Monday, March 27, 2017

2017 Inter-City Visit to Scottsdale and Tempe Arizona

On Wednesday the town council along with members of our town staff, our economic development agency, business and community leaders and members of the Cary Chamber of Commerce traveled to Scottsdale and Tempe, Arizona for an inter-city visit. Our mission was to learn from them about their experiences – both positive and negative - regarding economic development and redevelopment. What did they do right? What did they do wrong? What would they change if they could do it all over again? Stuff like that.

Our first stop was to a public/private redevelopment project in South Scottsdale called SkySong.

I can’t describe SkySong any better than they can:

SkySong, The ASU Scottsdale Innovation Center is one of the premier economic engines in the Valley of the Sun. The project’s success is a direct result of a focus on innovation and technology that attracts companies ranging from some of the world’s best known brands to one- or two-person startups.
These companies come to SkySong because of its strong connection to Arizona State University – including the ASU SkySong incubator – as well as the exceptional facilities and ideal location in Scottsdale.

The goal of SkySong is to attract cutting-edge and innovative companies and their base of knowledge workers from around the world, integrating the resources of ASU with the opportunities of the private sector. SkySong is a true epicenter of economic activity in the state of Arizona. The 42-acre mixed-use development will include more than 1.2 million square feet upon buildout. SkySong 1, 2 and 3, all approximately 150,000 square foot of continuing education buildings, are near full occupancy.

Skysong and artistic shade structure. Photo courtesy of Skysong

Corporate tenants at SkySong include, Cannon, ASU, Ticketmaster, GroupOn, CenturyLink, Workiva, Yodle and Pearson.

Scottsdale Mayor, Jim Lane, city planners, SkySong personnel and Plaza Companies – the project developer - spoke about the public/private partnership forged between the city of Scottsdale, ASU and SkySong; and how that without the commitment from the city and University the project would not have been possible. They also talked a lot about branding; specifically their efforts to re-brand South Scottsdale.

Cary Delegation Learning About Skysong

It was fascinating to hear about South Scottsdale’s past and see firsthand how far they have come. It wasn’t too long ago that South Scottsdale really wasn’t a desirable place to be. Businesses had fled to other areas of the city and there were a lot of abandoned properties. Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s “Tent City” was nearby. But since the development of SkySong and a commitment by the city to improve South Scottsdale, they are experiencing significant growth in both new development and redevelopment. South Scottsdale, as they like to say, is "humming".
South Scottsdale is Humming!

Afterwards we boarded the bus and headed to Tempe for a working lunch with the Mayor of Tempe, Mark Mitchell and their Public Information Officer, Nikki Ripley. They too were undertaking a rebranding campaign and spoke to us about the initiative and their efforts to engage citizens in the process so that their “brand” truly reflects who they are. Good stuff.

We also had the pleasure of hearing from Dr. Michael Crow, President of Arizona State University, and learn about his efforts to transform ASU into a “New American University” that combines the highest levels of academic excellence, inclusiveness to a broad demographic and maximum societal impact. ASU isn’t just working to make their university better – they are working to make the surrounding community and Arizona better. Dr. Crow has worked to transform ASU from a bureaucratic, faculty focused institution to one that is student and community focused.

ASU also partners with area high schools to improve student success and graduation rates which in turn provides for greater access to higher learning. Unlike most universities, ASU actually LOWERED admission requirements. ASU now accepts EVERY Arizona high school student who applies that has a B average or better while at the same time graduates a higher percentage of freshman students in four years than most every other university in the nation. They support and participate in economic development initiatives that create opportunities for students, citizens and businesses and improves the community’s quality of life.

Hearing from Dr. Crow was one of the highlights of the trip. I could have listened to him talk for hours. It is absolutely amazing what they have accomplished at ASU and their continued efforts to make ASU a “New American University” and redefine the landscape of higher education – so much so that I texted my wife, Lisa that we should consider ASU for our daughter, Elizabeth. Seriously. Google him and watch some of his online videos. This guy is amazing. A few of us even commented afterwards that this guy should be Secretary of Education.

