The Transportation Challenge

August 26, 2020
26 Aug 2020

First of two parts

By Don Hadder

Transportation is the blood that sustains the life of an economy. Without the movement of goods and people, there is no basis for an economy to function. In some cases, this may be highly localized, but in much of our 21st Century world, it is global in scale. This movement of people and goods translates into the movement of value, hence money. This is the lifeblood of our society.

Transportation issues have been integral to the formation and growth of Scottsdale throughout its existence. Winfield Scott was only able to homestead a square mile of land that would later become the core of our city because the railroad was extended to Phoenix in 1888 and 1892.  Otherwise, he would not have been able to have a marketplace to sell the products of his land.  One of his last efforts to support the growth of the fledgling community of Scottsdale was to build a rail trolley line (much like the famous “Red Line” in southern California) from Phoenix to Scottsdale. Obviously not accomplished before he passed, or since.

Scottsdale, unlike most of the older communities in the Valley, did not have a direct rail connection. It was not on a major highway crossing the state. The road connections at times were tenuous, including a canal bank and a winding trail through the nearby Papago Buttes. Local hotels early on bought special open-air “limousines” to bring customers out to the remote community.

Scottsdale’s mid-century growth occurred with the creation of the major highway and freeway systems of the 1950s and 1960s, and the expansion of air travel for residents and tourists. What had been remote became accessible. Even as transportation advanced, most streets in the downtown area were dirt until the early 1960s, a remnant of its agricultural roots.

Early on as Scottsdale was being organized as a town and then city, transportation issues were recognized. In the earliest plan for the city (prepared by Maricopa County in 1960-1961), downtown parking was identified as a major issue and road connections were deemed inadequate to handle growth.

The 1961 freeways plan prepared by Maricopa County and the City of Phoenix caused a great stir in Scottsdale. It proposed a “Papago Freeway” just south of Belleview Road in southern Scottsdale, the “Indian Bend Freeway” along either the Indian Bend Wash or Pima Road, and the “Paradise Freeway” to be located just north of Lincoln Drive. This would have sliced Scottsdale into many small pieces and hindered the sense of community, in many cases taking out neighborhoods that had just been built. Since there was virtually no local input and this plan would have eliminated neighborhoods that literally had just been built, Scottsdale residents were in uproar.

When Scottsdale prepared its first home-grown General Plan in 1967, the plan did not include any “freeways.” Instead, it included an “expressway” along Pima and Bell that would not have access along it but would have at-grade intersections at each mile point. 

Loop 101 in Scottsdale

At a Scottsdale City Council meeting in the late 1980s, a council member adamantly said “there would never be a freeway in Scottsdale.” The “Belleview” corridor was shifted south into Tempe to the Salt River. The north-south route shifted one-half mile east to the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community. The Bell Road alignment was moved north to the Union Hills alignment. This particular change was beneficial to the large swaths of property owned by the Arizona State Land Department. In the mid-1990s, the “Paradise Parkway” was eliminated from consideration. 

This push against freeways was supported by the owner of the Arizona Republic, who wrote a full-page editorial against freeways, believing that this would keep the Phoenix metro area from becoming another “Los Angeles” (a chant that still echoes across the Valley).  For almost 20 years, Scottsdale avoided any discussion regarding “freeways.”

The 1967 General Plan was the first comprehensive plan for transportation systems and policies in Scottsdale that was driven by local interests. It included early concepts for trails and paths, landscaped medians in major streets and other “new” concepts.

By the early 1970s, there was concern that the plan was not adequate. In 1974 a special group of the Scottsdale Town Enrichment Program (STEP Forums) convened on the subject of transportation. This effort resulted in a new right-of-way standards / streets plan as well as the first true bikeways plan.

When the Northeast Area Plan (NEAP) was developed in 1976, pre-computer hand-generated traffic projections and distributions were employed. This plan also recognized the importance of Shea Boulevard, the need for Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard, and the need for the Thompson Peak Parkway crossing over the Central Arizona Project Canal (CAP). 

By 1978 and into the development of the first Airport Area Plan, Scottsdale was working with the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) and their computer-based traffic modeling to test and evaluate transportation plans (one of the first communities in the Valley to do so).

By the late 1980s, it became apparent that not having freeways would diminish the quality of life in Scottsdale. Growth continued and even expanded, despite two economic turn-downs, and Valley streets were choking with congestion. The intersection of Scottsdale and McDowell roads was the most heavily trafficked intersection in the state for most of the decade.

Finally, ADOT and MAG developed and promoted a freeway plan that involved local interests and would receive Valley-wide support. The current freeway corridors that relate to Scottsdale were established by the late 1980s.

Also, in the 1980s, Scottsdale was developing its first Downtown Plan as well as plans for newly annexed areas north of Deer Valley Road. Continued regional modeling was used to assure that those streets that carry traffic through the city were adequately sized. Because of continued and increasing congestion in Old Town, the initial plan included widening Scottsdale Road north and south of Indian School Road to six lanes. This plan would have eliminated numerous vital landmark Scottsdale businesses. 

The Downtown Plan created the Goldwater and Drinkwater couplet to remove long-distance regional traffic from the heart of Old Town. This critical roadway change allowed the downtown area to continue to thrive with only local traffic. Transit planning in Scottsdale came of age during this period, as well, including both regional and local bus service.

