Chandler has pledged $400,000 to Gangplank, a technology-oriented nonprofit, to help redevelop a historic downtown building, the first such project to fall under new guidelines aimed at transforming the downtown into a thriving community core.
Derek Neighbors, Gangplank co-founder, said the group provides space for hundreds of technology-oriented professionals to come together, share ideas and develop products and business models. Downtown Chandler has many of the amenities - such as an urban location and nearby entertainment and dining options - that could help attract people in technology, he said.
"For good ideas to take off, they have to build off other ideas. We need density," Neighbors said. "Downtown Chandler is doing everything right to set itself up for the creative class in the next 10 years or so."
The nonprofit plans to renovate the 6,600-square-foot building at 260 S. Arizona Ave., just across from the new $76 million City Hall now under construction on the east side of Arizona Avenue at Chicago Street. "Its intent is to provide a creative workplace and a collaborative gathering space for the technology community," said Teri Killgore, Chandler's downtown redevelopment manager. "It brings a lot of energy."
Last week, the City Council voted to grant the group up to $400,000 for exterior facade renovations and to bring the ventilation system up to code. The money will come from a city fund set aside to help private developers restore downtown buildings. In exchange, the city gets a conservation easement that guarantees that historic aspects of the building - such as existing steel trusses, original masonry, and old windows - will be preserved and maintained for 20 years, Killgore said.
The building dates back to 1946 and was originally used by the military, according to Killgore. It later became a meat processing plant, then retail suites, and then was home to the Gospel for Life Church.
"This is one of our older buildings in town," she said.
Gangplank also plans to kick in a couple of hundred thousand dollars to add a second story to the building and to renovate the interior, Neighbors said.
Killgore said it's the first project to fall under the South Arizona Avenue Design Guidelines, adopted in January, which are aimed at creating an urban, pedestrian-friendly city center with tall buildings on each side of Arizona Avenue transitioning downward to blend into adjacent residential neighborhoods. The area targeted for redevelopment in the coming decades is bounded by Chandler Boulevard, Pecos Road, South Palm Lane and South Delaware Street, but excludes the city's historic square.
The guidelines have gone hand-in-hand with a $10 million city project, called the South Arizona Avenue Corridor Area Plan, to narrow Arizona Avenue from six lanes to four through Dr. A.J. Chandler Park and to widen sidewalks and enhance the corridor's landscaping. Jane Poston, a city spokeswoman, said construction on the roadway will begin Monday.
Killgore said that in the last few years, several redevelopment projects have taken place in the downtown's northern end, but the Gangplank project introduces redevelopment to the south end of the district, near Frye Road. Gangplank is expected to bring additional sales tax dollars to the downtown, in addition to increasing the value of the renovated property, she said.
Chandler has invested heavily over the years in attracting high-paying tech jobs. Major companies like Intel have invested billion of dollars in the city's Price Road technology corridor. This year, the city dropped $5.7 million to fund the Innovations Technology Incubator/Accelerator at 145 S. 79th Street to provide research space to biotech startups in fields such as software design, engineering, biosciences, nanotechnology and sustainable technologies.
Neighbors said Gangplank formed about three years ago when he and his business partner in the Integrum Technology software development company, Jade Meskill, began hosting roundtable discussions with other tech companies in the Valley. The common complaint was that Phoenix lacked the capital and skilled workers to support them, he said.
"Everyone had talked about moving out of Phoenix," Neighbors said.
Eventually, the discussions attracted others in the industry, and Gangplank was formed to provide them a space to come together collaboratively, he said. The nonprofit has occupied a building in an industrial park at Elliot Road and Arizona Avenue for about two years, he said.
"Land development and tourism aren't sustainable in the long term for the region. New, alternative, creative-class-types of jobs are what we need to bring in a new economy," Neighbors said. "We love the area. We want to be here. We want our families to grow up here."