-build-operate (DBO) team of Black & Veatch-McCarthy joint venture, design-build team and American Water Enterprises Inc., a subsidiary of American Water (NYSE: AWK), which is the largest investor-owned U.S. water and wastewater utility company.

The plant is serving 400,000 customers with an initial treatment capacity of 80 million gallons per day. It is expandable to a maximum daily capacity of 320 million gallons.

The design-build process included expandable features allowing future customer growth and development, expanded capacity and new treatment technologies.

The plant’s treatment processes incorporate seven independent barriers for removing pathogens, viruses and bacteria, compared to three to four barriers in typical plant designs.

The new plant, called the largest integrated DBO project in North America, was designed to blend into the desert landscape. About 95 percent of the habitat was preserved in its natural condition, company officials said.

Nov 19th, 2008
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Arizona Realtor honored for helping ‘Lost Boys’ from Sudan

Posted By Mike Padgett

Nov. 17, 2008

An Arizona Realtor is receiving an honor for launching a nonprofit group that has helped establish new lives for hundreds of ‘Lost Boys,’ the young men who fled Sudan during that nation’s civil war in the 1980s.

Reita Hutson, a sales agent with John Hall and Associates in Scottsdale, founded Gabriel’s Dream Inc., a nonprofit that locates medical help and educational funds for the Lost Boys. She is one of six winners across the United States chosen by the National Association of Realtors to receive Realtor Magazine’s “Good Neighbor Award.”

“Realtors play an important leadership role in building strong communities and Reita serves as a fine example to our entire association,” says Arizona Association of Realtors President John Gall.

Hutson named the nonprofit organization after Gabriel Kuany, a young Sudanese man she met in a supermarket in 2002. She asked what she could do to help him, and he said he wants an education and new teeth.

She helped Kuany locate a dentist who agreed to provide free dental implants to replace Kuany’s six lower teeth. They were pulled during Kuany’s initiation into manhood.

When other Lost Boys saw Kuany’s new teeth, they asked him and Hutson for their own dental work, according to a press release about the awards.

“I saw the hell these young men went through,” Hutson said. “Many saw family murdered, shot at in a river where the water turned red from blood, or eaten by lions. Yet, they had the joy of the Lord on their faces and were excited about their new lives.”

Hutson, 71, as executive director of Gabriel’s Dream, has recruited more than 100 dentists to volunteer more than $1 million in dental care since 2002. And since 2007, she has donated $12,500 and volunteered 2,500 hours to the organization.

She also has awarded $70,000 in college scholarships and provided thousands of emergency dollars to help about 400 of the men in Arizona find apartments and jobs.

In 2007, Kuany became an American citizen. He and other Lost Boys are working with Hutson to raise funds to build a school in Sudan.

More details about Hutson, and information about the other Good Neighbor winners, are available at


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Nov 17th, 2008
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Sundt Construction employees give $66,000 to nonprofit groups

Posted By Mike Padgett

Nov. 17, 2008

Sundt Construction employees in have chosen 20 nonprofit groups in metro Phoenix to receive grants totaling $66,000 this quarter from the company’s Sundt Foundation.

St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance received a $7,000 grant. The money will buy food for its Kids Program, which provides an evening meal for at-risk children in some of metro Phoenix’s poorest neighborhoods.

Grants of $5,000 each were awarded to Against Abuse Inc., Florence Crittenton Services of Arizona, Make-A-Wish Foundation of Arizona, Operation Homefront of Arizona – Phoenix Division, and Sirrine Adult Day Care.

A $4,000 grant was awarded to the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Phoenix. The group provides temporary housing for families traveling to Phoenix to receive medical care for their children.

Grants of $3,000 each were awarded to Arizonans for Children, Nideiltihi Navajo Elite Runners Inc., and St. Joseph the Worker.

Grants of $2,500 each were awarded to HomeBase Youth Services, Lymphoma Research Foundation Arizona Chapter, Phoenix Rescue Mission, and Rise Inc.

Grants of $2,000 each were awarded to Best Buddies Arizona, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arizona, The Foundation for Service Dog Support Inc., and Fresh Start Women’s Foundation.

Grants of $1,500 were awarded to the Christmas Spirit Foundation and Phoenix Day.

Sundt Construction is one of the nation’s 100 largest construction companies, and it is employee-owned. Its Sundt Foundation is funded by contributions from employees, which is matched by the company.

Nonprofit groups interested in applying for a grant may call Sundt at 520-750-4600.