When the freeway system in and near Scottsdale was completed in the early 2000s, traffic patterns were substantially modified, with regional traffic diverted out of the heart of the community. Previously, the dominant congested streets were the north-south streets of Scottsdale, Hayden and Pima roads. The new dominant streets were the east-west streets connecting to the Pima Freeway of Indian School Road, Shea Boulevard and Cactus Road. 

Even though Camelback Road does not connect to the freeway it also became congested because of its direct connection from Scottsdale to Phoenix and the western suburbs. One change that had not been fully anticipated was that drivers increasingly drove more often and for more miles. This is the main reason traffic volumes on many major roads were much greater than predicted.

Valley light rail transit planning in the early 1990s led to service beginning in 2010. Due to intense local special interests, Scottsdale chose to stay out of the system. The 101 and 202 freeways have dramatically benefitted Scottsdale from the late 1990s through today and into the future. Light rail would have equally benefitted commuters out of and into Scottsdale and would have enhanced Scottsdale’s reputation as a tourism and convention destination. Current opposition to light rail transit is one of the few unifying opinions of Scottsdale residents.

State Route 51

Other non-motor-vehicle or non-personal transportation modes in Scottsdale, primarily cycling and buses, function reasonably well for the resources and effort that has been made to support them. Cycling, in particular, is better supported and more accessible in Scottsdale than in many communities across the Valley. The greatest issue often experienced is lack of continuity with adjacent communities. Local bus service functions reasonably well but likely could serve more demand with greater support and resources.

Scottsdale depends on tourists who visit hotels, restaurants and shops, which all depend on service workers. Service workers need to live in Scottsdale or have bus service from their homes outside of Scottsdale. Most cannot afford to live in Scottsdale. From 2011 to 2018, Scottsdale offered free trolley service between Scottsdale Road hotels and Old Town. While the route was intended for tourists, over half of the riders were hotel employees. For Scottsdale’s economy to thrive, tourism service workers need bus service.

For bus service to be utilized, it must be frequent, from early morning to very late evening, and citywide. Would anybody drive on a road system that was only open twice an hour, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. and only served one-quarter of the city?

Approximately 70 percent of the cost of operating a bus is driver pay. A frequent complaint is that the buses are too large and smaller buses would be more cost-effective. The driver requires the same pay whether they are driving a long or a short bus.

There is angst across the community over the existing transportation systems, particularly regarding streets. Surprisingly, this concern has been consistent since the early 1960s. There never has been a period when local streets have been considered adequate. For a brief, few years when the 101 and 202 were first opened, they were considered acceptable. However, the 101 has been widened from its initial six total lanes to a minimum of 10, with many segments at 12 total lanes. It remains congested four to six hours daily.

In the greatest part, the current local street system handles traffic demands well. The capacity issues tend to occur during peak hours and in particular at links that access the Pima Freeway.  Freeway accesses have traditionally been bottlenecks. Of the 20 highest congested Scottsdale roadway segments in 2018, 10 are within one mile of the 101. The two highest congested street segments are Scottsdale Road, immediately north of the Pima Freeway, and Shea Boulevard, immediately east of the Pima Freeway. Further widening of each of these segments is prohibitively expensive and would likely never become wide enough to eliminate congestion.

Certainly, not all streets in Scottsdale are adequate. Several are not yet fully improved per the 2008 Transportation Plan, which was updated in 2016. The November 2016 sales tax increase approved by voters includes 19 identified roadway segments, with 70 percent of the funding provided by MAG. All of these improvements will occur by 2026, with most in the next three years. However, in most cases, the current streets are adequate to manage current traffic demands. Of the 323 Scottsdale major roadway segments analyzed with 2018 data, 10 percent are over capacity, 30 percent are between capacity and half of capacity, and 60 percent are below half.

Compare Scottsdale streets to those of other communities. Contemplate living in Los Angeles for two weeks, driving several times daily. Contemplate living in Gila Bend for two weeks. So, if the Scottsdale street system is Goldilocks, functioning well, better than in many communities, why is there general dissatisfaction with the streets? 

A large part of the answer focuses on expectations. A great number of drivers expect to drive at or above the speed limit at all times, to get through every signal on the first cycle when they arrive at an intersection, never wait to turn left, never be delayed by following a right-turning vehicle and have no other interference in their path. These expectations are appropriate for a rural or exurban area – not an active major metropolitan area.

The challenge is managing expectations. Providing the public consistent information about the transportation system is likely part of this management. Another part may be clearly communicating available options in providing and managing transportation facilities along with their effectiveness, their costs – both initial and long term – and all associated advantages and disadvantages. Transportation services and systems are highly complex and difficult to comprehend. The more pertinent and reliable information available, the more the public can appreciate the difficulty of improving and operating transportation systems.

For example, we all bemoaned the delays caused by the Pima Freeway widening between Shea and McKellips when the construction was occurring. Now we scarcely remember those 10 months. Currently we are irritated by the construction of the Pima Freeway, west of Hayden, even though there are usually three lanes-per-direction. Eight months from now when there are five lanes-per-direction, we’ll be happy.

In addition, there are impacts of our transportation systems across our communities that need to be kept in consideration:

  • Slow and congested travel increases the amount of air pollutants that are generated.  The Valley has had issues with air quality over a half century, and the health problems resulting from air pollution add costs to individuals and businesses, reduce productivity and in some cases may influence business location choices.
  • Transportation congestion can also lead to other health concerns, stress and less time for people to spend with their families and friends.
  • Ineffective transportation systems can also reduce business productivity, increase direct costs and lessen ability to discover and take advantage of opportunities that arise.

