ULI Arizona News

Evolution of the Suburban Core

Evolution of the suburban core: Proximity to the ‘good stuff’

By Peter Madrid | MadridMedia

It’s hard to get a beat on what’s happening in America’s suburbs as trends point to people moving back to the city, particularly the urban cores.

However, according to panelists at ULI Arizona’s Main Program, “Evolution of the Suburban Core,” people aren’t ready to give up on the suburbs, a big house, and the yard.

The suburbs are alive and well. At their core, they’re centers of change, cultural activity, and economic growth. The case studies presented prove that point right here in the Valley.

  • Verrado: Not sprawl, but a neighboring town 25 miles from Phoenix bordering the White Tank Mountains. A center of gravity all its own. A town center. A mix of uses. Balance. Proximity to the “good stuff.”
  • Chandler Viridian: Suburban infill. A great site because of its proximity to the freeway system. The Price Road employment corridor. Plans for more than 170 businesses, including 40 restaurants. Class A office building. A hotel. A 335-unit Alliance Residential project.
  • Gilbert Heritage District: A 30-year vision of creating a destination in the downtown core. More than $24 million in private capital invested. More than 300,000 square feet of residential and retail under construction. Popular restaurant concepts already in place. More growth on the way.
  • Downtown Mesa: When it comes to its urban core, the City of Mesa has a lot to crow about. Light rail. Mesa Amphitheater. Higher education, including Arizona State opening a campus.

In discussing Chandler Viridian, Hines’ Director Brandon Dillingham said proximity is important to his site. Viridian benefits from proximity to more than 2 million square feet of retail, anchored by Chandler Fashion Square. There’s also a robust employment corridor.

“We are integrating all those uses,” Dillingham said. “There is a difference between high-quality mixed-use and suburban core. We’re seeing pockets of these definitions as we try to find the core.”

Brent Herrington, President and Chief Executive Officer of DMB posed the question: is suburbia and the planned community the same thing?

“When our company got a hold of the property, we were wondering what Verrado could be,” Herrington said. “Reality is emblematic of the past. It’s attitudinal. This is not a conversation about millennials. It’s a conversation of all of us. It’s about proximity; proximity to the good stuff. The enemy is remoteness.”

Closer to the Valley, Gilbert’s Heritage District is a commitment to vision, retained character, relationships, and citizen involvement, said Economic Development Administrator Amanda Elliott.

“This has been a very dedicated 30-plus-year effort,” said Elliott, who added that there are another 11 acres of city-owned land ready to be developed. “This (project) has taken aggressive patience.”

Benefitting from the growth of Gilbert’s downtown core is LGE Design Build, whose President, David Sellers, offered the builder’s perspective. LGE has built a majority of the retail and office properties in downtown Gilbert. It has also built numerous retail projects along 7th Street in midtown Phoenix.

“Why Gilbert?” Sellers asked. “The demographics showed it was a pretty good submarket. Joe’s BBQ and Liberty Market were doing great. Craig DeMarco (owner of Postino) was also doing well. We just needed to make sure we could execute. We also had good tenant activity. Zinburger was there early in the process. Sam Fox buying into Gilbert really helped.”

Vision, city council alignment, and being deliberate in what they wanted were crucial to Mesa’s successful suburban core, according to Economic Development Assistant Director Jaye O’Donnell. “ASU is coming,” she said. “This is a catalyst for developing the light rail.”

Added John Lewis, former Gilbert Mayor and now President and CEO of East Valley Partnership.  “We have an appetite for cool projects. You just need to see it and feel it.”

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