Over the next two years, a dilapidated downtown Chandler neighborhood could begin a metamorphosis, ultimately redeveloping into the city’s newest entertainment district.
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The area sits between the Crowne Plaza San Marcos Resort and Frye Road, on the west side of Arizona Avenue. The city’s South Arizona Avenue entry corridor study — adopted last year by the City Council and intended to guide downtown redevelopment for decades — lists the area as the future site of an entertainment district with a residential space.
Two large chunks, one of which is city-owned, are in the planning process and could come to fruition in 18 to 24 months, said Niels Kreipke, president of the Desert Viking development firm.
The city-owned parcel consists of roughly six acres on the northwest corner of Chicago Street and Arizona Avenue.
Kreipke said he envisions a venue for concerts, a dueling piano bar, a sports bar and an indoor golf driving range or small bowling alley.
“Things that are active,” he said. “We’re working with the city to tweak the design.”
Desert Viking also plans to develop another six acres the firm owns south of the San Marcos Resort, most likely with luxury apartments in buildings up to four stories tall, with a parking garage and retail shops, Kreipke said.
Nate Meyers, the Chandler Museum’s collection curator, said the neighborhood was created by city founder A.J. Chandler as housing for an agricultural and industrial labor force. More wealthy residents settled north of Chandler Boulevard in places like the Silk Stocking neighborhood, he said.
Historical records of the workforce neighborhoods are sketchy, Meyers said.
“If you’re of the labor class, you don’t have a lot of time to visit the museum,” Meyers said. “I wouldn’t say it was ever really some place that the rich or well-to-do would choose to put their homes.”
The homes date from the beginning of the 20th century, and many haven’t changed much since then, he said. Many of the houses still standing are models from the Sears catalogue or other mail order services, he said. The pieces would come by train and the homeowner would have to pick them up and construct the house.
“That was always zoned residential from the beginning,” Meyers said. “You can still drive through and see some of the houses that date to that vintage.”
Teri Killgore, Chandler’s downtown redevelopment manager, said the entertainment district could draw people from Mesa, Ahwatukee Foothills, Gilbert and Phoenix.
“We’d like to be an attraction for Chandler residents, but our goal is to be more regional,” she said.
Ideally, the area would redevelop without much investment of public funds.
“For the right project, we might be willing to talk,” Killgore said.
The city might make a major investment in a new conference center at the San Marcos Resort. A report drafted by consultants Conventions, Sports & Leisure International in 2007 estimated the conference center’s cost at about $100 million, Killgore said.
She said officials have been in talks with the resort, and the city could be expected to kick in $20 million to $30 million.
“We are trying to hone in on an agreement,” Killgore said. “There would obviously have to be a city investment in the conference center itself.”
The conference center would complement the entertainment district by bringing scores of people to the area, she said. Also, the resort could invest in building another 250 hotel rooms to add to its existing capacity of about 300 in conjunction with the conference center development.
The conference center deal could go to the City Council for approval in the next six months, she said.
City Councilman Jeff Weninger said he’s not convinced the conference center would pay for itself.
“To me, the return on investment just isn’t there, from the initial numbers I’ve seen,” he said.
He said he is supportive of the entertainment district concept.
“What I like about what’s going on is that the private development community is assembling the parcels on their own, which I think is a good sign,” Weninger said. “I want a lively and invigorated downtown. I think the ultimate goal is to bring other people into your city, to spend their tax dollars and to show them what Chandler has to offer.”
Kreipke said the proposal will require the inclusion of more residential projects to support commercial development.
“There needs to be some creative, cool, residential mixed-use projects that come in,” he said.
Artist galleries and studios, in conjunction with the nearby Chandler Performing Arts Center north of Chandler Boulevard, could act as an incubator for an arts community in the area, Kreipke said.