Growth Booming In Valley Of The Sun

By Terry Ertter | September 28, 2010

Just about any story written since 1960 regarding construction in the Phoenix area has centered around the same themes. The metro area is growing like crazy. There's construction everywhere. You can't drive three miles in any direction without encountering streets that are all torn up to add lanes or to improve underground utilities. The perimeter keeps jumping farther out, with new subdivisions leapfrogging each other.

All those themes still apply today. The sprawling desert metropolis continues to sprawl. Buckeye currently gets to call itself the western edge of the city. Sun City West long ago saw the desert on the north and west transform into subdivisions, and Black Canyon City can now be considered North Phoenix. The southern perimeter now encompasses Maricopa and Casa Grande. Queen Creek spent a year or two as the southeastern boundary, but that title now would have to go to Florence. To the east, planners are preparing to open a massive tract of state land that's projected to add another million residents to the area between Apache Junction and Florence Junction.

Even by Phoenix standards these are staggering leaps. Ten years ago, all these towns were 20 to 40 miles from the edge of the metro area. The idea of a million or more people in Buckeye or Apache Junction seemed laughable.

Sprawl and rapid population growth are not new. With so much construction going on, it's not easy for any one project to stand out, but there are a few prominent developments that have to at least be mentioned in any story about Phoenix-area growth. The list includes:

  • The Phoenix Convention Center and Civic Plaza
  • The area around the new Arizona Cardinals stadium in Glendale
  • Tempe Town Lake development
  • Twin Malls at the Mesa-Tempe border
  • Casino-driven growth on the local Indian Community land
  • Tall cranes in North Scottsdale
  • Heavy industry around Williams Gateway Airport in Southeast Mesa

This time around we'll focus only on the first three items on the list.

Downtown Phoenix

Major expansions and renovations at the Phoenix Civic Plaza combined with light rail projects and three new high-rise developments dominate construction news in downtown Phoenix throughout 2006. Those same projects continue to be the story in 2007.

The Civic Plaza includes the Phoenix Convention Center and Symphony Hall. Prior to the beginning of construction, the two structures were separated by a large open-air terrace. That terrace is gone now, replaced by the new West Building of the Convention Center. The building, completed last July, has four levels and connects to Symphony Hall via a 90-foot-long, 130-foot-high atrium.

The new West Building sits on the west side of 3rd Street, while the rest of the convention center is on the east side of the street. A skybridge will connect the new building to the new North Building currently under construction in Phase II of the project. The two buildings will also share an underground connection that will serve as contiguous display space when the entire project is completed. The current South Building is being renovated and will be a separate building when work is complete.

Voters approved $600 million for the convention center work, with Phase I completed in July and Phase II due for completion in late 2008. When all work is completed, the convention center will feature just under 900,000 square feet of rentable space. That's three times as much as was available previously. The convention center will have a total of 2.5 million square feet of space, with much of that devoted to conference and meeting rooms. Some 312,000 square feet of the exhibit space will be in the contiguous underground connection between the West and North buildings.

The old North Building was demolished in April 2006. Excavation experts Shoring Engineers of Santa Fe Springs, Calif., removed material from the old building and excavated to a depth of 50 feet. The first footings were poured in October. Construction manager for the project is a joint effort of Hunt-Russell-Alvarado. Hunt Construction Group's Scottsdale office is the construction manager-at-risk. Syska Hennessy Group of New York is in charge of building systems design for both phases of the project.

From the beginning, the city of Phoenix wanted the new buildings to qualify for LEED certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). Phoenix-based Green Ideas contributed design input to improve the West Building's energy efficiency and resource management. Mechanical engineering contractor LSW, also of Phoenix, carried the ideas through. Also playing a key role was Northwind, a subsidiary of APS Energy Services.

Light rail construction in downtown Phoenix centers around the two lines that will connect downtown to the East Valley and Northwest Phoenix and Glendale. Look for details on the Phoenix light rail construction in a future issue.

Glendale Stadiums

The transformation currently under way in Glendale is playing out on a national stage. Glendale rolled the dice a few years ago and made significant commitments of public resources to lure the NFL's Arizona Cardinals and the NHL's Phoenix Coyotes to a big patch of farmland several miles west of downtown. As the skeleton of the impressive new Cardinals stadium began to rise, the Ellman Companies, owners of the Coyotes, acquired 223 acres of land immediately north of the stadium. Construction began with the new arena for the hockey franchise, but that was only a small part of the plan for the parcel. The plan called for investment of nearly a billion dollars to build the core of what is essentially a new city, unlike any other city in Arizona.

