A developer has unveiled plans for the largest project yet in downtown Tempe along Town Lake.
SunCor, based in Tempe, is moving to develop about 26 acres on the lake’s south shore with more than 3 million square feet of offices, condos, hotel rooms and shops.
The Marina Heights project will give SunCor control of an entire mile of the lake’s shoreline, as it owns the adjacent Hayden Ferry Lakeside. SunCor figures it will take until 2029 to finish the project on land that today is owned by Arizona State University.
Tempe has long been frustrated that ASU has spent six years studying, planning and restudying its land without turning over a shovel of
dirt. That undeveloped land deprived Tempe of millions of dollars in fees to maintain the lake and in property tax revenue, so the city has many reasons to see work start soon.
But the proposal has triggered a new set of issues. ASU wants the city to approve the project by next month, which some consider hasty given the years of delay. And proposed towers of about 300 feet triggered Tempe-based US Airways to ask that the project be put on hold while it studies the impact on airline safety.
US Airways and some city officials were clearly peeved that they learned of the project’s specifics within only a day of a Tuesday city commission meeting on it.
“I have just become aware of the proposed project,” Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman said Wednesday. “I’m surprised at the level of density and what appears to be absurdly tall buildings. Not having yet received any information yet on the project, I eagerly await a briefing to learn more about what’s being proposed.”
SunCor made its first public pitch Tuesday before the Development Review Commission.
ASU needs the city to treat the plan with urgency and approve it by June, said Steve Nielsen, ASU’s vice president of real estate. ASU wants the Arizona Board of Regents to approve the deal the same month, Nielsen said, before regents take the summer off.
Commission chairman Charles Huellmantel said he was “a little uncomfortable to have to move so quickly,” yet he called the proposal impressive.
The commission approved it unanimously, after cutting two proposed 28-story towers from 347 feet to 299 feet. The buildings sit north of Hayden Butte and would have towered above the mountain at 347 feet.
US Airways learned of the towers Monday and by Wednesday, asked the city to delay the project. A US Airways letter to the city indicates SunCor wants the Federal Aviation Administration to review plans for a building of 393 feet, which would make it the tallest in Tempe.
The towers could be in the path of where a disabled plane would need to fly during takeoff, US Airways wrote. The airline wants more time to study the issue.
The FAA also is reviewing the plan for safety concerns.
SunCor agreed to address the problems raised by US Airways and to get the city involved if the two can’t work out a deal.
Nielsen said he was surprised anybody felt the deal was being rushed, especially after Tempe has pushed so hard for the sale.
“We have been under increasing pressure on behalf of the city to get this property in the hands of a private developer,” Nielsen said.
ASU expects to make $20 million selling 10 acres to Sun-Cor. The university would lease the rest to SunCor.
SunCor would keep the nautical-inspired design of Hayden Ferry Lakeside at Marine Heights so the project would have the same character along the mile of property between Rural Road and Mill Avenue, SunCor’s Randy Levin said.
SunCor would put office and hotel buildings toward Rural and Mill and place condos in the center. Two walkways would run through the entire project.
The Marine Heights buildings would range from three to 12 floors, except for the towers. Levin said SunCor designed the buildings to work in harmony with Hayden Butte.
“We’re very protective of keeping the view corridors between these buildings,” he said.
SunCor’s proposal lays out where buildings would sit, their approximate heights and uses. Each building would need another level of review later.
The existing SunCor condos and offices have fetched high prices and helped bolster Tempe’s desirability, said Neil Calfee, Tempe’s deputy community development manager. The latest proposal shows how the East Valley is getting an office and residential hub that rival the Camelback Corridor or central Phoenix, he said.
“It puts us on par with those locations, although you could argue we’re already on par,” he said.