Avondale council looks to 2015 for economic development push

Photo by Philip Haldiman

By Philip Haldiman, Editor in Chief | The Dealmaker

Avondale City Council is working toward a proactive 2015, especially when it comes to economic development.

The council and staff are beginning a number of discussions geared toward attracting new businesses to the city in the coming year.

So far, Council has a begun to scratch the surface, covering a number of issues including the single family housing, industrial and office markets, as well as the freeway corridor.

A good portion of the attention has focused on attracting more development along Avondale Boulevard, particularly at the City Center, south of Interstate 10.

Officials have looked to the City Center as an important focal point of the community on 402 acres of mixed use properties, featuring offices, hotels, retail and residential, as well as the Randall McDaniel Sports Complex.

In the coming year, Mayor Kenn Weise said the council needs to seriously look at the property, which many say needs more development, as well as the rest of the city.

“I believe in the City Center and the goal of what it is, but we need to look at what is and what is not working with it, and the reality of the situation and where the market stands and where we go from here,” Weise said.

The city has drawn criticism that impact fees are higher and design guidelines are stricter than those in surrounding municipalities, keeping developers from seriously considering Avondale.

“Impact fees can be flexible,” Weise said. “We want to sit down with the development community, and say ‘this is what we’re looking for, what can you build?’ We’re looking for a seed to be planted on Avondale Boulevard.”

Tracy Stevens, development and engineering services director, said housing growth has been slow as a result of access to mortgages, slow job growth and household formation as well as student loan debt.

There are six proposed subdivisions at various stages in the planning process in Avondale.

In metro Phoenix, about 1.8 sales are occurring per subdivision compared to 2.4 a year ago, she said.

Many potential home buyers have a “low level of commitment” to enter the market “as a result of the foreclosure financial issues,” Stevens said.

Vice Mayor Frank Scott, who will term out at the end of the year, said the new council should put together a plan for the future with the idea that more building isn’t necessarily the answer, especially with 4,000 homes in Avondale already entitled.

A family brings value to the community and growth pays for itself, Scott said.

“The challenge is impact fees,” he said “Maybe they have to be discounted.”

Chris Webb, director of project management at Rose Law Group, said in the past, the city has not done as much as the surrounding municipalities in terms of opening its doors to the development community and letting it know that they are open for business and willing to be flexible.

But he said the discussions regarding economic development show the Council is working together to create an environment in Avondale that will attract growth and all types of development going forward.

The group has been involved with a number of Avondale projects, including Phoenix International Raceway,  Lakin Ranch, Parkside and Oak Park II.

Webb said cities and towns are like businesses — every municipality needs to regularly evaluate its plans, goals, policies and guidelines in order to determine how they line up with current market trends and demands.

Being pro-active shows Avondale wants to adapt, Webb said.

“Changing or modifying your plans and standards doesn’t have to mean sacrificing quality and throwing your vision out the window,” he said. “But clinging to plans and standards that don’t work in this post-Great Recession era will stunt economic growth and development.”

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