Ellman's venture, dubbed Westgate City Center, ranks as one of the largest commercial real estate developments in North America. It combines an outdoor mall area with hotels, office and commercial areas, recreation and high-density residential sections. Heart of the development is the courtyard at the south end of the mall area (the Village at Westgate). The design for the Village is taken from Bellagio in Las Vegas, with spectacular fountains and Italian architecture combined with colorful, oversized signage reminiscent of Times Square or Tokyo. The main entrance to the Coyotes home, Arena sits on the south side of the courtyard.

Phase I of the Westgate Town Center was scheduled to open in December with 290,000 square feet of retail, dining and entertainment space. The upper levels above the shopping mall contain another 220,000 square feet of office space, 90,000 of which is being sold as office condos. Design for the Villages was done by Development Design Group (DDG) of Baltimore and Kurt D. Reed Associates of Phoenix. General contractor is Perini Building Co. of Phoenix, the same contractor that built Arena.

In addition to the arena and mall, Phase I includes the 12-story, four-star Renaissance Hotel with 320 rooms and an 80,000-square-foot convention center. The hotel, being developed by John Q. Hammonds of Springfield, Mo., is scheduled to open in mid-2007, and is the first of five hotels planned for Westgate. General contractor for the hotel is KCC Contractors Inc. of Springfield, and the architect is Butler Rosenbury & Partners, also of Springfield.

Phase II of the Westgate City Center project calls for the construction of two more office parks, numerous free-standing retail operations, a townhouse development with 171 units designed by Phoenix's Todd & Associates, a 251-unit apartment complex, and several large parking structures. Construction is already under way on many of the projects, including the Quarter, a townhouse development that expects to have units ready for move-in this summer.

Across the street from Westgate, on the north side of Glendale Avenue, another impressive development has already produced one signature retail store, and construction is proceeding rapidly on other elements. Zanjero, a mixed-use project by Marathon Commercial Development of Henderson, Nev., features Arizona's only Cabela's store. The gigantic store has 165,000 square feet of space devoted to supplying campers and outdoorsmen with every conceivable piece of gear for hunting, fishing, hiking, rafting, or other outdoor activities. Cabela's opened in the summer of 2006.

Phase I of the Zanjero project is scheduled for completion before the 2008 Super Bowl. That phase includes a 20-story, four-star hotel with 200 rooms, two more 100-room hotels, and a half-million square feet of retail and restaurant space. The largest portion of the 151-acre development will be dedicated to urban-style residential units. Many of the ground level shops and offices in the project will have two- and three-story loft residences above them. Plans call for more than 200,000 square feet of office space.

Tempe Town Lake

Much like Glendale's stadium area to its northwest, the Tempe Town Lake area is seeing a new city rise. "Rise" is the operative word, with several projects going up and up to form a new skyline around the lake. Most of the new construction will add office space and high-density residential space, since nearby Mill Avenue already enjoys abundant retail, dining and entertainment options.

The exception is the new Tempe Performing Arts Center at the southwest corner of the lake. It's a large building with a striking design that makes it difficult to miss for motorists traveling east or west on the nearby Loop 202 freeway. The designers set out to construct a building that looks like a massive origami with a roof that features steep inclines, sharp angles and dramatic swoops. In December, crews applied a matte grey concrete overlay to cover the reflective metal roof.

That postcard roof covers 88,000 square feet of space that includes a main theatre with 600 seats and a 200-seat studio theatre. Other areas of the facility will provide space for conferences and art exhibits. Next to the new building is a 17-acre arts park.

The unique design, created by Architekton of Tempe and Barton Myers Associates of Los Angeles, presented some challenges to the builders — as did the need to remove 113,000 cubic yards of material before construction began. In recent decades, the portion of the Salt River running through Tempe and Phoenix rarely had water in it, and it was neglected until a few years ago. The river bottom became a series of landfills, official and unofficial, and the Tempe Performing Arts Center is located atop one of those old landfill sites. All that material had to be removed and replaced, and a 108-inch storm sewer was relocated before construction began.

Haydon Building Corp. handled site preparation for the center, and the Tempe office of Salt Lake City-based Okland Construction is general contractor for the project, with Kitchell CEM of Phoenix serving as construction manager. The $63-million center will open late this spring to provide an exciting new venue for actors, dancers, artists, and musicians.