City Hall

Public Throws Shade at Chopping Down Trees in Renaissance Square

Antonia Farzan
If you were planning on heading to Renaissance Square for your lunch break today, you're in for a surprise.

All of the trees are gone.

On Saturday morning, the eight ficus trees that once had made the outdoor plaza at Central Avenue and Adams Street so appealing were removed.

Most of them had died, as you can see from the photo above — which was taken on Friday morning. Two still looked pretty healthy, but were chopped down anyway.

Late last week, after receiving word that the trees would get cut down, Stacey Champion of Rogue Green quickly created a petition to save them.

“More and more people every year are dying because of the heat,” Champion told Phoenix New Times. “Our temperatures are increasing every year. We’re breaking heat records every year. We’re in the bullseye of climate change. Phoenix is hot — we need shade.”

By Sunday night, she had collected over 3,000 signatures from outraged Phoenix residents (as well as a handful of tree-loving Californians).

click to enlarge The now-treeless plaza. - ANTONIA FARZAN
The now-treeless plaza.
Antonia Farzan
"Phoenix needs all the shade trees it can get," one woman wrote. "Our solid concrete jungle adds to the unbearable summer heat; cutting down beautiful big trees will only exacerbate the situation. SAVE OUR TREES!!!"

Meanwhile, as word spread on social media, people began calling up the property's owners to complain.

Ironically, Renaissance Square is jointly owned by two companies that are both named after trees: Cypress Office Properties and Oaktree Capital Management.

Some theorized that getting rid of the trees was a not-so-subtle way of driving out the homeless. Others questioned whether the building's management had deliberately stopped watering the trees so that they could replace them with date palms, which look nice in photographs but provide virtually no shade.

In response to inquiries from Phoenix New Times, Mark Wayne of Cypress Office Properties sent over the following statement:

Thank you for your inquiry regarding Renaissance Square. Cypress Office Properties, LLC and Hines GS are committed to sustainability, the environment, and to improving the neighborhood experience in and around Renaissance Square. We have heard the community concerns regarding the removal of eight ficus trees in the planters on the plaza of Renaissance Square. We are making every effort to mitigate negative environmental impacts and loss of shade through the replacement of these trees. That said, our landscape consultants have concluded that the trees in question are either dead or approaching the end of their useful life due to the shallow depth of the planting beds and limited root zone, and allowing these trees to remain presents a safety issue. We appreciate that the community is concerned about the trees at Renaissance Square and we have been thoughtful in our approach to replace them with plants that will provide shade, beauty and longevity so that the neighborhood can continue to enjoy all that downtown and Renaissance Square have to offer.
Wayne hasn't yet responded to our follow-up question about what types of plants will eventually wind up replacing the trees.

Currently, the plaza looks pretty desolate. There's still shade from the surrounding buildings, but it's no longer an appealing place to sit and eat lunch. Even the dead trees looked better.

Advocates hope that in future, the city council will enact regulations that make it harder for property owners to rip out shade trees.

“Yes, there are private property rights, but other cities are somehow able to do these things," Champion said. "And this is a GPLET property — I think that makes a huge difference, because it’s an incentivized business, and those trees had a public benefit.”

They also want Phoenix to take a proactive approach by planting more shade trees in public spaces downtown.
"In a city that's only getting hotter every year, trees and shade should be one of our biggest priorities," Urban Phoenix Project president Sean Sweat said. "Yet it doesn't look like the City Council has made any meaningful progress towards implementing the Tree & Shade Master Plan they approved seven years ago."

"We need them to look beyond their terms and take the future of Phoenix seriously," he added.