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December 13, 2010

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Sunday's AZ Rep feature on Jon the mystery writer described him as a "contrarian" while he was a columnist. This, and previous Phoenix 101 segments are testaments to Mr. Talton's unique understanding of the factors that have contributed to our malaise . . economic, social, environmental and a long list of others.

True, his views ran "contrary" to the Booster Club and most important, the all-powerful real estate/development-meisters. He spoke truth to power and I hope he never quits. Most of the bully pulpits out there are still preaching the theology of denial.

Me? I'm working on my simple little childrens' story of how the banksters stole our treasure.

What I enjoy about Jon's writing is how just a small grouping of his words can have so much depth of meaning.

Example: "standing in a town of branch managers".

As a creature of this earth, a branch manager is often times a gutless, spineless creature that doesn't wish to do anything that might draw the attention of the bosses at home office. Thus, a life of vanilla, bland, nothingness is their goal.

The wolves of old phoenix would eat wimpy branch managers for breakfast.


Phoenix and Arizona have been ahead of their time, at least with regard to social regression, for some time. One example is the rise of the Bircher right in Arizona, which presaged the same phenomenon on a national level. And another example is pointed out in this column: on a national level, old power brokers with some measure of civic commitment have been replaced by sociopaths with an eye on the next quarterly bonus. As Arizona goes, so goes the nation.

Who was the man that was killed when his car was struck by a truck while he was on his way to meet the FBI to testify about Fife Symington's financial fraud?

Suburb-Downtown Overhang:
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703380104576015701772086530.html

CBD: +243,000 sq ft, Suburbs: -4,286,000 sq ft, since early 2009

"What I enjoy about Jon's writing is how just a small grouping of his words can have so much depth of meaning." - azrebel

Astute observation, azrebel. What *amazes* me is how he can write an essay on "The Phoenix 40" and not use the word 'oligarchy'. :)

The parallel with Athens' Council of 400 is soooo tempting.

I was reading this piece by David Cay Johnston this morning and thought of The Arizona Republic and why I no longer bother reading it.
http://www.nieman.harvard.edu/reports/article/102499/Its-Scary-Out-There-in-Reporting-Land.aspx

The Phoenix 40 seemed to hover above us, not quite detached from everyday life but satisfied that Phoenix was in (their) good hands. Yet, if you think how institutions, particularly journalism, were arranged, they were justified in their self-confidence. Charter government was their political body armor. Banking was boring. And Arizona needed only their judicious oversight to function well.

Journalism's crash parallels that of the stewardship class. Our best intentions are no longer enough. We can critique the right-wing frenzy that substitutes for our public life but we can't drain its swamp. The necessary churn of self-examination and debate is gone.

At the risk of prolonging this discussion, I'm remembering my acquaintance with a number of these gentlemen . . used to serve on a few boards with some who regularly broke bread at the University Club. If they shared one flaw, it would be the general lack of any commonly held strategic vision for Phoenix and environs. The Morrison Institute has tried, but their "5 shoes waiting to drop" was never pursued. Too bad!

This type of columns from Jon are among my favorite. They get to the real issues occurring, or not occurring, in Phoenix. It seems that the stewards in Phoenix are sleeping or bored or powerless.

I think Jim gives us great insight to some of the problems that have kept downtown from surging ahead of other cities in terms of development of density; conflicting interests. Probably conflicting as in which area of the city to focus development.

It seems that neighborhoodism is a problem in Phoenix to the point of failure. Examples, Donald Trumps failure (twice) to build a Trump Hotel in Phoenix. The issue that kept his hotel from development was a neighborhood group in the Biltmore area that complained of building heights blocking their view of the mountains. Why not entice Mr. Trump to build his hotel in Uptown, Midtown or downtown. There was never even mention of such a possibility.

The W Hotel was to be built downtown next to U.S. Airways Center in a historic building that is a remnant of Phoenix' long forgotten Chinatown. A Chinese group sued the new owner of the building and stopped the development of this iconic brand. There was again, no mention of even trying to move the location of the W to an adjacent vacant block that surrounds the arena.

I could go on listing failures like these all day but I think the point is made. There are too many conflicts of interest (disinterest more like it) that materialization of plans always seem like an uphill battle.

