Scottsdale City Council

On April 6, the Scottsdale City Council approved The Kimsey, a redevelopment that will replace the two-story Howard Johnson motel and The Venue event center with a new hotel and residential building near Indian School Road and Marshall Way.

Scottsdale City Council gave near-unanimous support to the seemingly controversial Kimsey redevelopment, which will preserve a historic Ralph Haver building while bringing a new hotel and apartment building to downtown.

The project generated push back from some residents in recent weeks because it will significantly increase building heights on the site near Indian School Road and Marshall Way. It is currently home to the Howard Johnson motel and The Venue, a defunct music venue and event center.

Council voted 6-1 to approve The Kimsey on April 6 with only Councilwoman Kathy Littlefield opposing.

Despite the height concerns, an outpouring of support came from local businesses and property owners who said the development will bring much-needed traffic an area that has suffered from high store turnover in recent years.

“At one time, the 3rd Avenue building was a motel, just like the Rodeway motel, bringing visitors to the doorstep of Craftsman (Court) and Fifth Avenue,” Mayor David Ortega said. “The Kimsey will bring back life to the area.”

Council approved rezoning that will allow PEG Development to replace the two-story motel and four-story event center with a six-story, 168-room hotel and 190-unit apartment building.

Both new buildings will be around 76 feet tall, well above the maximum height of 36 feet allowed under the old zoning.

The new development will not replace the third building on the site, the two-story Kimsey Triangle building designed by famed architect Ralph Haver in 1961 on land owned by the Kimsey family.

Council also approved a historic designation for the Triangle building, which will include a gallery with community access featuring exhibits on Haver and the Kimsey family from the Scottsdale Historical Society. 

“This is the first time ever in our city’s history that I am aware of to have a building up for historic preservation designation with an adaptive reuse within a development project,” said resident Christie Lee Kinchen, a city Historic Preservation Commission member.

Council members on the fence about the project extracted several concessions from the developer, including a reduction in the height request from 96 to 76 feet.

The development agreement also includes a stipulation that the original 36-foot zoning will return if construction does not begin within five years. The developer also must deposit a $1 million letter of credit with the city to secure the project’s completion.

The new development will also comply with the new proposed parking code expected to go before Council in May.

That new code would increase the number of required parking spaces for one and two-bedroom apartment units while decreasing the requirement for larger two and three-bedroom units. It would also require guest parking of at least one space per eight units.

According to the developer, the Kimsey development would include a total of 459 parking stalls, well above the 407 spaces required now.

Council amended parking standards for the hotel, reducing required spaces from 1.25 spaces per room to 0.8 spaces.

Those concessions – along with pleas from local businesses – were enough to win support from Council members Solange Whitehead, Betty Janik and Tom Durham, whose votes seemed uncertain in recent weeks.

Ortega, Janik and Durham entered their first terms in January and were expected to create a new majority alongside Whitehead and Littlefield that was less willing than the previous council to grant developer requests for increased heights and density.

The new members had previously expressed skepticism of increasing heights downtown and campaigned against giving away too many concessions to developers.

But Janik, Durham and Whitehead also met with a group of two dozen local property owners and businesses in recent weeks who supported the project.

Those stakeholders said their businesses and tenants were in desperate need of an influx in traffic and pointed to The Kimsey as a source of new customers.

“It is an absolute game-changer,” property owner David 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 (Council has) the ability to give us a drink of water right now.”

A petition sent to Council hours before the meeting included signatures of around 100 nearby property owners and stakeholders in support.

And all 15 comments from the public at the April 16 meeting were in favor of The Kimsey. Half of those commenters owned businesses or properties within a few hundred feet of the Kimsey site.

Those appeals had a real impact on the final vote.

“The Kimsey is not about the developers who profit from their projects…It is about the heart of the city, which is on life support,” Janik said.

“And this was true even before COVID; there are too many empty stores, too many revolving doors where tenants move in for six months only to move out after spending their investment and their money for naught.”

Whitehead said she trusts the local businesses that she called the experts on the state of the area.

“We have 110 local businesses that have come to us in support of this project, and we’re going to tell them no and we’re going to tell them that we know better – not me,” she said.

Though much smaller in scale, The Kimsey drew parallels to Southbridge Two, a redevelopment approved by City Council in 2019 that would have brought increased heights to the nearby Fifth Avenue district downtown.

That project’s height and density increases drew opposition from many of the same people who now opposed The Kimsey.

Janik and Durham were both active participants in that referendum campaign before being elected. Ortega was also a vocal critic of Southbridge Two before he won the mayor’s office.

Whitehead, who was already on Council at the time, voted against Southbridge Two.

Durham said his vote did not conflict with previous statements against increased height downtown,

He said the areas surrounding The Kimsey, like Craftsman Court, need an infusion of traffic. The same can’t be said for the Fifth Avenue area that would have been impacted by Southbridge Two, he said.

“While we have many tourists in the area around Fifth Avenue and the canal, my observations tell me that much of this foot traffic does not move south…If you find yourself at the intersection of Craftsman Court and Third Avenue, you’re probably a tourist who is lost because there’s no reason why anyone would want to go there,” Durham said.

Even with that justification, their support for The Kimsey is already drawing criticism from some who rallied behind them during the last election.

“I like the Kimsey - NEVER said I didn’t. I said it was about 40 feet too tall,” resident activist Emily Austin wrote on the Save Scottsdale Facebook page she moderates. “Also, we now know that most of our City Council members are on the side of the developer. It is what it is.”

Austin and others in recent weeks asked Council not to approve The Kimsey.

Littlefield said she was listening to those voices when she voted no.

“This is exactly what citizens across the city who voted for us, the new council majority, want us to vote against,” she said. “The vast majority of citizens do not want our (downtown) destroyed by replacing it with an out of code, tall, dense building at the very heart of our city.”

But Durham, Janik and Whitehead all argued the The Kimsey provided enough public benefits to offset potential negatives caused by rezoning the site. 

Durham said before approving a project, it should be tested to see if it the location is a match for the proposed use and whether or not it has citizen support. He said each project should also meet the city’s high design standards.

“In my view, this project passes all those tests,” he said.