Kimsey redevelopment

The proposed Kimsey redevelopment would replace the two-story Howard Johnson motel and The Venue, a four-story event center that has sat empty for years, with a new hotel and residential building near Indian School Road and Marshall Way.

A City Council hearing on the $150-million Kimsey redevelopment in downtown Scottsdale was delayed as the city and developer grapple with opposition to the proposed height of the project.

The redevelopment proposal from Utah-based PEG Development would replace the two-story Howard Johnson motel and The Venue, a four-story event center that has sat empty for years, with a new hotel and residential building near Indian School Road and Marshall Way.

The developer would preserve the adjacent Kimsey Triangle building, which was designed by famed architect Ralph Haver in 1961 on land owned by the Kimsey family.

The Triangle project – already recommended for approval by the city’s Historic Preservation and Planning commissions – was scheduled to go before Council March 16.

But that meeting was delayed to April 6 at the developer’s request because of residents’ concerns over the height of the hotel and residential building, both of which will be significantly taller than the existing zoning allows.

Attorney John Berry, who is representing the Kimsey project, said, “As a result of input from the community, the mayor and city council members, we have made changes in our proposal that include reductions in height and the number of residences.” 

 “As such, several City Council members wanted the public to have an additional three weeks to review these changes and asked us to delay our hearing,” he said.

Current zoning on the site allows for heights up to 36 feet.

The development application initially sought to rezone the site and utilize public improvement bonuses to increase the height to 96 feet.

However, on March 11, the developer filed an amended application and reduced the height to 76 feet. It also reduced the requested residential units from 230 to 190.

Councilwoman Solange Whitehead said she also negotiated a stipulation stating the site would revert back to original zoning if the project does not materialize in the next few years. 

Those concessions have not quieted the project’s critics, though.

“Zoning ordinances are what they are for many reasons,” Scottsdale resident Jim Bloch wrote the Progress.

“Have those reasons changed (or) do we just have a majority of our city council, that has been bought and paid for by the development community, some of whom campaigned on being anti monstrosity developments that do not improve our city, and do not pay for themselves, and are not favored by the folks, as we have witnessed with (Proposition) 420 and (Southbridge Two)?” Bloch wrote.

Much of the opposition has come from the same residents, politicians and property owners that successfully mobilized against the Southbridge Two development last year over similar concerns, using a voter referendum to sink that project.

Former Scottsdale Council member and mayoral candidate Bob Littlefield, a vocal opponent of Southbridge Two, recently emailed supporters criticizing the Kimsey proposal.

Littlefield called the height reduction a “classic bait-and-switch tactic” and argued the 76 feet now proposed by the developer is “no doubt what they hoped to get in the first place.”

The email was paid for by Keep Scottsdale Special, a political action committee organized by Littlefield. His wife, Councilwoman Kathy Littlefield, is listed as the PAC’s treasurer.

Bob Littlefield has long criticized city council for amending existing zoning to approve tall, dense developments, arguing those developments overtax existing infrastructure and unduly burden taxpayers.

“They are also trying the old ‘if you don’t approve this bloated, hideous project you will get something worse’ dodge (always a hoax),” Littlefield wrote.

But the project also has its supporters among the historic preservationist crowd and many local property and business owners, who said they welcome increased heights and density.

Some of those local property and business owners met on March 24 with City Council members Solange Whitehead, Betty Janik and Tom Durham.

The meeting was organized by local property owners, not the developer.

Of the two dozen who attended the meeting, all said they supported building the Kimsey project, saying the area needs projects to attract new shoppers, tourists and residents

“I say build that building taller,” said Steve Johnson, who owns the Atelier bath and kitchen showroom in Craftsman Court, just 1/10-mile from the Kimsey site.

“We have someone willing to invest $100 million…you should embrace that,” he said.

Several residents who own properties near Johnson’s shop agreed, and said they wanted Council to know that the individuals who opposed previously redevelopments like Southbridge Two do not represent all downtown stakeholders.

“The loudest voices are often the ones that have the least at stake,” said Eric Marvin, whose family owns several properties along Marshall Way near the proposed Kimsey project.

Property owner David Free said the new apartment tenants and hotel guests would be a godsend to local businesses.

“It is an absolute game changer,” Free said. “So as I listened to all my neighbors talk about their struggles, what I hear is we’re desperate and we’re all thirsty and you guys have the ability to give us a drink of water right now.”

Marvin, who has 11 tenants in the area, agreed.

“They want growth; they want density; it is their lifeblood,” Marvin said of his tenants. “Without that, they can’t succeed…not only is reducing height or not letting The Kimsey go forward anti-development, it is almost anti-competitive.”

He added, “We’re hamstringing the people who mean the most to me in a commercial sense.”

Still, PEG and its Kimsey project could face an uphill battle as it heads before a council with a new majority that has proven itself skeptical of amending existing zoning downtown.

Mayor David Ortega, Janik, Durham and Kathy Littlefield have all vocally criticized increases in height and density downtown in the past.

And Bob Littlefield’s PAC could have real sway on that new majority.

Both Littlefields were vocal opponents of Southbridge Two on similar grounds, and campaign finance reports filed with the city show their PAC has received financial support from others with ties to the referendum, including downtown property owners Janet Wilson, Bob Pejman and Michael Simonson.

Simonson, who donated $87,000 to the referendum campaign, also contributed $4,300 of the $9,025 raised by Keep Scottsdale Special PAC since it was created in September 2020.

Prior to being elected to office, both Durham and Janik actively supported the Southbridge Two referendum alongside many of those same donors who now support Littlefield’s PAC.

Simonson and his wife Cindy Simonson contributed $12,900 to Ortega, Janik and Durham’s campaigns during last year’s elections.

Janik and Durham told the property and business owners at the March 24 gathering that they are willing to listen to all points of view before making a decision.

“This is what I needed to hear, and I’m really appreciative that you all cared enough to come and share,” Janik told them.

“And I want to ask you to send emails to everybody on city council, because the more you speak up, the more people within city council begin to realize there are two sides to this,” she said.