As Southbridge Two nears a date with the Scottsdale Planning Commission, the developer behind the project met with residents to answer questions and address concerns about a development that could radically reshape the 5th Avenue Shopping District
The meeting, facilitated by members of the NoDDC organization that advocated on behalf of Proposition 420, was hosted by Crisp Premium Pizza on March 6.
A few dozen residents, local merchants and City Council members attended the session to meet with Carter Unger, the man behind Southbridge Two.
Unger, son of the late-developer Fred Unger who spearheaded the original Southbridge development, described the plan as a continuation of his father’s vision for the area.
According to the development’s zoning application with the city, Southbridge Two will feature residential condominiums along the southern side of the canal near Goldwater Boulevard, new retail space along 5th Avenue, and two hotels and an office tower between Stetson and 6th Avenue along Scottsdale Road.
With that and underground parking, Southbridge Two will include nearly two million square feet.
Unger said new development is required, as opposed to adapting existing properties for new use, because the infrastructure in many of the existing buildings he owns is crumbling.
Negotiations continue between the developer and city over a piece of city-owned land near the canal known as the Rose Garden parking lot.
Unger said he anticipated the project would go before the commission on March 13 but that has not been confirmed by the city.
Residents and local merchants had questions about how Southbridge 2 would affect their community.
One attendee asked about the project’s height – which maxes out at 150 feet. The residential along Goldwater would feature 66-foot height that is scaled down as the residential product moves south.
“As you move east, it builds in height,” Unger said, noting that one of the hotel buildings will be 120 feet tall.
Unger said the office building located on the site at Stetson and Scottsdale Road would be 150 feet tall.
“In order to get the return, we need to take advantage of the height in this area,” Unger said.
When asked whom the project would cater to, Unger unequivocally said it would not be a replication of the Entertainment District.
He described a vision of an updated version of the current mix of restaurants and specialty retail that 5th Avenue is known for with patrons from varying age groups who want to have a “nice dinner and a glass of wine.”
He said he would like to improve the pedestrian experience by widening sidewalks and removing the existing poles and other objects that disrupt the flow through downtown.
He said there are also plans for public market or food hall concept in the ground floor of one of the buildings.
Unger said he does not plan for the retail space to compete with Scottsdale Fashion Square and that it will continue to be home to local small businesses.
The office building, he said, will provide the sustained audience for those restaurants and small businesses, many of which currently struggle during the summer slow season.
“We have seen retailer after retailer go out of business and be replaced by (small office product) and it’s ruining the character of (the area),” Unger said.
Unger, currently landlord to many properties along 5th Avenue, said that turnover is high in the area because many shops and restaurants cannot sustain themselves when tourism drops off.
That is one of the driving factors behind the development.
Unger said it would be less risky to simply invest in multifamily or do nothing at all, stating that “we could sit and collect rent and be profitable.”
However, he said that he hates seeing tenant after tenant struggle due to a lack of foot traffic.
“I’m not risk averse,” Unger said, noting that prominent projects like Southbridge, Royal Palms or the Hermosa Inn – all of which his father worked on – would not have happened without “big dreams and big thinking.”
Unger acknowledged construction would inflict some in pain, at least in the short term.
He said he and his partners have reached out to retailers who will be displaced and offered to help them relocate.
Unger also addressed another significant issue that is joined at the hip with new development downtown.
He said he will not be seeking reduced parking requirements from the city for the office building or residential condos – which will include one parking spot for every bedroom.
He said he will seek a reduction in the parking requirement for the hotel.
Overall, the project will include over 1,500 parking spaces, mostly underground.
Though Unger has a clear vision for the project, there is still plenty that is unknown – a fact Unger has not shied away from.
When a resident at the community meeting asked Unger about the timeline for the project, he said a best-case scenario would involve zoning approvals by the end of spring or early summer but would not break ground until summer 2021.
He also said the phasing of the project is still undetermined, saying that it will be “market driven.”
Unger said the development will be financed through partnerships with “significant, well-known national and international companies” but that his organization will maintain control of the development.
He said negotiations are ongoing with those companies and confidentiality agreements bar him from shedding more light.
An economic impact study commissioned last year by the developer mentioned that a Marriot-brand hotel would be involved, but it is unclear whether that is official or speculative.