One thing I absolutely agree with Jon is that Phoenix needs its "head-knockers" back to get things moving. Things are happening downtown; however, developments could have been and can be much more prolific with real leadership.

phxSUNSfan, I'm not sure how a Trump hotel on east Camelback Rd would benefit urban Phoenix. Moreover, Trump made it clear that he didn't want to be downtown because he was unimpressed by it. Compare and contrast to downtown Denver where Trump was doing cartwheels trying to get his latest monument to himself built. Unfortunately, even in a better downtown Trump came up empty. The guy builds some of the most mediocre buildings in America, usually by snookering investors with promises of unrealistic returns. BTW, if you recall the design for east Camelback, we dodged a bullet.

The W Hotel was not going to be built regardless of the activists who wanted to keep a remnant of old Chinatown extant. The plan depended on half the building being sold as condos. Robert Sarver was in close communication with Grace Communities, the developer of 44 Monroe. Even at the height of the boom, the high-end downtown condo market was soft. Sarver was content to let Asian-Americans become the fall guys but the details of his proposal never really penciled out. Given that every other condo project downtown is swamped by foreclosures, it was a wise decision on his part.

Nimbyism is occasionally painted as a demon to be despised by urbanists, but it largely misses the point. Yes, some neighborhood activists are parochial and shortsighted. But given the wholesale civic malpractice in a city like Phoenix, their skittishness about developers is easily understood. Look at Phoenix today, awash in empty lots due to out-of-control land banking. This is what the cult of skyscrapers has brought us - a city so pock-marked and forlorn that it looks like it belongs on Mars. Real "head-knockers" were, no doubt, in favor of this since they were as blinded by greed as any farmer in an oil patch. In this sense, stewardship, even when it existed, utterly failed Phoenix.

"The guy [Donald Trump] builds some of the most mediocre buildings in America" - soleri

I'm gazing at a pair of his bland monstrosities at this moment. They disrupt what might have been an attractive coastal skyline here in Florida. Whenever I glance at them I give "The Donald" a one-finger salute for his insults to American society and culture.

Soleri, I remember the W Hotel plan well and had a few friends interested in purchasing condos in the building if it were to be built. There were 190 hotel rooms and 170 condo units, of which most owner occupied units had signed agreements to purchase.

The hotel was backed by Sarver but also by Starwood Hotels and the entire Phoenix Suns organization including many wealthy current and former players (Charles Barkley among them).

As for the Donald, LOL, I am not a huge fan of many of his plain faced towers but some I absolutely like. Including the Chicago addition.

I've seen skylines absolutely riddled with mistakes and soulless facades (Seattle comes to mind) but some of his newer creations are compliments to the city. I'm not well versed on his business practices so your insight on that is interesting.

As for building placement on E Camelback, I was against its in the Biltmore and favored a Central Ave. address.

I even agree slightly with the Chinese group that sued to stop the W from building within the shell of the old warehouse but since they have no plans for the use of the building, it would seem that the hotel would have served the building (as well as preserving the shell) well.

Vacant lots in Phoenix seemed to have been the shortsighted accomplishment of city leadership that hoped for future high-rise development. This of course after banking off lucrative parking lots. This doomed block after block of historic buildings in downtown! An abomination if you ask me and a failure of city government in the 70's through early 90's.

phxSUNSfan, there was never even a sales office for the W's condos, so I don't know where you got that factoid about sales agreements for the vast majority of its units. The architectural rendering was only provisional, so it was impossible to make a public record of the properties, let alone make agreements based on sales pitches.

The W "sales" office, more a promotional and pre-sales arrangement were through the "W Phoenix Hotel" pre-registration site and hotel presentation center. This would also give access to those who had agreements views of the sites and sales office, as well as models before they were opened up to the general public.

Also Soleri, not sure where YOU are getting your information, and I was also wrong in that Trump and Bayrock were in fact extremely interested in not just one but two downtown Phoenix sites for Hotel/Towers. The plan for a twin Trump Tower was in place to knock down the Arizona Center parking garage and building housing the AMC Theater.

The second downtown site would have been located where the Ramada Inn once stood and will be the home of ASU's law school. Once again however, the city's archaic requirements and regulations for developers ultimately drove Donald and Bayrock Group out of town; especially the parking requirements. These requirements weren't changed until 2008 (coinciding with increased parking meter fees if you remember):

On the site today are the AMC Theaters and the Arizona Center's parking structure. Both would be demolished to make way for the tall buildings, but theaters would be integrated into the new design, and the parking would be replaced with several levels of above- and underground parking, Woodring said.

Read more: Trump, Bayrock Group enter talks to redevelop Arizona Center | Phoenix Business Journal

http://www.bizjournals.com/phoenix/stories/2005/10/31/story2.html

phxSUNSfan, without a public report, there can be no sales. "Pre-sales" are just refundable deposits and are largely meaningless except as PR. I have no memory of any W Hotel sales office downtown (believe me: my ear is very close to the ground). I suspect that it was probably Sarver's publicity apparatus and not even open to the public. Of course, ginning up interest in real-estate development is a very old game that depends on people accepting as face value what are really blue-sky proposals.

