By Rebekah Morris for Arizona Builder’s Exchange
Skydiving. A large private prison. While those are the thoughts most commonly associated with the City of Eloy, the current council and staff are working hard to improve that perception by doubling down on their downtown area. The anchor will be the future $7.5M City Hall.
According to Jon Vlaming, Community Development Director for the City of Eloy, “The overall goals of the new City Hall are to create a new, centralized building that fosters enhanced services to customers, promotes efficiency of staff, and demonstrates a continued commitment to Downtown.”
Downtown Needs a Spark
Many storefronts are vacant along Main Street and the existing municipal facilities are showing their age. Downtown Eloy sits off I-10 by about a mile and is not visible to passersby. In 2015, Urban Land Institute Arizona convened a Technical Assistance Panel of planning & development experts to weigh in on what the City could do to revitalize Downtown. A top strategy for consideration was to create a “central activity center.” Vlaming described a “Community Living Room” when talking about the potential for the newly activated region.
The City’s efforts are just starting to bear fruit. While the City Hall project is still early in the design phase, a local skydiving company is taking space on Main Street and will open a facility to sell their locally manufactured skydiving suits sometime this summer. However, the downtown area is still missing such general services as legal, retail and insurance. Almost every new single-family residential permit is being drawn for the Robson Ranch retirement community in the north part of Eloy.
Design Elements, Community Involvement
Currently in programming, the approximately 20KSF building will be the first step in bringing new life to the area. The design team is being led by SmithGroupJJR; CORE Construction is the general contractor. Project management is being handled by Abacus PM. Estimated groundbreaking on the one year project is Winter 2018. Community feedback was key for the City Council and staff. Through a series of public meetings and outreach events, thoughts from the community included a desire for ‘bold’ architecture and a place that everyone in the community could feel part of. SmithGroupJJR is ensuring the building will last for the next 50-100 years by “future-proofing” including flexibility in the design. They’re cognizant of the increasing role of technology, how reliant we’ve become on communicating through screens, and using GIS and map technology.
Public Investment First, then Private Follows
The City Council is taking a risk with such a big investment. The City hopes to spur private development in the Downtown area. The 3.9-acre City-owned site will have land available adjacent to the new building, and several vacant parcels and dilapidated buildings are nearby. The new City Hall site fronts the “Central Green,” a small park in the middle of the city with inviting shade trees and plenty of space for community events. After the City Hall project is fully designed, the City will next take on a Downtown Master Plan. Running from Main Street and Frontier north to Battaglia the City wants a better “Front Door.” In 2016 new signage monuments were erected in strategic locations to establish presence. Additionally, street improvements have enhanced on-street parking and walkability of the accessible space.
Area Examples of Public Investment Paying Off Big Time
Eloy is not the first city to reinvest in Downtown with the intent of spurring private development. The most noticeable example is the City of Phoenix. There was a very
deliberate, strategic decision to invest in both light rail and ASU’s Downtown Phoenix Campus in an effort to spur revitalization. That decision has paid off in a massive influx of private investment: from multifamily to restaurants, offices and more. Additional examples include the City of Chandler City Hall Complex and subsequent downtown expansion and revitalization, as well as Tempe Town Lake and the resulting boom of commercial development on the newly created waterfront. These sorts of large public investments demand a patient consumer. To expect overnight success is surely setting oneself up for disappointment. A long-range and thoughtful approach with the needs of the community are required, and with so many successful examples in Metro Phoenix, the City of Eloy has a great shot at shaping their future downtown into the space the community really wants.