It is in everyone’s interest to have transportation systems that are effective, well run, well maintained and safe. In a dynamic and interesting urban environment, constancy and perfection will never be achieved. Nonetheless, there should always be a focus toward achieving these goals.

Next: Planning for the future

Don Hadder is a retired city planner, long-time resident of Scottsdale and a local historical resource.

I like Scottsdale as Scottsdale

August 25, 2020
25 Aug 2020

By Jim Derouin

There is an old song that includes the line: “Dance with the one that brought you and you can’t go wrong.” 

My family and I moved to Scottsdale in 1985 and, by luck, found a house ready to move into on Scottsdale Ranch. The part of Scottsdale north of Deer Valley Road had just been annexed to the city – a  large portion of which, at a cost of $1 billion, became the 45-square-mile McDowell Sonoran Preserve, which is about 25 percent of the entire area of the city. That single act reduced Scottsdale’s potential population by some 200,000 residents.

Photo by Dru Bloomfield via Creative Commons.

Always conservation conscious, Scottsdale’s growth boom occurred prior to 2000.  Scottsdale has about 118,000 square acres in total of which 30,000 are dedicated in the Preserve. Something less than 15,000 acres are left elsewhere in the city for residential development.

Scottsdale is a great place to live and raise children and send them to school in the city’s 38 public schools with more than 25,000 students. Some people argue that Scottsdale is a retirement community, a “bedroom” community and a place where people who have made their money elsewhere come to isolate themselves from others.  Some people even say they want Scottsdale to be Palm Springs. Well, fortunately, Scottsdale is none of the foregoing.

Scottsdale is home to 18,000 businesses at which 180,000 people work – 150,000 of them commute to Scottsdale daily. 

Scottsdale is a center for tourism – 4.5 million tourists visited the city in 2018. Scottsdale is the home for major resorts, health care, finance and technology firms.

It is known as a place with low property taxes and high property values; more than half its budget is paid by non-residents because our lifestyle is mostly paid for by sales taxes from visitors to the city. And oh, by the way, those 180,000 workers need buildings to work in; people who work in the high-paying jobs we seek do not work in tents.

So when people tell me that they wish Scottsdale were Palm Springs with its decayed downtown, closed golf courses and deteriorating property values, I say to them: “Bless you.” Palm Springs sat on its laurels, rejected renewal, thought the good times would last forever and now is a figment of its own imagination. Its glory dates back to, and ends, with the writing of the “Wizard of Oz.” People who made their wealth elsewhere, commonly in Los Angeles, moved to the desert to live in an isolated fashion separated from other people. Phooey. I don’t want that for Scottsdale.

Indian Bend Wash

I like the fact that Scottsdale has the highest median housing price of any of the large Valley cities. I like the fact that we have a real downtown that, with care, can become a year-round magnate for economic activity while still protecting its historic area. I like our 42 parks and 72 athletic fields. I like the fact that we are a city with diverse age demographics including a vibrant segment with families that have children — they have the highest incomes of any segment of the city’s population by age group. 

In short, unlike Palm Springs, data shows that Scottsdale is a self-sufficient, economically diverse city, not one of those bedroom communities, retirement communities or one of those boring, failing, over-the-hill “I just want to be isolated from the world” cities.

In life we have to be careful what we ask for because, sometimes, to our disadvantage, we get what we ask for. I want Scottsdale to remain economically vibrant; to have more families with children because they add to our economic base; to continue to have low property taxes; to continue to have high property values; and to continue to get non-residents to pay most of the freight.

We have it good. Let’s not mess it up.

Jim Derouin is a long-time Scottsdale resident, attorney, and member of the city of Scottsdale’s Districting and Charter review task forces.

Setting The Record Straight 8/20

August 20, 2020
20 Aug 2020

Statement: Scottsdale is not serious about environmental sustainability.
Fact:  The record shows what the city has done on sustainability and some of the recognition it has received for its work….

  • Scottdale’s environmental roots are part of the 2001 General Plan that was designed around six guiding principles developed by citizens to implement the city’s vision; that principle is “Seek Sustainability” and is carried out by the city’s operational services.
  • Scottsdale’s sustainability initiatives include: water, the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, parks and trees, waste reduction and diversion, energy and fuel and transportation. For more: Sustainability
  • Each year, the City Council reviews progress toward the principles’ goals and sets new goals.
  • The city earned its 38th consecutive designation as a “Tree City USA’ from the Arbor Day Foundation; criteria included having a community tree ordinance and spending at least $2 per capital on urban forestry.

Scottsdale was designated as a Gold-Level Bicycle Friendly Community for 2019-2023 League of American Bicycles: criteria included creating transportation and recreational resources for all ages and abilities

Setting The Record Straight 8/18

August 18, 2020
18 Aug 2020

Statement: It’s too easy to make amendments to the 2001 General Plan
Fact: Making changes to the General Plan follows a strict process.

·      Since the 2001 General Plan was adopted nineteen years ago, there have been very few Major Amendments approved.

·      Arizona State Law requires that all requests for Major General Plan Amendments be presented at a single public hearing during the calendar year in which the proposal is made.

·      Of the 62 major amendment cases submitted since 2001, only 30 were approved and no major plan cases are active. Two cases were denied and 30 cases were withdrawn. Source: City of Scottsdale. 