After hearing from Dr. Crow it was back on the bus to head to Tempe’s Transit Center to meet with their Community Planning Director and Transit Director for a discussion about transit and transit oriented development. While it was a very informative discussion, I really can’t say I learned much of anything new here as I have heard about how transit will influence development many times before – but I believe that it was valuable for some of the others on the trip and I did take away a few nuggets.

Tempe Transit Center. Photo Courtesy of Tempe, AZ

For dinner we got to have a little fun. We went to Scottsdale Stadium to watch the San Francisco Giants play the Seattle Mariners. Scottsdale is the spring training home for the San Francisco Giants and boy do they love their “home team”. The game was sold out… for a spring training game! The stadium hot dogs were excellent and really complimented the beer ;-)

Scottsdale Giants baseball game. From L-R Council members Jack Smith, Don Frantz, Mayor Harold Weinbrecht, Lori Bush, Ed Yerha and Police Chief Tony Godwin

The following morning our first stop was Scottsdale’s Museum of the West. The museum is owned by the city of Scottsdale and operated by a non-profit. The museum has a number of exhibit spaces both indoor and outdoor as well as an auditorium and facilities for special events.

Then it was back on the bus to go meet with Scottsdale’s Assistant Manager, Brent Stockton and their Planning Director, Randy Grant along with the developer of Scottsdale Waterfront to learn about Scottsdale’s amazing waterfront redevelopment and mixed use projects. I know what you’re thinking – waterfront in Scottsdale Arizona??? It’s like that song right? I was surprised too. But I gotta say this place was really cool. High rise condos, office and retail adjacent to Scottsdale’s waterway – it was an amazing mixed use project that was 20+ years in the making. It also makes one wonder what can be done with flood prone areas of a community to turn water problems into amenities.

Scottsdale Waterfront Redevelopment Project(s)

A really interesting tidbit that we learned was how difficult it is to get any tall building approved in Scottsdale. Nobody wants their view of the mountains blocked – which after seeing the mountains I can understand. They are absolutely beautiful.

Beautiful View of the Mountains

They are however very flexible in regards to design guidelines. For example, you can paint your building any color you want long as it is Navajo White. ;-)

They also love their public art in Scottsdale, and the really cool thing about most everything that I saw was that you can actually tell what it is without having to read a plaque. This particular project was fascinating in that once inside it becomes a kaleidoscope and you see like 20 of yourself….including the bald spot on the back of your head…. That your wife said wasn’t bad…. She lied. ;-)

Scottsdale Door Kaleidoscope Art

This however was my personal favorite. Killer right?

Statue of Indian outside of Scottsdale's Museum of the West

The afternoon was “free time” for everyone to explore Scottsdale or Tempe on your own. Council member Lori Bush and I chose to explore a new outdoor mall adjacent to our hotel. Ya ya…, I know what you’re thinking. NO, I didn’t go shopping. I don’t shop. The mall is a mixed use project with residential and office above retail or restaurants and we wanted to see the project firsthand as this type of development is exactly what we have been trying to encourage in certain areas of town such as downtown, the state property off of Cary Town Blvd. and the Cary Town Center Mall property. The project was very walkable with a number of small, green areas peppered about for folks to relax and enjoy that shake you just got. Shake Shack is awesome btw. ;-) The one pictured below was extra amazing in that it also offered an outdoor LED screen that showed movies for kids – the kids can watch movies while momma shops. Awesome.

Pocket Park with play space and movies for children
The majority of dinner was spent discussing everything that we saw and learned and how that relates to what we are trying to do – or not do – in Cary.
Cary and Scottsdale/Tempe are very different places – VERY different – but we also have a lot of things in common like:

Encourage the redevelopment of older or distressed properties
Promote walkable sustainable development
Public/private partnerships
Branding – Cary will soon undertake a branding effort - especially in regards to economic development
Transit and transit oriented development
A commitment to parks, greenways and open spaces

In all I found the trip to be very educational and worthwhile. It also recharged the batteries a bit. I really want to thank everyone at the Cary Chamber of Commerce and our town staff for all of their efforts in planning the trip, and special thanks to both the Scottsdale and Tempe town staff and elected officials for taking time out of their busy schedules to meet with us. We really appreciate it and I hope that we can return the favor one day.

All that said, It’s great to be home!