Developers plan to turn the site of the former Safari Resort — Scottsdale’s first upscale inn — into a downtown neighborhood of well-to-do artisans, craftspeople and innovative small business owners. Work started quietly on a project called Safari Drive four months ago when construction began on an underground parking garage.
The site is nine acres north of the northeast corner of Scottsdale and Camelback roads.
“We loved the history and the location of site,” said Chris Camberlango, project developer.
Camberlango and his team began working on the idea five years ago. Pointing to cities like New York, Chicago, he says urban living is nothing new in the United States and only changed when automobile’s created the suburbs. He points to statistics that show only 30 percent of real estate market is families.
“People are tired of production homebuilders ,” he said, adding the goal will be to create a neighborhood within downtown. He likens the feel of Safari Drive to Ocean Drive in South Florida or Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, Calif.
The project offer lofts with 20-foot ceilings and mezzanines so residents can live and do business in the same place. Camberlango expects to attract artists, photographers, designers and others in the creative class.
“It’s really a way to allow small enterprises to thrive in our community,” he says.
The residences range from 1,000-square-feet, two bedroom, two baths to penthouses. They feature glass on at least two sides and some have small, private yards or large decks. Doors will be wider and taller than normal and floors will be concrete. The first phase will include a wine and coffee shop and a place to buy cut flowers.
But don’t look for a Starbuck’s.
“We’re trying keep corporations out of all this,” Camberlango said, adding boutiques are more appropriate.
There will be three pools, including a Zen pool for quiet relaxation. Also planned is a Yoga lawn, possibly a Yoga studio, an amphitheater and dog park. Green buildings techniques will be employed.
The first phase will completed early next year.
Camberlango plans to improve the north bank of the Arizona Canal with a concrete path, public art and landscaping so residents and the public can easily connect culture and dining including the Scottsdale Waterfront, Scottsdale Fashion Square Mall and Old Town Scottsdale.
The resort will be remembered through pictures in the project’s business center. Camberlango also has the original Safari sign that was on the waterfall.
The Safari was closed in 1998 to make way for a $143 million Marriott hotel and conference center that never materialized. Most of it has since been razed. A tiny piece that was added on exists today, but it also will be torn down.
The resort opened in 1956 and is remembered as the place to party in 1950s and 1960s.
Ernie Uhlman built the 108-room resort for about $1 million. Al Beadle was behind its “modern Western” design that was cutting edge for the time.
The coffee shop sported the latest pink-and-purple decor. A doorman in African tribal garb greeted guests. Scottsdale Mayor Malcolm White cut the ribbon, and Arizona Sen. Carl Hayden and Secretary of State Wesley Bolin joined him for the grand opening lunch.
The motel-shaped hotel was an immediate hit. Expansion projects in 1957, 1958 and 1960 added 86 more rooms, Scottsdale’s first convention center and the French Quarter night club.
Local officials revoked an ordinance that banned dancing so the Safari could open the French Quarter.
The big bands came to the Safari and the resort attracted visitors from the Midwest and California. Musicians such as George Shearing struck up the band; Rosemary Clooney, the DeCastro Sisters, the Modernaires and the Ink Spots, among other legendary entertainers, crooned their tunes in the cabaret. Other notables such as John Wayne and Bing Crosby bunked down at the resort or came to sample renowned restaurateur Paul Shank’s cuisine.
The 24-hour coffee shop became the gathering place for everybody after hours. It was the last place TV actor Bob Crane was seen alive. The “Hogan’s Heroes” star had breakfast with friends at the Safari early on the morning of June, 29, 1978. Later that day he was found slain in a Scottsdale apartment.
Camberlango opened his sales center in late March and said 43 people have signed conditional sales contracts.