A 'mini-Mill' is pushed for ASU area

William Hermann
The Arizona Republic
Jul. 11, 2003 12:00 AM

Ambitious plans for a mini-Mill Avenue that will be a retail, residential and commercial gateway to Arizona State University are being rapidly pushed forward by Tempe and university officials.

Tempe has proposals from two developers to turn a three-block stretch of College Avenue, from Fifth Street to University Drive, into a shopping, condominium, apartment and business corridor similar to Mill Avenue, three blocks west.

"I think the area is very ripe for something like this," said Tempe Mayor Neil Giuliano. "I think the community is large enough and density of the area is great enough to support it."

"This is really exciting, and it's happening," said City Councilman Mark Mitchell, who worked with ASU on the deal. "It will be a gateway to the campus and energize the whole area. It will broaden the retail scope of Tempe from the downtown to College Avenue and create depth for the downtown."

Valley zoning attorney and developer Grady Gammage is leading one of the development teams that responded to Tempe's request for proposals for development.

Though Gammage won't know for several weeks whether his group will get the project, he has pretty clear ideas about what would grace College Avenue.

'Related to campus'

"It would have a little bit different character than Mill Avenue," Gammage said. "It's only a few blocks long and more related to the campus, so it will be more collegiate in feel. There would be smaller retailers, cheaper food service and more local business. It would also be more residential, including condominiums and student residential."

One Valley real estate analyst says the development sounds like a good idea.

"I don't think you can overdo residential in a college town; people will buy them for their children who are in school, so that's a slam-dunk," said Judi Butterworth, vice president at CB Richard Ellis, a commercial real estate company with Phoenix offices. "The demand for residential around any university is huge and growing."

Butterworth also likes the chances for retail on the avenue.

"I see some potential to create what Mill Avenue used to have before the big retailers took over," she said. "If they can get smaller retailers in there it would be fun."

Also working in favor of the development is that the Valley's light rail line, due to open in 2006, will have a station on the northwest corner of College Avenue and Fifth Street, right at the top of the redevelopment area. And the light rail station will share the site with Tempe's main bus station.

"Lots of people will use that station, especially since the stadium is there, too," said Valley light rail spokeswoman Daina Mann. "People can get off the light rail line and walk to the stadium or College Avenue."

The redevelopment would mean significant land partnerships and exchanges, said Steve Nielsen, Tempe community design and development director.

The Arizona National Guard will trade most of the land on which its armory sits at Fifth Street and College Avenue in exchange for a new, smaller building on the same site, he said.

ASU would give up the Mona Plummer Aquatic Center south of the armory and likely get cash in return, Nielsen said.

"If the right proposal comes along and it makes sense to improve the Mona Plummer area, we'd be glad to relocate it," said Virgil Renzulli, vice president for Public Affairs.

Ted Cary, ASU's director of Capital Programs, said the school for months has been working with Tempe on the redevelopment plan.

"We've done studies on relocating the Mona Plummer into Parking Lot 59 in the area around the stadium," Cary said. "We haven't nailed anything down yet, but as far as the redevelopment goes, this is a real issue. It isn't just pie in the sky."

Tempe hopes to attract yet another developer to transform the city block across the street from the aquatic complex. Though a historic home on the southwest corner of the block would remain, three 12-story, multiuse buildings could be built, Nielsen said.

In the past decade Tempe revitalization efforts have resulted in more than 2.5 million square feet of office space, restaurant space, residential units and hotels.

This has included the rehabilitation of several late 1800s historic structures for office, retail and restaurant uses.

Nielsen's office today will issue a recommendation to the City Council regarding which of the two redevelopment teams should be picked and the council will vote on the matter at its Thursday meeting.

There then will be a 120-day period during which a "development and disposition" agreement will be drawn up, Nielsen said.

Nielsen said the first phase of the project would be at the Armory site and could be under way in 12 to 18 months. He hopes the whole project is completed in 2006.

Light rail opening

"That's when the light rail line opens," Nielsen said. "It would be perfect."

Mitchell said he is confident that adding retail, residential and commercial square footage to an already heavily built area of Tempe will only bring more business.

"With the College Avenue plan we're trying to create more demand," Mitchell said. "Tempe is already a major Valley destination and with the College Avenue redevelopment we hope to become the Number 1 destination."