I was going to write about [the real-estate developer], but that can wait until next week.
Here on the ground in Phoenix, there are new apartments but mostly rumors of new apartments.
For example, the property on the southwest corner of First Avenue and Roosevelt across from Trinity Cathedral is a dark hulk. Two five-story stairway shafts and one floor have been built. But it looks much the same as it did three months ago. No work seems to be happening.
The Edison, just south of One Lexington on Central, has a fence up, some grading done, and that's it. Lennar's apartments at Central and McDowell are moving very sloooowww.
Maybe I'm spoiled by Seattle. About 200 buildings, many of them skyscrapers, have been completed, permitted, or are under construction just downtown over the past couple of years. Things come out of the ground fast.
On the other hand, I remember the great boom of the 2000s. Central Phoenix was studded with sites much like the Edison: renderings, fences, nothing. When the bubble burst, most never happened. Remember the twin 60-story towers promised on north Central around Columbus? Empty land today.
The hot money that poured into downtown construction across the country is tailing off except in the most elite cities, ones that are technology or financial centers. Phoenix never had a robust financing infrastructure for anything but sprawl. Hence, so many projects were dependent on the defunct Mortgages Ltd. rather than big banks.
Also, Phoenix has been one of the very few major cities not to benefit from the "return to the city" dynamic that is defining places such as Boston, Portland, Denver, and Seattle. It lacks the major headquarters, tech branch offices, and growing startups that produce tens of thousands of well-paid jobs downtown. Only in Phoenix among major metros is real estate the, rather than the result of, important economic drivers. Hence, what life remains in the vaunted growth machine is happening in the suburbs.
So I read that the Circles Records building has been purchased by a Scottsdale developer (real urban cred there) that aims to build apartments and ground-level restaurants.
Just what central Phoenix needs: more restaurants, as opposed to other businesses, especially those providing useful services and good jobs.
That will apparently entail demolishing one of the most important and distinctive buildings in the central core. Is the city powerless to insist that the developer keep the shell of the old Studebaker dealership (this was once Auto Row)? Apparently. Laws passed by the Kookocracy severely limit cities "takings" and design regulation powers.
It doesn't take much imagination from anyone who touched a hot stove as a child to know what will happen. The developer will demolish the building, fail to secure financing, send the property into the endless spin cycle of flipping — and Phoenix gains another blighted empty lot.
Another troubling sign is that the delightful Forno 301 Italian restaurant is apparently being pushed out; the owner of the building is said to want to tear it down and build apartments.
The building itself, diagonal from the Gold Spot at Third Avenue and Roosevelt, is a forgettable one-story — whatever historic bones were stuccoed over one time too many. In the 2000s, it housed a sleazy charter school that used a roach coach as its "cafeteria." But it was spruced up and is now full of businesses.
Yet its importance is location: at an intersection of two narrow commercial streets with buildings on all four corners. It's in the heart of a stunning row of mostly historic two-story apartments and mansions, many (sadly) converted to offices but their integrity intact. As valuable, most of these blocks have authentic shade trees and grass, a pocket park just to the south. The intimacy, connectedness, and human scale, which once was a defining feature of the old city, remain here almost by accident.
So at best, this might be disrupted by a glass midrise that's out of scale and architectural cohesion with the area — although Post Properties did a good job integrating its Roosevelt Square circa 2000 in the blocks that also have the historic diocese offices, bishop's house, and Trinity. New construction can be melded in well.
Worst would be a tear-down and a vacant lot, this tiny treasure of real urban quality damaged by a blighted gap. (Remember, east Roosevelt, the heart of Roosevelt Row, was once entirely full of commercial buildings and homes, varying ages and styles, but they fit together well — before the tear-downs began).
Demand exists. Downtown has replaced Scottsdale as the most expensive rental market. But will the financing and urban know-how be there before this aging business cycle turns down?
I want to be wrong about this. But it's not looking promising.