Towers tip of the iceberg for Tempe development surge? - East Valley Tribune: Tempe

Towers tip of the iceberg for Tempe development surge?

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Posted: Saturday, March 12, 2011 10:30 am | Updated: 11:05 am, Tue Sep 20, 2011.

A massive complex of 20-story towers is being proposed along Tempe Town Lake in what is one of the most ambitious new projects contemplated in the East Valley since the recession crippled new development.

And a project representative said to expect plans for even more downtown Tempe buildings soon.

The interest in new development might seem a signal the economy is roaring back. But don’t expect to see many new buildings for a while.

Rather, investors are getting their ducks in a row for when vacant buildings fill up and demand grows for new office, condo and hotel towers.

That could take several years for the just-proposed Hayden Harbor in Tempe, said Manjula Vaz, a zoning attorney who represents the 2 million square-foot development. Hayden Harbor would feature seven towers of up to 278 feet, on the north bank of the lake and west of Scottsdale Road. One tower would house offices, with about 1,400 condos in the others.

The plan comes from a limited liability corporation called El Fenix I and El Fenix II, Vaz said.

“Our goal is to attract other investors and build maybe one building at a time,” Vaz said.

The initial interest in this kind of a project isn’t a surprise to Jay Butler, the longtime director of Arizona State University’s Realty Studies Department. But he’s not sure there’s demand for this type of urban high-rise lifestyle in a place where residents like to enjoy the sun in their own backyards.

The Valley’s first high-rise condo debuted in Phoenix in 1964 and few followed until the boom last decade, he said. Butler doubts the public demanded as many high-rise units as were built and is skeptical investors or homeowners will embrace more urban condos.

“I’m not betting on it.” Butler said. “It just doesn’t seem to be a desired lifestyle unless something drastic comes up, like you can’t have your swimming pools. People are still wanting to have that sort of thing.”

He noted the struggles of the Hayden Ferry Lakeside condos on lake’s south shore development coming to a halt before the Centerpoint Condominiums could be completed in downtown Tempe. Centerpoint will open as 375 upscale apartments this summer called West Sixth.

Regardless of what future homebuyers will want, Butler expects the East Valley will outperform the Valley’s real estate recovery. The region’s higher education institutes, public schools and job centers are important attractions, he said.

“They should be in the lead because they’ve got what people would be looking for,” he said.

Vaz, who represented numerous developers in downtown Tempe during the boom, said interest is high again in Tempe.

“You’ll see we have several projects coming up around downtown and the lake soon,” she said.

Hayden Harbor includes the site of the defunct Club Rio. The current plan is similar to a project Phoenix-based Namwest LLC had pitched before filing for bankruptcy protection in 2008. Namwest paid $40 million for 22 acres in 2005, outbidding developers that included Donald Trump.

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