By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
The lofty Centerpoint Condominium towers broke ground in 2005 and were supposed to give downtown Tempe its own slice of Manhattan.
Four years later, they've delivered just that — except the slice resembles something out of the film Escape from New York. Not quite the Chamber of Commerce's dream.
The almost-completed 22- and 30-story buildings at Sixth Street and Maple Avenue are dark, shiny hulks at night — tombstones for the Phoenix area's devastated real estate market.
Without air-conditioning, the interiors roast at 190 degrees in the summer heat. And since construction stopped in July 2008, the towers have been a playground for drunken trespassers and transients.
Not so long ago, condominium agents were taking prospective residents into the towers to pitch the units. Prices started at about $300,000 and soared to more than a million for the spacious penthouses. The lowest-priced units were just 600 square feet or less — but what a view!
Nowadays, a different kind of visitor is enjoying the scenic vista. People like . . . We'll call him Dave.
On a warm evening in May, head buzzing from numerous rounds of alcohol consumed while barhopping on Mill Avenue, the young man prepared to relieve himself from the roof of the tallest building in the East Valley.
To fulfill his ill-considered plan, he realized he'd need the help of two friends — and they agreed to hold his arms tightly while he hung his butt over the side of the low, concrete wall.
"We were pretty drunk," says Dave.
After climbing the spooky, silent stairwell of the largest tower, the three buddies were now partying at more than 330 feet. Creepily, the rooftop glowed red from the large, blinking aviation-warning lights. Far below were the lights outlining the two bridges over Town Lake, the light-rail bridge and the Loop 202 freeway; the galaxy of Phoenix extended out to the horizon.
The trio saw evidence of the many trespassers who had come before them. Beer bottles lined the rooftop's edge; more bottles and dozens of cigarette butts were also strewn across the roof.
Dave sat on the wall — and was overcome by a wave of good sense. His friends were laughing so hard that he figured they'd drop him. He abandoned the college-boy idea.
The team decided to explore their environs on the way down, checking out the half-built condo units of the north tower. Wood floors and countertops had been installed in some units. Slabs of uncut granite, dry wall, and other raw material "were everywhere," he says. They ventured onto balconies that were bordered only by rickety two-by-fours, but the place didn't seem too dangerous. So, a few weeks later, Dave brought a couple more of his friends to the towers for a romp.
This time, the door they had used on the third floor of the parking garage was locked. A security guard in a truck rolled up as they looked for another entrance. He forced them to leave the garage and jump back over the chain-link fence. Because the guard was "so cool" they came back in moments later, only to be nabbed by the same guy. They had judged him right — the guard had no interest in busting anyone and merely told them once again to scram.
"He said he catches kids up there all the time," Dave says.
It's not just "kids," though. The buildings — expected at one time to be worth more than a quarter-billion dollars upon completion — have become a hangout for transients, too.
The trespassing free-for-all led Tempe's development services director, Chris Anaradian, to fire off a bluntly worded e-mail on June 3 to one of the developing company's principals, Ken Losch.
"Heads up, guys . . . The Tempe Police Department is sending officers over to Development Services today. They want to understand how we can pressure you to mitigate the large numbers of trespassers who are routinely entering the empty buildings at Centerpoint," Anaradian wrote. "Evidently, the upper floors of the project have been routinely trespassed by our local homeless population."
The problem is challenging. Losch's bankrupt company is existing on emergency funds, and security is expensive.
The Centerpoint condo project was supposed to open its first tower in spring 2008, along with first-floor retail shops. The taller tower was to open a few months after that.
From the beginning, the project was designed to be over-the-top.
The initial plan called for four high-rises with 800 units. The project was later broken up into two phases, the first consisting of two towers and 375 units.
A 23,000-square-foot common area on a seventh-floor "backyard" connecting the towers was to feature a white-sand beach next to a pool, a kitchen with on-duty chef, a wine lounge, an "electronic lounge" with large-screen TVs and video games, a spa, a gym, and concierge services.
On the first floor, residents and the public would be treated to a gourmet grocery store with coffee drinks and gelato, a bakery, and other shops. A new Italian restaurant was to be built in partnership with one of the Valley's top chefs, Michael de Maria. The Trattoria M was to be equipped with a "wine aficionado room" and private "chef's table" room, plus a casual dining area. (De Maria, who closed his Michael's at the Citadel restaurant in Scottsdale two years ago to focus on Centerpoint, did not return calls for this article).