Significant renovations bring new life to Arizona Center shopping complex in downtown Phoenix

Arizona Center, the mixed-use shopping center in downtown Phoenix, was constructed in 1990 to jump-start the city’s revitalization of its urban core.

Now, the work-shop-play hub has completed a $25 million renovation, transforming Arizona Center into a modern, functional destination for local students, families and businesspeople.

“When we looked at first acquiring Arizona Center, we saw what we thought was a generational opportunity to acquire a 16-acre ‘super-block’ in an urban center, and that’s very rare anywhere in America,” said Matt Root, CEO and managing partner at San Diego-based Parallel Capital Partners, which acquired Arizona Center in 2015.

Among the additions to the property are a 60-foot LED screen on the northeast corner of Van Buren and Third streets, all-new landscaping and water features, additional lighting and signage, new colors, more bike racks and a stage for live entertainment.

The Grotto, a three-acre park at the center of the property, features new seating and cleanly remodeled fountains; the original Arizona Center frog statues are still standing.

“People want to move to cities with a high quality of life and cities that have long-term job formation, and Phoenix is really at the top of that list,” Root said. “There’s a big growing movement to restore the vibrancy and really enhance the experience of urban life for people; that’s really what we’ve been working off of.”

The “city of the future” is one that values walkability and a variety of uses, and the “right urban mix” of utility and entertainment draws more residents, creating a denser city center, Root said.

“That density raises values, and that vibrancy attracts investment capital, and that’s what you’re seeing in downtown Phoenix today; all those things are happening,” he said.

The establishment of Arizona State University Downtown Phoenix Campus, which houses the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and the College of Nursing and Health Innovation, was the catalyst that kicked off more than a decade of refurbishment and revitalization in the area, and a number of developments followed.

Other nearby attractions include CityScape, a high-rise mixed-use development completed in 2012; Block 23, another high-rise mixed-use project at CityScape slated for completion later this year; Roosevelt Row, an urban arts district that features local artists, musicians and food vendors at its monthly First Friday events; and the Phoenix Convention Center, which completed its most significant expansion yet in 2008. The Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), a state-of-the-art nonprofit genomics research institute, is across Fifth Street from the Arizona Center.

“Employees today, they desire a work-life balance and something that encourages community-building, collaboration and engagement,” Root said. “We think of that as ‘place-making’ — creating a sense of place where people want to encounter each other and share daily life; walkability, creating urban environments that people can live, work, shop, learn without having to rely on cars; sustainability — always big — and then a mix of uses.”

Several large sports, music and entertainment venues are within walking distance, including Chase Field, home to the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team; Talking Stick Resort Arena, home to the Phoenix Suns basketball team; Herberger Theatre; Phoenix Symphony Hall and the Orpheum Theatre.

Urban areas filled with an engaging variety of activities can generate 24/7 activity, Root said. The new-and-improved Arizona Center features “great restaurants, health-and-wellness amenities, an immersive cinema experience, amenities that really create a more personalized experience and help employers attract and retain talent and help employees want to go there.”

The new Arizona Center Farmers Market launched in January 2019, bringing more than 40 local small businesses and farmers to the Grotto every Wednesday from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

New tenants in the retail space include Freshii, a fast-casual nutritious food joint, Bosa Donuts, a popular local shop with locations across the Valley, and Kwench Juice Café. ASU’s Thunderbird School of Global Management has leased office space, too.

The AC Hotel by Marriott will break ground in May of this year on the east side of Arizona Center. The “urban-inspired” hotel will stand 13-stories tall and comprise 199 “classic, yet modern” rooms, as well as a fitness center, rooftop bar, pool and lounge.

Palm Court Tower, a 31-story, 350-unit luxury residential complex is planned for construction by North American Development on the northwest corner of Van Buren and Fifth streets later this year. About 10 percent of the units in Palm Court Tower will be designated affordable housing, according to the Arizona Center.

The existing AMC Arizona Center 24 movie theater is 90,000 square feet and has 24 screens, which Root said is an “outdated” model. A cinema about half its size will be constructed in its place, and additional retail and residential space — possibly student housing — will eventually be attached on the theater’s north side.

“We have a number of regional and national theaters right now that we’re finalizing negotiations [with], including our existing operator, AMC, to redevelop that whole footprint into a more immersive theater that changes the way we experience film,” Root said. “Think of in-cinema dining, bar offerings, reclining seats, really just a great experience to bring people together.”

Root estimates the coming development will have an impact totaling $300 million to $400 million. He said he believes the changes will create a “tremendous economic boom” for downtown Phoenix.

The key to the Arizona Center’s future success is in creating an authentic community atmosphere in a public space that makes people want to meet each other and “feel the joys of daily life,” Root said.

“You don’t want to force it; you want to make it happen organically,” he said. “You want to feel like, ‘I want to go there,’ and it’s an engaging, immersive experience, and I think that’s what’s happening at Arizona Center.”

Graham Bosch

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