The "talks" that Trump had at Arizona Center didn't go anywhere for a reason. The reason is obvious to anyone who doesn't take a real-estate mogul's bullshit as holy writ. Trump was simply playing off one side against another in hopes of getting the deal he really wanted. Trump didn't get what he wanted (the height variance on Camelback Rd) and simply walked. Like a lot of major-league assholes, Trump didn't even bother to say goodbye.

I read the Phoenix Business Journal daily but I always keep my bullshit detector on since it's often a conduit for pro-development buzz. I've lived in Phoenix for much longer than I like to admit and the kind of Trump stories they peddled are sadly typical of this town. The greatest con job we endured was in 1989 when some guy named Georges Shriqui, some guy who lived in Paradise Valley and Monaco, was going to build a 114 story building at 2nd St & Portland. He had the mayor, city bureaucrats, and media strung along for months while "negotiating" all the various giveaways, abatements, and inducements for his "project". Of course, it was all blue sky but wishful thinking makes chumps out of sober adults. One of their favorite tricks, by the way, is getting cheerleaders like yourself blaming Nimbys for all the hassles bureaucrats are throwing at them. They were doing this before you were born.

LOL, Soleri you spew a lot of "fact" with very little support. Very little. I don't blame nimbys at all for problems in Phoenix, specifically downtown. You should try improving your reading comprehension skills some.

Sorry, but if I have to choose to find some truth in matters I'd rather find them in documented sources rather than someone whose "ear was close to the ground."

Very hard to verify information in such a manner and these types of opinions, like yours, are just as readily manipulated than any cheerleader's. Remember, your the mirror opposite of the cheer squad.

I do remember the 114 story building, I believe it was to be called "Phoenix Tower" or some generic appellation; a S&L scandal if I read correctly...

Sorry Soleri, you seem very intelligent but it is hard to believe someone who backtracks and is keen on doublespeak. You at first wrote: "Moreover, Trump made it clear that he didn't want to be downtown because he was unimpressed by it. Compare and contrast to downtown Denver where Trump was doing cartwheels trying to get his latest monument to himself built."

You followed with: "The "talks" that Trump had at Arizona Center didn't go anywhere for a reason. The reason is obvious to anyone who doesn't take a real-estate mogul's bullshit as holy writ. Trump was simply playing off one side against another in hopes of getting the deal he really wanted."

Sometimes you seem duplicitous.

Our "soulless facade" in Seattle.

http://supertremendous.com/Galleries/Amazing/The-15-Most-Beautiful-American-City-Skylines/Seattle-Skyline-892.html

(listed among "America's 15 most beautiful skylines." Phoenix not included.

phxSUNSfan, exactly where is your proof that Trump really wanted to build downtown? Discussions are not intentions. This is a fairly basic precept and without some underlying evidence, there's no reason to take developer chat seriously, PARTICULARLY when the result was as most observers predicted. Your source here is virtually a real-estate sign touting "high-rise potential".

Your writing is as obscure as the thinking that informs it. There is not a contradiction between noting Trump's excitement about Denver and his faux negotiations with Arizona Center. He was high on Denver and lukewarm about Phoenix. He thought Phoenix was worth a 13 story building five miles outside its downtown core. He thought Denver was worth a 60-story building downtown. If he had built the proposed design for his hotel here, Phoenix would have been poorer for it. We don't need more ugly buildings in this city no matter how exasperated you were that the city fathers didn't collapse before The Donald.

I don't have enough time to troll real-estate sites to find footnotes for my conversation. This is what this is, by the way. You want to believe certain things that are demonstrably ridiculous (Phoenix is better than Seattle is the kind of belief only Republicans would entertain). I have lived twice as long as you and have a broader context for my viewpoints. I travel widely, read voraciously, and possess an excellent memory. By contrast, you are a pouty little twerp.

Thanks for the photo, Tim. I can see my condo.

LOL, Soleri. I still read into your doublespeak. No matter the ad hominems you employ, your stances are clearly unsubstantiated and highly suspicious. Public records.

Maybe you are familiar, available at Phoenix City Hall from the Economic Development Department regarding the Bayrock/Trump/General Growth Properties/Rouse filings and paperwork. Your highly read,traveled, and memorized opinions are just that; slants, conjecture...

