After three weeks of commenting on national politics, it's time to return to Phoenix. This was once the time of year to stay inside with the air conditioning and wait for the oven to ease up in September. Now it's snake removal calls in north Scottsdale, idiots hiking in the middle of the day and often putting first responders at risk to rescue them, and an oven that doesn't shut off until close to Thanksgiving. But..."everything's fine!," with championship golf!
• Phoenix rejected a tax break for a developer that partially demolished the historic Circles Records building under the pretext of erecting a 19-story residential tower. The Resistance, which was sandbagged by the tear-down, reacted by a range of "Hell, no!" to quiet negotiations with crisis-management duo Jordan and Jason Rose, brought in to salvage the deal.
Unfortunately, I fear the result will be complete demolition and another surface parking lot to the flipped and reflipped until the day, decades hence, when the property ends up on the books of a REIT in Tel Aviv. It's unclear that the developer ever really had the capitalization to do the mid-rise, and lack of tax incentives makes it even more unlikely. State law gives enormous protection to property owners. So defeating the tax break doesn't mean saving what's left of the former Stewart Motors at McKinley and Central (technically just north of downtown).
It can't be said enough: Downtown Phoenix needs more than ASU, government, and a few modest headquarters. It needs a robust and diverse economy — very much at odds with the spec sprawl model at work elsewhere in "the Valley." Until then, Phoenix will be the only major city in the nation missing out on the "back to downtown" phenomenon you can read about here. It is an astonishing, heartbreaking failure, and saying that downtown Phoenix is better than 20 years ago doesn't cut it.
• The Los Angeles Times (can you imagine what would happen to this still-fine newspaper if it were bought by Gannett?) takes note of a plan — or is it an aspiration? — to cover 25 percent of Phoenix with a shade canopy by 2030.
The shift has come as Phoenix tries to catch up with other cities in making the kind of urban environment to which young workers flock. But meeting the goal comes with more challenges here, including working collegially with a development community accustomed to paving what it wants to pave – and not necessarily being told what it should plant. And then there is water, or the lack of it.
Far better to invest in water for real shade trees in the city than let it be used for "master planned communities" on the sprawl fringes. Most people living in Phoenix now don't remember the shady old city, the natural oasis that has been steadily degraded into a wasteland of asphalt surface parking lagoons, gravel everywhere, and useless palo verdes. We lost tens of thousands of shade trees to Salt River Project eliminating them along the canal banks. Worse, and little known, was the even larger numbers were destroyed to widen streets. And hasn't that worked out dandy for a livable city? Reclaiming the oasis in the Phoenix core is essential.
• As we go to press, the Republic reports that the Maricopa County Supervisors have rejected most of the $65 million in "upgrades" to Chase Field, aka BOB, demanded by the Diamondbacks. I can see Ken Kendrick licking his chops to get the team out to the Rez, where it can be closer to his buddies in PV and north Snottsdale. The Suns to follow? This is a big problem for Mayor Greg Stanton and I don't have the answers.
• Finally, this year marks not only the 40th anniversary of the murder of Don Bolles, but also the visit of the American Freedom Train, marking the nation's bicentennial. Pulled by a magnificent Southern Pacific 4-8-4 steam locomotive and with cars containing such exhibits as George Washington's copy of the Constitution and a moon rock, the train visited Phoenix in January 1976. It traveled some 24,600 miles through all of the lower 48.
Back then, the SP's Northern Main Line was still in operation and Amtrak's Sunset provided passenger service at Phoenix Union Station. The Freedom Train was switched to what was then an SP spur line in Tempe, in front of Sun Devil Stadium and the nearly new arena, for public viewing of the displays. (Today that track is used by light rail, and, yes, WBIYB). The bicentennial train was an echo of the 1947-49 Freedom Train, which also passed through Phoenix on Feb. 20th, 1948, as well as Tucson and Douglas.
Want to keep up on the most important local news? Read Rogue's Arizona's Continuing Crisis — and enjoy the map.