·      The General Plan Amendment Criteria are available online.

·      There are four amendment criteria that explain how a request would be determined as a major or non-major amendment.

·      Scottsdale’s process for major amendments deals more with the size of the affected property and public involvement process than the substantial alteration of the planned mixture or balance of land uses described in the statute for a major amendment.

Tech helps Scottsdale’s economic recovery

August 11, 2020
11 Aug 2020

By Laraine Rodgers

Technology proved to be a critical enabler as Scottsdale dealt with a game-changing pandemic.

Welcome to Scottsdale sign

Over the years, the city invested in technology software, hardware and networks, a boon for its operations, police, fire and citizen services. Although the city immediately put its emergency plan into action, COVID-19 created a need to get information out to all stakeholders quickly.

Tech was a strong contributor as soon as the pandemic hit. Scottsdale’s technology and operations team quickly went into action that enabled non-front line staff to work at home, and for staff to continue communications with businesses, partners and citizens, all of whom were also affected by the pandemic.

Scottsdale increased posting to its website and social media to connect with the city at large — businesses, residents and other stakeholders. The city added Zoom video conferencing and webinars to their Channel 11 TV and streaming video services to engage citizens in public processes, such as council, board and commission meetings.

Perfect? No. Even using communication technologies, there was a feeling of isolation as in-person engagement was severely decreased. Ensuring public health needs were met affected many aspects of the economy locally.

At their annual strategic planning session in March 2019, the council set priorities based on the voter-approved 2001 General Plan and also the guiding principles developed through the CityShape 2020 process. Included in their priorities was a proposal that would use enabling technology for the benefit of the city as a whole.

Later in 2019 the council approved use of an IDA grant for development of a “Smart City” roadmap to “explore and identify ways that new technology could enhance the community’s quality of life.” For more: Nov 12, 2019 Council Report.

Once approved, the city invited the community via Scottsdale seeking input to RSVP for an information session. Residents, entrepreneurs, innovators, corporations, educators, and high school students attended the initial session and some also participated in smaller groups before March of this year to see an updated brief, discuss the concept and provide additional information. The initial report is in the works and will be available later this year for feedback and comments as part of the community input process.

The city’s 2020/21 budget adopted in June 2020 reflects adjustments to expenses and recalibrated revenue projections. Scottsdale’s major revenue source, tourism, was hit hard due to restrictions on travel and public health. There is a need for existing revenue sources to increase and for new revenue sources to emerge.  

The pandemic forced a quick response to stay afloat, not easy when you have to respond to myriad of changes all at once. Those entities with front-line workers, and critical jobs —health care, for example — were especially affected. Scottsdale’s education community, teachers and students, were also challenged. It’s hard to turn on a dime, though, when thrust into a situation that was unexpected.  

Some small businesses were about to expand or develop their e-commerce website so customers could find and order products to be mailed or picked up hands-free directly from merchants and restaurants. Many who already had incorporated technology into their plans and operations found it a little easier to continue some form of operations.

The city just announced a partnership with other groups to “Shop Scottsdale” and asked for us to spread the word that Scottsdale is open for business:

“Small businesses make up over 92% of the storefront and restaurant experiences in Scottsdale. Money spent locally generates sales tax to support municipal services from libraries to parks, and it’s no small chunk of change. Business and sales taxes account for 42% of all Scottsdale revenues.”

As we continue to work through the new- or now- normal, what we are learning will shape the city’s future. New processes, practices and enablers including technology will stay and former ones including in-person, social activities will return. The vision: Scottsdale returns to a robust economy and an enhanced quality of life.

Scottsdale Residents Get So Much For So Little

July 22, 2020
22 Jul 2020

By Jim Derouin

In light of the challenges faced by everyone because of Covid-19, and the fact that our way of life in Scottsdale is heavily supported by tourists who are going to stay away until the health crisis is over, this seems like the right time to consider what is good about the city.

Scottsdale is a special place and we are fortunate to live here. To keep our property values and amenities high and our property taxes low, we need to generate  economic activity from a variety of sources that produce sales tax revenue.

Basically 25% of Scottsdale’s area (about 47 square miles) is open space that is being purchased at the cost of $1 billion. Yet, it is not a “bedroom” community from which residents flee during the day and return at night. Data shows that Scottsdale is a self-sufficient, economically strong city. Rather than being a retirement community, it is an employment hub, which is important to supporting our lifestyle. 

Each day, 150,000 workers enter Scottsdale to work while half that number (Scottsdale residents) leave to work elsewhere in the Valley. In addition, 30,000 Scottsdale citizens live and work in the city. As a rule of thumb, those who work here, spend here – at some of the 18,000 businesses that operate in Scottsdale or at its 825 restaurants. 

Health care, finance, insurance and technology firms dominate the list of Scottsdale’s largest employers. Tourism, automobile dealerships, retail operations (large and small), entertainment (including restaurants) and construction all add economic activity vital to supporting Scottsdale’s amenities while keeping property taxes low. 

We host more than 4.5 million visitors annually at our hotels and resorts. In 2018, 1.7 million were from outside the United States. Scottsdale’s reputation as a diverse, welcoming community is critical to its success.

In addition to the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, Scottsdale has 42 parks; 70 athletic fields; 37 playgrounds; 53 tennis courts and two tennis centers; 39 basketball courts; seven museums; and four aquatic centers. 