Nov 17th, 2008
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Arizona Notes: Architect Vernon Swaback honored for new book

Posted By Mike Padgett

Nov. 15, 2008

Architect Vernon Swaback of Scottsdale has received a special honor for his latest book, Creating Value – Smart Development and Green Design.

Swaback received the National Association of Real Estate Editors “Silver Award” at the group’s awards dinner in Orlando, Fla. The award was granted through the association’s first annual Robert Bruss Real Estate Book Awards program.

The selection criteria included originality, readability, accuracy, coverage of subject and scholarship. Judges said the book is “thoroughly researched” and that it “breaks new ground in our understanding of creating value with design.”

“With interest in a ‘green’ environment rapidly receiving more and more attention, this book by a well-known architect is must reading for anyone interested in real estate development,” the judges said.

The NAREE book awards are named for Robert Bruss, a syndicated real estate columnist and writer who died in 2007. The annual awards program was created to recognize the work of real estate authors.

In his book, Swaback argues that financial success in real estate development will require design that is smarter, greener and sustainable.

“Creative designers and artists have long been the integrating sources for intuitive leaps that broaden our views of the possible while enriching opportunities for all,” Swaback begins in his book’s preface. “Of all the intuitive arts, architecture is the bridge between the influence and power of nature and the daily provisions for human life.”

Swaback is founding partner of Swaback Partners, a Scottsdale, Ariz., company specializing in architecture, planning, landscape architecture and graphic and interior design. He started his studies at the University of Illinois. Later, he became noted American architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s youngest apprentice at Taliesin West in northeast Scottsdale. Wright died in 1959.

Creating Value was published in 2007 by the Urban Land Institute. The book can be purchased through ULI at

Swaback’s other books are Designing the Future, published in 1997; The Custom Home: Dreams, Desire and Design, published in 2001; and The Creative Community: Designing for Life, published in 2003.

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Nov 15th, 2008
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Construction industry update: “…gloom and doom for bricks and sticks.”

Posted By Mike Padgett

Nov. 13, 2008

A new report from an international consulting group says the future of the construction industry across the United States is so bleak, the industry might seek government support.

“We have seen both public and privately funded construction projects being placed on hold, incredibly, some well into the construction phase as well as during programming and design phases,” says Julian Anderson, president of Rider Levett Bucknall.

This adjustment in the construction industry suggests that, in the near term, “we are likely to experience a continued downward spiral with job losses, reduced construction volume, investor and lender fright and calls for government support of the construction industry,” Anderson says.

 “In other words, loads of gloom and doom for bricks and sticks,” he says.

The company provides property and construction consultancy advice throughout the Americas, Asia, Europe, Middle East and Oceania. It has

Without some major capital works programs launched by the government, “the national construction industry will suffer for several years with significant downward pressure on prices and a dramatic reduction in overall capacity, followed by a slow recovery,” according to a Rider Levett Bucknall announcement today.

Already, the national construction industry is seeing a downtown in overall construction spending. The value of construction put in place for the first three quarters of 2008 was 5.9 percent below what it was for the same period in 2007.

The quarterly report also shows that in the metro Phoenix market, construction costs escalated 5.6 percent from July 2007 to July 2008, compared to 8 percent for the same period from 2006 to 2007.

 “Bailouts and buyouts aside, the real questions for our industry are just how long the financial crisis and its attendant credit freeze will last and what long-term effects it will have on capital investment in all sectors of construction,” says Peter Knowles, Rider Levett Bucknall executive vice president.

The Rider Levett Bucknall analysts add that while they expect this de-escalation will continue as projects stall and competition for work continues, there is some risk that the massive amounts of liquidity being pumped into the economy will stimulate inflation, which then would produce significant cost escalation within a depressed market.

Arizona, which for many years has been one of the nation’s fastest-growing states, is expected to feel its share of the national economic pain. Already, city and state budgets are in deficit of more than $1 billion, says Scott Macpherson, principal of Rider Levett Bucknall’s Phoenix office.

“With the $1.4 billion higher education economic stimulus package approved in July, we expect to see an increase in construction activity and in general, a slow but steady gradual upturn in the Arizona economy over the course of the next year,” Macpherson says.

Macpherson adds that many of the major projects under construction in metro Phoenix “were designed and under contract prior to the start of this current economic downturn.”

“In these instances,” he says, “the development teams have made the bold decision to continue on with their projects, although in some cases they have been scaled back a bit.”

Rider Levett Bucknall’s U.S. offices, besides Phoenix, are Boston, Denver, Honolulu, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, metro New York City, Orlando, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington D.C.  For more information about Rider Levett Bucknall, visit

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Nov 13th, 2008
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