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ASU Plans 20-Story Tower for Oldsters in Downtown Tempe, Giving New Meaning to 'Senior Class'

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The Arizona Board of Regents has approved an Arizona State University plan to lease land for a 20-story, senior-housing project on a high-profile site in downtown Tempe.

"Mirabella" is the latest plan for another mini-skyscraper in the college town east of Phoenix, which has seen a construction boom in recent years. And it's another chance for ASU to make use of land that nearly ended up as a conference center and home for USA Basketball last year before the lofty plans fell apart. 

The senior-living project is a $200-million, 1.5-acre tower complex slated for the southwest corner of University Drive and Myrtle Avenue, just east of University and Mill Avenue, records show. It would take up part of a 10-acre parcel of ASU land that the school has tried for years to improve. The parcel is now mostly a parking lot — a former strip mall with some of the evicted businesses converted to temporary ASU offices.

By 2020, according to an April 18 press release that flew under the radar of most local news media, Mirabella could be home to hundreds of occupants living in "291 independent, assisted, memory-care and skilled-nursing units" in the double-tower complex. "The facility will engage older alumni and retired faculty, staff and friends by providing lifelong learning, a continuum of health-care services for aging adults and an environment rich in performing arts, social, athletic and research activities."

Eighty percent of the residential area would be apartment units, and the rest would be assisted-living units.

The nonprofit ASU Foundation and Oregon-based Pacific Retirement Services company will develop the project.

On Wednesday, the 10-member Board of Regents approved ASU's lease request in a special meeting at Northern Arizona University, allowing the project to move forward.

If the 500,000-square-foot complex takes shape, it will have "extensive amenities," including onsite physicians, a fitness center, a 5,000-square-foot restaurant, and underground parking. Mirabella also would offer residents estate planning, educational and mentoring opportunities, concierge services, and an intergenerational childcare program.

"This is a wonderful opportunity to provide intellectual stimulation for senior members of the ASU family — and in an altogether new way," Rick Shangraw, CEO of the ASU Foundation, said in the press release. "The ASU community will certainly benefit from their presence, as we hope they will from their return to the campus of the nation’s most innovative university."

The Mill Avenue District, to which Mirabella would be adjacent, would offer a lot of action for the old folks. It just may be the most urban setting in metro Phoenix, filled with bars, nightclubs, restaurants, and movie theaters, vibrant (though not always in the dead of summer) with throngs of ASU students, local visitors, street performers, and vagabonds. The resident seniors could utilize the area's decent public transportation, including nearby light rail, and reportedly would be allowed access to ASU facilities such as Hayden Library.

Mill Avenue can get crazy sometimes, like a tiny version of New Orleans' Bourbon Street transplanted to tidier environs. Would seniors enjoy living in the occasional sea of drunks and loud music the place is known for? And would students and the partiers on Mill Avenue really get along with hundreds of gray-hairs?

The plan is in an early phase, with a marketing and feasibility study still under way, says university spokeswoman Elizabeth Giudicessi.

The project will advance only upon "proof of financial feasibility, committed funding, and an acceptable delivery schedule for the senior housing product," records show. A 99-year lease would be based on a value of $85 per square foot. The records indicate that ASU sees the plan as a potential money-maker: In the current favorable market, the school anticipates "financial returns with little debt and maximum cash flow."

Perhaps even more lucrative for the ASU Foundation, which helps fund ASU, would be the way the senior housing puts ASU alumni in "a close relationship with their alma mater and to assist with ASU Foundation
fundraising efforts."

Messages left with Pacific Retirement Services on Thursday weren't returned.

Giudicessi was unable to immediately say whether the senior project means that USA Basketball, the organization that governs non-professional basketball and selects teams for the Olympics, might still move its headquarters to Tempe. The $350 million-plus USA Place project was announced by USA Basketball chair and sports mogul Jerry Colangelo in 2014, but negotiations fell apart in January 2015 when the hoops group failed to deposit an earnest-money payment.

ASU still wants to turn the rest of the old strip mall and parking lot into a hotel and conference center, the Mirabella records show.

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