Scottsdale is also an education center with 38 public schools (more than 25,000 students) and the Arizona State University Innovation Center at SkySong. Scottsdale Community College is immediately adjacent on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.   

Scottsdale has a projected build-out population of 285,000 residents; this is 200,000 less than originally planned because of the purchase of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. Scottsdale’s explosive population growth occurred between 1980 and 2000 when the city increased from 88,000 to about 255,000 residents. Scottsdale is close to residential build-out in that there are less than 15,000 acres left for residential development out of a total of 118,000 acres in the city.

Most residents judge their community by a variety of characteristics. What physical amenities does it provide? How do property taxes compare with those in other communities? How do property values compare? Scottsdale scores well in all of these categories.

Scottsdale’s amenities are itemized above; they are unparalleled in any comparable community in the Valley. In addition, Scottsdale has the highest median housing price of any large Valley city (Phoenix, Mesa, Chandler, Glendale, Gilbert, Tempe and Peoria).  Because 70% of Scottsdale’s budget was projected for fiscal year 2019-20 to come from state and local sales taxes and from state income taxes, only 10% of the entire city budget was projected to come from property taxes.

Another way to think about it is that, of our total residential property tax bill, only five cents of each dollar of property taxes goes for the city budget. In terms of total property taxes used to fund city budgets (primary tax rate) and to pay off bonded indebtedness (secondary tax rate), Scottsdale’s primary and secondary combined tax rate is less than Tempe, Phoenix, Mesa, Glendale and Chandler. It is essentially the same as that for Gilbert. 

Innovative thinking, solid leadership and collaborative actions has stabilized the city over the last few months. Continued focus on how to sustain and grow our economic viability is critical to keep our city special.

Jim Derouin is a long-time Scottsdale resident, attorney and member of the city of Scottsdale’s Districting and Charter review task forces.

A Tale of Two Malls (A Cautionary Story About Changing Times)

July 22, 2020
22 Jul 2020

By Don Hadder

The recent mob attack on Fashion Square under the surge of demonstrations regarding the George Floyd incident brought to mind the unique story of Fashion Square as well as how there once was another mall in Scottsdale – Los Arcos Mall – that had a much different fate. These pillars of the Scottsdale community have played an important role in the life, culture and economic lifeblood of Scottsdale.  Their individual stories are unique, but in comparison provide valuable insight into how to manage in or during changing times.

Fashion Square

Fashion Square was the first of the two malls to get started. Located at the northwest corner of Scottsdale and Camelback Roads, the property had been used for a couple years as the rodeo grounds for the recently organized Parada Del Sol that was held at the end of January each year. The rodeo grounds moved to a downtown site at the northeast corner of Hinton and Osborn

Built in 1959-60, the original ‘mall’ was and odd collection of a grocery store (A. J. Bayless), a drug store, the Goldwater’s Department Store and an assortment of in-line retail and service stores. The concept of a shopping mall was not yet well defined and this early mall included components that would later be classified as a “neighborhood center” and as a “regional center.”

Some of the in-line store fronts filled the space between the grocery and drug stores while others fronted an east/west breezeway.  The mix of stores was definitely eclectic, ranging from a family-oriented diner to a high-end steak house.  During this period, the tourist orientation of stores in downtown Scottsdale was solidified along Main Street and Fifth Avenue.

The site was annexed by the City of Scottsdale in 1962 and shortly thereafter the Lenart office building facing Camelback Road was constructed. Other adjoining properties were being developed or prepared for development at this time as well.

The site that would become Camelview Plaza, west of Fashion Square, went through a series of rezoning cases in 1964-65 that resulted in the property receiving High-Rise Commercial zoning.  Across Camelback Road, the original Camelback Mall, including a Safeway grocery and a Thrifty drug store, was built in 1964. Later in the 1960s, freestanding restaurants at the corner of Highland and Scottsdale Road, a gas station and the Days Inn were added to the mall site.

In the early 1970s, several zoning and design cases were approved for the proposed Camelview Plaza property. Ultimately, from 1971 through 1974, the plans for this mall were approved and included the Arizona Bank office tower, a Sakowitz Department Store and a Bullocks Department Store, along with a limited group of smaller mall tenant spaces.

In the late 1970s the Camelview Harkins Theaters were added northeast of the main mall area.  The unique aspects of this project were the office tower and the underground parking structure.  Also, across the street at Camelback Mall, additions were approved for a major spa, a two-theater complex, and some pad tenants.

In response, Fashion Square expanded with the addition of another department store (Dillard’s) and the reconstruction of the breezeway mall into an open air and sunken “Palm Court” mall area. In addition, the original grocery and drugstore “neighborhood” portions had been removed.

By the mid- to late-1970s the three major retail centers along Camelback Road west of Scottsdale Road had emerged as a major core of regional and high-end commercial and service uses that clearly took advantage of the market conditions in Scottsdale, Paradise Valley and the Arcadia portion of Phoenix. These were three separate sites and facilities, each competing with each other as well as the broader regional marketplace across the Phoenix metro area.

The economic volatility of the mid-1970s and the early 1980s, however, pointed out some of the vulnerability of three separate sites acting on their own interests in a rapidly changing environment. With two department store anchors each, Fashion Square and Camelview Plaza were not able to compete head-to-head with the newer malls that had four and five department stores as anchors. As a result, the owners of Fashion Square bought Camelview Plaza and started a program of expansion that would transform the properties.