Especially considering what you wrote in this discussion and much misinformation and inaccurate statements of "facts", I find your ego unchecked:

"He thought Phoenix was worth a 13 story building five miles outside its downtown core. He thought Denver was worth a 60-story building downtown." -Soleri

This in the face of documents showing interest and discussions of two twin 40-story buildings in downtown Phoenix. Given the information on both proposals for Denver and Phoenix, it seems both of Trumps projects shared the same fate and story line.

Tim, the lights do add some style to the soulless buildings in Seattle, but I think the light of day shows a very different reality. A cloned, plain-faced, whitewashed, boxy/square abortion of rapid and unimaginative building design:

http://www.topix.com/album/detail/seattle/DLHSU8O5VN1FGVE4

Some Seattle soul lost to the glut of urban blandness (demolished):

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Downtown_Seattle_Post_Office_-_1914.jpg

Soleri: "There is not a contradiction between noting Trump's excitement about Denver and his faux negotiations with Arizona Center."

Trumps "proposals" in Denver lacked any physical presentations and were much more preliminary than downtown Phoenix Arizona Center proposal. There was not even a site selected in Denver, nor architectural renderings:

"There is nothing to report beyond the preliminary discussions a year or so ago," Rhona Graff, a spokeswoman for The Trump Organization, told the Denver Business Journal by email this week. "In other words, we have nothing planned for Denver."

"The Trump team was 'nonresponsive' to a request for qualifications for the project..."

http://www.bizjournals.com/denver/stories/2007/12/03/story13.html

phxSUNSfan, give it a rest. You're wildly projecting about me while blithely asserting your own guesses as facts. Let's agree on one thing here: Trump is a bullshit artist. He flies into town, ruffles feathers, makes arrogant demands, and then flies out when they're not met. Detect a pattern here? Essentially, he's a flim-flam artist who rules by setting one group of rubes off against another. So, as good as downtown Denver is, he couldn't manufacture the buzz that would somehow shake loose $500 million for his latest monument. Here, he barely went through the motions although he dangled a possibility in front of Rouse who were eager to get something going in their underperforming project. Was Rouse ever in the running? The proof to the contrary is that there was no opposition to this idea from neighborhoods, government, or politicians. Indeed, in 2005, residents in the Biltmore areas were sporting bumperstickers reading "take it downtown". If there was no opposition to this, if Trump was, according to your fantasy, amenable, why didn't it happen? http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/news/articles/1222trump22.html

Let's clarify something called reality. Trump didn't build a hotel downtown because he didn't want to. Maybe we hurt his feelings but I suspect the real reason is rather simple. He looked around and saw how pathetic our downtown was. He saw the Biltmore area as the area where real money flowed. It was never even close.

phxSUNSfan, I think any sentient Phoenix urbanist would KILL for Seattle's downtown. Yes, some of the newer building stock is uninspired. Ever been to New York? Chicago? Even San Francisco with its various glories has a financial district full of bland, forgettable buildings. The point is not that American downtowns couldn't be better - obviously they could be. The point is that they still function despite their aesthetic shortcomings. Downtown Phoenix is largely an afterthought in a metroplex of 4 million. Downtown Denver, by contrast, is clearly the nerve center of its metroplex. Ditto, Seattle, which has the advantage of some gorgeous historic buildings, mostly in and around Pioneer Square but some really good ones in its core as well. The loss of these old beaux-arts monuments is something that really tears at me given their irreplaceable beauty and dignity. Phoenix had some modest treasures, too. My father tore down some of them for the salvage rights (they were already slated for destruction). So, I personally witnessed the destruction of the old YMCA and Water Users Building. Every downtown in America tells this story. Seattle's story is no more or less tragic than Boston's or Cincinnati's. To look at what's been lost in this country (and often replaced with utter dreck) ought to be a lesson in humility for our so-called civilization.

Correction: The W Hotel was to be built NORTH of the historic Sun Mercantile Building. In-between the W Hotel and the Sun Merc was to be an 11-story new construction condo. Then, by gutting the Sun Merc, there was to be 11-stories of something (first undefined, later condo or office) inserted into the historic structure.

The dozen-plus organizations that filed suit to stop the destruction of the Sun Mercantile Building -- representing Asian-American, historic preservation, and neighborhood groups -- did not oppose the construction of the W Hotel or the 11-story new construction condo in the middle of the parcel. They simply wanted the Sun Merc, the last remaining building in Phoenix's 2nd Chinatown, to be spared.

Months before it was lauded as a site for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The plan called for a sympathetic adaptive reuse of the historic building. Why not bring that idea back?

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