The hotel whose banners flew over one of the Southeast Valley’s earliest master-planned communities is near the end of the line.
The Dobson Ranch Inn, at the southwest corner of Dobson Road and U.S. 60, is being sold to a developer that plans a 288-unit apartment complex in its stead.
The hotel dates back almost 50 years to the early days of Dobson Ranch, a development that sprang from the ambitions of the famed — and later infamous — builder and financier Charles Keating. In its heyday the hotel was a major draw for visitors and served as the spring-training home for the Chicago Cubs.
The advent of newer and fancier venues in the region has depressed occupancy rates and maintenance has lagged as a result.
Francisco Heredia, who represents the neighborhood on the city council, said he toured the hotel several months ago and found it to be in sad shape.
“We had gotten a lot of complaints with code violations,” Heredia said, adding that the hotel has generated an increasing number of police calls. “It’s definitely seen its better days.”
The California-based LLC that currently owns the property is selling it to Alliance Residential Co., a Phoenix firm that manages a $10 billion real estate portfolio nationwide.
If the project stands as proposed, the Broadstone Dobson Ranch Apartments will offer mostly one-bedroom and studio units designed for adult singles and couples. A few units will have two bedrooms, but none will contain three.
Brennan Ray, a lawyer representing Alliance, told the Mesa Planning and Zoning Board on Aug. 14 that the hotel cries out for redevelopment.
“We knew the high-profile nature of this site,” Ray said. “It was once a gem of this area but … it has fallen on hard times.”
City planning staff accepted Alliance’s request for several variations from normal zoning rules, including reduced parking requirements and allowing most of the buildings to reach four stories.
Those provisions led to objections from neighbors during the zoning board meeting.
“I want that property to be built,” said Gene Stankowski, president of the homeowners board at the next-door Dobson Villas condominiums.
But he said the apartments should be limited to two, or at most, three stories — and he worried about a glut of rental units in the immediate neighborhood.
With the new apartments, he said, there will be 900 units in either apartments or extended-stay hotels within a few hundred yards of each other.
Other residents voiced concerns about traffic, parking, possible crowding at nearby schools, the possibility of disturbances from vacation rentals and apartment residents using Dobson Ranch amenities without paying for them.
Ron Ricci, president of the Dobson Ranch homeowners board, speaking on his own behalf and not that of the board, echoed many of those concerns and especially objected to the proposed four-story buildings.
But Ray, the developers’ lawyer, said most of the concerns raised by neighbors have been addressed.
He said the four-story buildings will be well separated from nearby homes, that residents will be prohibited from sub-letting their units and that the apartments will generate less traffic than did the hotel at full capacity.
As for the impact on schools, he said that based on Alliance’s experience with similar projects, the company expects 10 or fewer children to live there.
“This development does not lend itself … to a lot of families,” he said, adding that none of the amenities are designed for children.
A 5-1 approval by the zoning board moved the matter on to the City Council, which is scheduled to introduce the rezoning ordinance tomorrow, Sept. 9, and consider it for Sept. 23.
Heredia said he and city staffers worked with the developers to ensure a quality project, and he believes the four-story buildings will be appropriate for the site.
“You try to balance the needs of the community,” he said, “but you’re still working with private owners” who need to turn a profit on their investment.
At one time, the inn was a Mesa legend’s pride
By Jim Walsh, Tribune Staff Writer
Dwight “Pat’’ Patterson’s legacy as one of Mesa’s most influential leaders is inextricably linked to his successful efforts in attracting the Chicago Cubs and building the Cactus League into a multi-million tourist magnet.
But the Dobson Ranch Inn, one of Patterson’s favorite business ventures, is just as deeply rooted in baseball.
The inn was baseball central for many Cactus League seasons as the spring home of the Cubs and the Milwaukee Brewers during various times in its 30-year lifespan.
But the days of team hotels are long gone in Major League Baseball as they fell victims to big contracts that enabled wealthy players to buy a condo or rent a house instead.
Soon, the Dobson Ranch Inn will be gone as well — a bittersweet moment for two people who have fond memories of it.
Phil Kellis, the inn’s longtime managing partner, and Ann Patterson Cleghorn, Dwight Patterson’s daughter, are both practical business people. They see a need for change, but they also fondly remember “the Dobson’s’’ long-past heyday.
When it came to attracting the Cubs, the Cactus league and spring training fans, it all had to do with Patterson’s gift for dealing with people and building strong relationships, Kellis said.
“Dwight got closer and closer to baseball. His heart was in baseball,’’ Kellis said. “He’s the one who developed the relationships. He did it all with a smile and a handshake.’’
Kellis said it wasn’t unusual during those days for him to walk out of his office at the inn and see Hall of Fame slugger Reggie Jackson or beloved Cubs catcher Randy Hundley sitting in the lobby.