At about the same time, the city was creating the original Downtown Area Plan. Many of the stores and services that had been popular and busy in the 1960s were no longer in business, and high vacancy rates, T-shirt shops and other signs of decay had crept into the downtown area. The new plan also addressed major transportation problems as Scottsdale Road through the area was heavily congested and intimidated some who might have gone to the downtown to shop and entertain. The enlarged Fashion Square property coordinated with the emerging plan as it prepared for its next phase of development and economic activity.

The new master plans and zoning for Fashion Square were approved in 1986 and presented a radically new version of the mall. With the new plans came the Goldwater Blvd. bridge along with the new Goldwater Blvd. road that was intended to be the west side of a diversion loop around the core of the downtown area, the change from an outdoor mall to a fully enclosed mall, and several new parking structures. 

With these changes, Fashion Square could compete directly with newer malls and could grow its ability to market itself and to draw quality tenants.  As this plan went forward, expansions to Bullock’s at the west end, Goldwater’s at the east end and a new department store building on the north side were also included. By the end of the 1980s a new and strategically different Scottsdale Fashion Square was emerging.

During the early 1990s, several minor modifications were incorporated into the mall area as it consolidated the recent major expansion and adjusted to yet another economic slow-down. It was during this period that the ability of Fashion Square to draw customers from not only out of state but out of the country emerged. Visitors to Scottsdale area resorts began to spend more time and money at the mall and in some cases, visitors even came to town with the express intent to shop at Fashion Square.

By the second half of the 1990s, Fashion Square made another major expansion bid. In acquiring Camelback Mall on the south side of Camelback Road, Fashion Square began a series of plans to add another department store anchor (Nordstrom’s) across the very busy Camelback Road and further transform the Mall into a powerhouse retail center. This expansion was able to open in the midst of one of the largest economic expansion periods in post-War American history. It created the basic mall footprint that exists today. Given the east/west main mall and the south wing extension, the interior mall is close to a half-mile in length and the entire mall encompasses over two million square feet of building.

Again, in the late 2000s, Fashion Square went through another reconstruction and expansion to remove the former Robinson’s May department store (and by doing so finally eliminated the last of the original Goldwater’s building structure) for the Barney’s mall extension along with the expanded and relocated Harkins multiplex theaters. And barely a decade later, even this remodel was remodeled.

Los Arcos mall

The story of Los Arcos Mall takes a different track from Scottsdale Fashion Square, and has different results. Built in total as a two-anchor mall in 1969, Los Arcos came on the scene as a major modern mall with some of the most popular anchors at the time: Sears and Broadways.

Fashion Square then was still a partial mall, and with the two-anchor Thomas Mall about 4 miles to the west and the two-anchor Tri-City Mall 4 miles to the southeast, the East Valley had emerged as a hot spot of shopping. Other than the fairly small Tri-City Mall, the Southeast Valley communities of Tempe, Chandler and Mesa were underserved with major retail space, so Los Arcos quickly drew from the south and east, which were areas of rapid growth over the following decades.

Los Arcos Mall was an odd real estate feature in that it had four owners: Sears and Broadways both owned their own buildings and the parking that served them and the in-line and enclosed mall area had two owners. Amazingly, the minor mall owner was the managing partner.

Until the late 1970s, Los Arcos was very popular and drew customers from Tempe, Mesa, Chandler and to a degree even from the emerging neighborhoods in the Paradise Valley area. The intersection of Scottsdale Road and McDowell Road for many years was the busiest one in the entire state. As one of two routes from the East Valley to central Phoenix, McDowell Road functioned as a regional highway. In fact, the original zoning in the county for the Los Arcos Mall site was due to the projection that it would be next to the proposed Papago Freeway.

Events in 1978 and 1979 would bring drastic changes to Los Arcos from which it would not recover. In the spring of 1978, there was a major flood that washed out almost all the crossings of the normally dry Salt River through the Valley. And basically, at the same time as the flood, Fiesta Mall, with four department store anchors, opened in southwest Mesa. This double whammy effectively cut off the market capture of the Southeast Valley that Los Arcos had depended on. Sales dropped dramatically, and although they would recover to a degree over time, it’s ability to draw customers had been greatly diminished. Just a year later, Paradise Valley Mall opened and cut into the portion of customers Los Arcos had been able to draw from that direction.

Through the 1980s, Los Arcos tried to sustain traffic and sales by recruiting lower cost outlets and seasonal stores. As sales sagged at Sears, the second floor was converted into a call center for their “Discover Card” division. The two-screen theater was closed. With limited frontage and not willing to build expensive parking structures, the mall had few options for expansion.

In addition, with such a complex ownership structure, it was difficult to get four property interests to agree to any major course of change or expansion. Pepinos’ Mexican food restaurant, Luby’s cafeteria, Red Robin restaurant and the Trails End party after the Parada Del Sol parade added glimmers of activity, but the mall and it’s major tenants struggled. A cosmetic remodeling in the early 1990s did little to draw shoppers and tenants and by the end of the decade, Los Arcos Mall finally closed for good.

A comparison

Some of the ‘take-aways’ from these stories are:

— Change is inevitable and almost all cases outside of one’s control or influence. In the cases of these malls, changing demographics, changing transportation corridors, new competition, changing market preferences, natural disasters and other events resulted in the need for adaptability.

