Creating a favorable economic climate is a complicated process in any community. While Chandler has enjoyed many achievements over the past several decades, we also face many challenges in the wake of the Great Recession. Vacant storefronts, aging infrastructure and neighborhoods as well as our downtown’s future are just a few of the issues we are faced with today. And all of them affect the economic viability of our long-term success.
Understanding these concerns, it was evident that a plan was needed to address these issues in a comprehensive manner. Before taking office in January, I asked the members of the City Council to take part in a strategic planning retreat to help us define a road map for the city. Meeting in February over a two-day period, we discussed dozens of issues, narrowing our focus on five key areas: downtown, economic development, neighborhoods, fiscal health and sustainability, and transportation. In March, we met again, working with staff to better define the objectives of what we wanted to accomplish, identify workable solutions, and create a viable pathway to success.
Reaching a consensus on these topics, the Council now has a common policy vision to move forward and meet the challenges that lie ahead. Chandler recently released its fiscal year 2011-2012 Economic Development Marketing Plan that, among other things, utilizes the direction provided by the City Council at our retreat. We have already made great strides in a number of areas that were focused on during the retreat.
In terms of vacant retail, I have asked city staff to take a comprehensive look at some of our major retail corridors. Examining vacancy rates and uses along Dobson Road, Alma School Road and Arizona Avenue, staff members from several city departments are sifting through the data and discussing options. They are looking for creative alternatives to the areas of heavy retail that can no longer support so many businesses. A great example of this is already in place at Warner and Alma School where a private school with grass covered soccer fields has replaced a large concrete parking lot and an empty call center and former Smitty’s store.
A blue-ribbon panel of residents and the development community that I am pulling together will further discuss how we can continue to create a successful economic environment for these struggling areas. These are the types of strategies we must continue to identify as we move forward. However, this is neither a quick solution nor an easy one. It is a long-term process and one we are committed to see through.
Our neighborhood discussion during the retreat focused on a more active enforcement of codes and the engagement of citizens to support the wellbeing of their neighborhoods. We are looking at a number of ways to do this that include my recent plans for voluntary demolition of uninhabitable structures as well as the creation of a citizens academy for those who do not reside in neighborhoods governed by homeowners associations.
The Council’s dialogue on downtown Chandler included some debate on how to maintain vibrancy for the city core. One way to do that is to add pedestrian traffic. That will include the infusion of new employers to the area. A prime example of this is the 200 jobs Ports America is bringing to the downtown office space vacated last year by Chandler when it moved to its new City Hall. We will continue to work to attract some great new businesses to the area to keep the area moving in a positive direction.
The City Council’s vision for the community is a common one that will help us stay the course as we continue to build upon this great community. Yes, we have challenges to meet. But our mission is clear, and that will bode well for Chandler’s future.
• Jay Tibshraeny is mayor of Chandler.