Back to Square One

Back in the days when Phoenix was little more than a supply depot for the calvary, a block of modest shops was built along dusty roads that one day would become the major thoroughfares of downtown Phoenix. As the original townsite, it was called Square One.

Phoenix is now a century older, but that block--Central to First Street, Adams to Washington--will again carry the Square One name as one of the oldest ideas for downtown revitalization finally gets going this summer. And just as cowboys and women in long skirts found this was the only place to go in the 1800s, the developers hope modern Phoenicians will again gravitate to its shops, restaurants and music clubs.

Square One has been a dream since Margaret Hance was the mayor of the city and the council was elected at large, rather than from districts. Since the early 1980s--when Square One was called "the most significant project to revitalize downtown since the Civic Plaza"--it's been like a juicy lollipop held out for anyone who dared say the area would never have a nightlife: Well, how about 80,000 square feet of specialty shops, with gobs of restaurants and lots of entertainment, so folks will come to shop and stay to enjoy? A parade of development teams has seduced city councils with those promises.

Well, finally, it appears it's really going to happen. Trammel Crow--the development firm that's building two downtown high-rises--has taken over the reins of the project and has scheduled it to open in November 1991. Demolition of the block, now covered with a variety of buildings, is scheduled to begin in July, with the exception of the historic Hanny and Switzer buildings, which will be integrated into the new shopping center. (Meanwhile, the historic Stroud building on Central that has housed Tom's Tavern will be dismantled brick by brick and rebuilt near the state government complex.)

Trammel Crow's Bill Steinberg notes, "What we need is the kind of place that attracts people downtown during the nonbusiness hours, after 5 p.m. and on weekends. If we can bring that kind of user in here, it's the kind of project that will get downtown going."

He stresses that financing for the project--the determining factor--is lined up, with final papers to be signed by June. And although he's mum about exactly who will open shop in the project, he says he's "talking with good urban types" who have successfully operated in other city cores. "The people we're talking to have had success with comedy clubs and rock-comedy combinations and jazz," he says. When pressed, he portrays the nightlife of Square One as the kind where jeans would be more comfortable than formal wear.

"We've got different types of specialty retailers interested, from bookstores to clothing stores," he adds, but stresses the emphasis will be on food and entertainment facilities.

"We've clearly made a commitment to downtown," Steinberg says, "and this helps downtown. In the long-term, we think downtown Phoenix is going to be a good place." It also, he adds, will help the two office towers his firm is developing--helping attract tenants by giving them a lunchtime and after-work draw.

When Trammel Crow first explored a downtown location, Square One was one of the promises on the drawing boards. But eventually, "We found it wasn't moving, and we found if we got involved, it might be a way to move it forward again," Steinberg says. So David Cordish, the Baltimore developer who first signed an agreement to do Square One in 1984, became a "silent partner" with Trammel Crow. Negotiations with City Hall started, with an agreement signed last August designating Trammel Crow the lead developer. Last week, the council signed the final papers.

This new team has retained John Jerde as the main architect--the guy who designed the successful, people-pleasing Horton Plaza in downtown San Diego. But Trammel Crow also has hired the architecture firm of Kohn, Pederson and Fox of New York City: They'll coordinate the overall design which eventually is likely to add towering high-rise offices above the retail space. (The city's contract demands the retail space--with the city getting 35 percent of any net profits and retaining ownership of the land--but gives the developer the added incentive of building profitable offices into the air space over the shops. Steinberg says he can foresee as much as 500,000 square feet of office space--about the amount found in each of Trammel Crow's downtown towers--eventually being built above Square One.) Crucial to the project is the financing, a public-private partnership that Mayor Terry Goddard has tried to champion. Square One will be financed with an $11.8 million conventional loan to Trammel Crow from Citicorp, $10 million in Industrial Revenue Bonds the city has been saving since 1986, and $2.5 million in federal urban redevelopment funds the city also has kept on the string for three years.

City officials sound ecstatic over the project. "With Trammel Crow behind it, we're feeling really secure," says city center administrator Margaret McKeough. "We've heard from officials at HUD [the federal Housing and Urban Development Agency], and they're really excited about this project. It hasn't been easy, but we're all happy.


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