The ability and willingness to recognize and adapt to change is critical in the success of an organization. When reviewing the actions taken on the three properties that now form Fashion Square, from 1959 to 2013 (54 years) there were 101 cases submitted to and approved by the county and city. This reveals an ongoing and persistent effort to keep these commercial properties relevant and successful. Often, as soon as a remodel is completed, the management at Fashion Square is already looking ahead and working on the next adaptation of the property in order to stay economically active.

Where separate and individual interests hold sway, such as at Los Arcos, the organization will not be able to respond to and stay relevant with change. Ultimately, this will lead to the failure of the organization. Any organization that cannot look forward, look around and look within itself is one that cannot make good decisions and remain healthy.

— The willingness to take action and then accept it when such action is not successful or becomes irrelevant is important. In the case of Fashion Square, there have been at least 12 department and junior department store anchors, innumerable restaurants, all range of stores from bookstores to toy stores to bicycle stores that were successful for a period but no longer, various services and offices, and many more attempts to find the ‘right’ mix. 

There have been pop-up stores, seasonal outlets, special events and other creative ways to attract customers. Some of these have worked well, others not so much. Two restaurant chains started at Fashion Square (Hops and PF Chang’s) but are no longer located there or even in business. This willingness to try and then adjust if it is not working as hoped, has been a long-term hallmark of this enterprise.  A failure does not cause the mall to complain and blame others, rather, they move on and continue to look forward. Los Arcos tried to adapt, but their approach tended to be reactive and not proactive and as such they were mostly behind the times

— As was exhibited recently, Fashion Square has become emblematic of the economic and social context of Scottsdale and Paradise Valley. It is interesting that before the pandemic arrived, there was an amazing mix of cultures, languages and lifestyles represented in the customers who came to the mall. Sometimes it was possible to hear up to four or five different languages spoken in the mall during an evening visit. This ultimately was not as relevant as the symbolism it represents to those who have not frequented it. This is a new role for the mall and it will be important to see how the mall responds. It has become a cultural icon of sorts – one that has the experience and resources to reach out and embrace the changing and dynamic community that Scottsdale is becoming.

In order for Scottsdale to continue to be a desirous place to visit, to do business in and to live in, the community will need to recognize the changes that are happening and likely to happen, to embrace the changes and find ways to be successful with them, and in many cases to lead the ways of change. The Scottsdale of today is a place not imaginable by those early pioneers who cleared the land to make this place their home, but it likely is a place they would embrace as one that is welcoming and well-rounded.

A formal declaration of Scottsdale community values

July 20, 2020
20 Jul 2020

By Don Henninger

EDITOR’S NOTE: Over 60 Scottsdale business and community leaders have endorsed the “Declaration of Community Values” listed below. Their names are at the end. To add your endorsement, email .

The sounds of silence often can be damaging.

That point comes to light after recent events in Scottsdale have presented an image to the national and international media that does not reflect the values embraced by the majority of community and business leaders in the city.

Some of those images have harmed the city’s reputation, and we don’t know yet what kind of effect that will have on the city – socially, culturally or economically – on a longer-term basis.

These events – even the words and actions from a single individual – do not reflect the city we are proud to call home.

Good reputations built over a lifetime can be shattered in an instant. Perhaps that’s not fair, but that’s the way it works.

Based on conversations over the past two weeks with a score of community and business leaders, it’s clear they are concerned that these events have stained the city’s brand.

Many leaders, individually, have posted comments on social media and been quoted in traditional media abhorring some of the things that have happened here.

But there has not been a collective voice that has spoken as one community, and as the summer drags on the opportunity lessens for that to occur on a prominent stage. I’ve been asked to draft a statement that reflects our values and share them collectively at a time when silence is not acceptable.

“Declaration of community values:

“In Scottsdale, we think that everyone of us has a leadership role that is reflected in our thoughts, words and actions. If we live here, each of us represents the character and values that collectively determine what our city is all about.

“We believe that every person who lives, works or visits this city deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. There is no room for discrimination in our city and we will not tolerate racism.

“We embrace taking actions that are in the best interests of the community as a whole, and we respect the rule of law. When we disagree with it, we do it in an orderly fashion and in ways that are not disruptive or disrespectful.

“We believe that diversity in every way it’s measured – ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age – makes our city stronger and a more desirable place to live, work and visit.

“We know the city is not perfect, and we are willing to roll up our sleeves and do the work required to solve our challenges.”

If these values reflect yours, consider endorsing this statement and sharing it with your individual and professional networks and see if they’ll support it, too.

Let’s not allow the events of the past few weeks tarnish a reputation built by generations before us. Let’s protect it and make our city even better for our children and the generations to come.

Let’s break the silence and tell everyone what we stand for in Scottsdale.

Don Henninger is executive director of SCOTT and can be reached at

Endorsed by: Scottsdale Community College, Chris Haines, interim president; Scottsdale Leadership, Lee Ann Witt, executive director; Scottsdale Together, Jason Alexander, editor;

Kenneth Allen,  Andrea Alley, Todd Bankofier, Brian Bednar, Peter Bezanson,  Denny Brown, Bill Callahan, Sam Campana, Tammy Caputi, Julie Cieniawski, Dana Close, Doug Craig, Brion Crum, Bill Crawford, Joe Cusack, Carol Damaso, Todd Davis, Brendan Denker, Jim Derouin, Wes Frank, Bob Frost, Amy Greer, Don Hadder, Jesica Hays.

