Downtown Downer

A parking crisis for urban pioneers at the Orpheum Lofts

But many residents describe their feelings much differently.

"After parking in the lot next door for two years, thinking it was ours, it was shocking to find out differently," says Ty Brown, a mortgage broker who owns a unit in the building. "And now it's a huge issue because a lot of people can't afford it. We were promised one thing and given something else."

"Everybody's upset," says Regan Rhodes, a strategic sourcing manager for a Fortune 500 company. "Ask any person who bought a place: What person in their right mind would be okay with this?"

Residents like Tony Pira say they were promised parking.
Tony Blei
Residents like Tony Pira say they were promised parking.

The heart of the problem is that this isn't Manhattan, or even San Francisco. You can't live in downtown Phoenix without a car. And, to Orpheum residents, it seems impossible that you can buy a condo here with zero disclosure that parking isn't included.

As it turns out, you can.

The Orpheum Lofts' neighborhood is zoned "urban," says the city's downtown development director, John Chan. That zoning, unlike others in the city, requires no parking, whether it's for shops or condos.

And TASB may have covered itself, legally. In one of its disclosures, the developer noted that the surface lot "may be developed in the future for any use" permitted by the city, including a parking garage or a mixed-use development. While the main point of the disclosure seems to be that residents can't sue if they suffer damages during construction of a garage or other development, the developer could surely use the language to argue that it made no promises. (It doesn't help that residents had to initial the bottom of the page.)

But there's also plenty of evidence that TASB was far from upfront about the tentative parking situation. In 2003, the developer asked the city for a variance for valet parking, explaining that "condo units would be a hard sell without convenient parking," according to city records.

There's also the building's "reserve" study. In it, analysts hired by the developer note that the homeowners association will be responsible for seal-coating the parking lot every three years. And real estate listings all show the units as having parking spaces included. So do county assessments.

City officials say they're concerned about the situation and hope to find a way to help the residents. In an e-mail, Scott Phelps, spokesman for Mayor Phil Gordon, says that the mayor's goal is to "work with the developer or a financial institution" on financing options. "We want to find a solution that works," he writes, "and will work hard to get there."

The councilman whose ward includes the Orpheum Lofts, Michael Johnson, was sufficiently concerned to attend its homeowners association meeting last week.

Johnson called the matter a "very serious subject" that has City Hall's attention. "I don't know of any other residential structure in Phoenix that doesn't have parking," he said, suggesting that the neighborhood's "urban" zoning may be an inadequate holdover from the days when downtown had no residents.

"I can't see building residential units without a parking structure," the councilman added. "It's almost impossible to think that would happen."

But it's one thing to express sympathy; it may be another one entirely to find a solution. It's hard to imagine a way out for the building's residents that doesn't include considerable expense — and Johnson certainly didn't have a plan to offer at Wednesday's meeting.

Some residents say they have no choice but to buy a space from Wallach in the parking garage he'll be building next door. It's not ideal, they say, but what choice do they have?

Wallach says that he won't be making money off the deal. Thirty thousand dollars per spot barely covers his costs.

"I will do everything in my power to help the residents make their units more marketable," he says. "I just want to help them."

But Wallach, whose résumé boasts that he's developed more than $100 million of real estate, is in a different place from many Orpheum owners. He suggests that getting a $30,000 loan — $200 a month for 30 years — should be no difficult task.

That may be true for people like Monty and Marlene Wilson, who own a home in Sedona and are in the Orpheum for the long haul. But it's certainly not true for everybody in the building.

Blame the Valley's real estate slump. Units are now selling for much less than some people paid a year ago. Smaller units had soared to more than $389,000 in the heady, early days of 2006. In the last year, they've dropped below $300,000. Residents who paid top price, and now have to add another $30,000 for parking, are almost certainly going to end up owing far more than they can get by selling.

Several residents said they can't keep up with the increase in the Orpheum's association fees. They hope to sell. But without guaranteed parking, and with cheaper options going on the market downtown, they fear it won't be easy.

One worried resident is Tony Pira. A photography student about to graduate from Arizona State, he lives with his partner, a flight attendant, in a 838-square-foot unit that he considered a good investment two years ago. But even with his partner's salary and Pira's stipend from the Air Force, they can't keep up with mounting costs.

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Kathy DeAngelis
Kathy DeAngelis

According to the, forclosures are down in 2010, but I keep hearing stories which makes me wonder how that can me true. This story sounds like a nightmare, and I am truly sorry for Tona Pira and everyone in the same boat with him.



Well, Mr. Pira should know what fraud is since he has been imprisoned for the same crime in more than one city. Police reports can be found in Maricopa County AZ, Austin TX and Miami FL


"Carole" I read those reports and they are only in AZ not in other states as you claim, 13 years later and you are still filling your life with the hate and negativity that it takes to stalk someone more than a decade later? This Pira character may have done something wrong, even unimaginable but that was 13 years ago. I think you have some unresolved anger, maybe you were a victim or involved in someway with him? I think you might need to let this one go, it was a long time ago and people change... what is the saying? He did the time... It looks like your sentence was longer than his!

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