Jackson was renowned as a flamboyant home run hitter with the Oakland Athletics, New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Hundley was a defensive catcher on the 1969 Cubs team that folded down the stretch, creating a path for the New York Mets to win an improbable World Series championship.
“Reggie would say, ‘how’s Pat doing?’’ Kellis recalled.
Patterson had previously built and operated the Mezona Inn on Main Street in downtown Mesa.
It eventually morphed into the Cubs’ hotel for minor league players training at Fitch Park or at HoHoKam Stadium. It also was popular with loyal fans fleeing the frigid Midwest to watch their beloved Cubbies.
But Kellis said the Dobson Ranch Inn was built in response to demands from the Cubs for more stylish, upscale accommodations.
The partners were Patterson, who owned the land, Bob Cummins, Ray Flynn and Lee Roy Kellis. Lee Roy was Phil Kellis’ father and a member of the original committee that attracted the Cubs to Mesa in 1952.
The Dobson Ranch Inn opened in 1979 as a Best Western property. The original construction cost was $3 million and it had 150 rooms, before additions that included some suites.
“They were looking for more of a resort atmosphere and that’s what we gave them,’’ Kellis said.
The Dobson Ranch Inn prospered as the major league hotel for the Cubs and the Brewers. The latter team used it while training at the now defunct Chandler Compadre Stadium before their move to the Maryvale Sports Complex in west Phoenix.
Among the primary reasons for the hotel’s decline was a severe reduction in corporate travel during the recession, she said.
Dwight Patterson’s business career had started in the hotel business in Flagstaff after he graduated from Northern Arizona University, but he and his wife, Ruby, eventually returned to Mesa.
He had married into the Dobson family, and he helped Cliff Dobson in the operation of the original Dobson Ranch, a sprawling cattle and sheep outfit.
Ann Patterson Cleghorn said her father was so committed to building the Dobson Ranch Inn that he traded the family homestead, another 10-acres near Alma School and Baseline roads, to obtain the hotel site.
Back then, U.S. 60 extended not much farther east than Dobson Road, making the inn’s location a gold mine.
“It was a sidelight because there was so much more to what he did. Now I know why my mother used to complain that he was never home,’’ Patterson Cleghorn said.
Dwight Patterson’s mother had been a teacher and she cemented a life-long commitment to education in her son. He served on the Mesa Public Schools governing board, the Maricopa County Community College Board and even the state Board of Regents, she said.
Patterson and Cliff Dobson eventually became major community benefactors by donating large swaths of land from their ranch that became the future homes of Banner Desert Medical Center and Mesa Community College.
But much of Patterson’s life and business dealings would always revolve around baseball. He had been a first-baseman, but admitted in one interview that he wasn’t much of player himself.
“He always said, ‘I need a place for the baseball players to stay,’’’ Patterson Cleghorn said. “Whatever the baseball people wanted, he wanted to satisfy them.’’
“He was so proud of that property and he should have been.’’
Patterson’s business acumen once again paid off. Patterson Cleghorn and Kellis both said he seemed to always be one step ahead — thanks in part to his connections to prominent Arizona politicians including U.S. Rep. John J. Rhodes Jr. and Arizona Gov. Rose Mofford, to name a few.
“He was thrilled. I think the whole thing turned out better than he thought it would be. They had some really good years,’’ Patterson Cleghorn said.
Toward the end of Dwight Patterson’s life, Ann Patterson Cleghorn would drop her father off at the Dobson Ranch Inn and he would hang out in his office.
“We would have lunch. Those were sweet days,’’ Kellis said.
When Patterson, 87, died in 1999, Patterson Cleghorn succeeded him at the Dobson Ranch Inn, joining Kellis in operating the hotel. She had raised three daughters and been a homemaker, so it was a new, enjoyable experience for her.
“I was a partner after Dad died. I moved into his office,’’ she said. “It was a good business deal. He realized that no one in his family was going into farming, so he better have something else.’’
“At the time, it was a classy place,’’ Patterson Cleghorn, of Gilbert, said. “It was one of the highlights of my life, when I was at the Dobson.’’
She said she helped Kellis operate the hotel from 1999 to 2008, when the longtime ownership group sold out at a fortuitous time — just as the Great Recession got worse.
Over time, despite a few efforts by the new owners to stimulate business, the inn gradually lost all its shine.
Patterson Cleghorn and Kellis said their memories stem from a different time at the Dobson Ranch Inn — a time Cleghorn Patterson described as “hopping.’’
Both said they the support the rezoning case that will see the inn give way to a big apartment complex.
Cleghorn Patterson said that will be good for Mesa.
“I love it,’’ Patterson Cleghorn said, after a reporter described the apartment complex proposal. “I hope it goes through. I think it’s super.’’