Also: Richard Hayslip, Bill Heckman, Steve Helm, Mark Hiegel, Emily Hinchman, George Jackson,  Frank Jacobson, Michael King, Jason Kush, Larry Kush, John Little, Al Maag, Kevin Maxwell, Sean McGarry, Alex McLaren, Fred Mercaldo, Cory Miller, Mike Norton, Randy Nussbaum, Rachel Pearson, Todd S. Peterson,  Mary Platner, Denise Pulk, Dennis Robbins, Laraine Rodgers, Yvonne Rosales,  Jon Ryder, Rachel Sacco, Dan Schweiker, Gary Shapiro, Enid Seiden, Charlie Smith, Paula Sturgeon, Neil Sutton, Douglas Sydnor, Linda Tucker, Lawrence Tucker, Steve Tyrrell, Carter Unger, Josh Weiss, Sasha Weller, Raoul Zubia

Primary season is upon us; ballots soon in your hands!

July 9, 2020
09 Jul 2020

Ballots for the Aug. 4 primary are due to be mailed back on/before July 29. For additional voting information, see the Election 2020 election calendar.

“Young Voters Engage the Candidates”

Forums were held recently for the candidates for Scottsdale mayor and City Council. “Young Voters Engage the Candidates” virtual events were moderated by a young professionals’ panel. They were hosted by FUEL Scottsdale, a subgroup of SCOTT; Scottsdale Community CollegeScottsdale Leadership, Inc. and  Scottsdale Rising Young Professionals, a subgroup of the Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce.

The mayoral forum was held June 29; the council forum on June 30. Below are links to each in its entirety. To view specific segments, forward to the timing marker provided before each topic to see candidates’ responses.
Young Voters Engage the Mayoral Candidates
–1:40: What are five words that describe you, your campaign, your ideas for our city.
–3:48: Why should a young person vote for you?
–11:17: Attainable housing
–29:00: Diversity and inclusion
–35:57: Public safety and public health
–44:00: Education
–53:00: Economy
–1:02:00: Vision to inspire our children for the future of our city.

Young Voters Engage the City Council Candidates

(Guy Phillips declined to participate)

–1:46: What are five words that describe you, your campaign, your ideas for our city.

–3:48: Attainable housing

–11:24: Economy and heritage

–20:00: Why should a young person vote for you?

–29:20: Reaction to “I can’t breathe” at masks’ protest

–40:10: Education

–53:00: Diversity

–1:04:14 COVID-19 response

–1:12:48: Vision to inspire our children for the future of our city.

Civic Engagement: Many opportunities

June 24, 2020
24 Jun 2020

By Laraine Rodgers

For those of us who live, work, or do business in Scottsdale, this is a great time to learn more about the city, from simply receiving email updates to actively being a part of civic engagement.

When COVID-19 hit in March, the city quickly began to address issues caused by this pandemic. Emergency plans were put in motion and some staff was redeployed to help as needed. Staff rethought processes and focused on critical activities, needs of citizens, the community and the budget.

As the community at large started to adapt their practices during and beyond this emergency, interest in the city’s services and operations increased. Community outreach was expanded; timely updates were provided online for key information.

For the latest information, see City of Scottsdale COVID-19 Updates.

Due to limitations on in-person activity, many city services modified delivery methods and continue to focus on, “Simply better service for a world-class city.” Changes were made to the way Scottsdale’s citizens engage and participate as a community, enabled by increased use of technology and communication platforms.

The requirement for community input and feedback throughout Scottsdale’s municipal planning process emphasizes the role of residents across visioning, planning, and review processes.

Here are some ways to stay engaged:

–The General Plan: Citizens may engage with the ongoing General Plan effort: Specific links and more details can be found in blogs: SCOTT website.

–Operating Budget and CIP: The 2020/2021 Operating Budget and Capital Improvement Plan was adopted at the June 16 City Council meeting. The annual report to Citizens for 2019/2020 will be published by September. See the 2018/2019 report.

–Ongoing City Council meetings: The City Council Agenda and Minutes page provides links to council sessions, past, current and planned, with marked agendas with votes and actions. You’ll also find links to the city’s organization chart, with names and contact information.

–For now, physical facilities are not open to the public. The meetings can be viewed on Cox Channel 11, streamed online at (search “live stream”). Check each meeting agenda to see how to provide input and make comments.

–Volunteer: There are over 20 ways to engage with the city as a volunteer. Although the volunteer program is still on “pause,” you can reach out now to learn more. If you know High School students, encourage them to check out the Mayor’s Youth Council

–Board and commissions members provide input on a variety of issues affecting the city. You can learn more about their work and their meeting schedules, if there are any vacancies and how to apply to serve here. Their work and meetings are continuing electronically until further notice. There are vacancies on many of the city’s boards and commissions.

–Learn more about the candidates running for mayor and the three seats open on City Council in the Candidate information pamphlet. Two of the five mayoral and six of the nine council candidates will go forward to the General election on Nov. 3.

–Last day to register to vote is July 6 for the Aug. 4 Primary. You can also register to vote by mail by July 24. To learn more about the election see the City’s Election page on

Civic engagement opportunities abound, even during this pandemic. Your voice counts – at City Hall, with the community at large, and as a volunteer. This year there are two important ways you can engage with the City: Speak up by voting in the primary and in the general election. The ultimate method of civic engagement is your vote!

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