Thursday, July 14, 2011

Developer ready to channel energy into completing SouthBridge

SouthBridge developer Fred Unger stands on a dirt area where the new development will be along the south side of the canal. Deirdre Hamill/The Arizona Republic

SouthBridge developer Fred Unger stands on a dirt area where the new development will be along the south side of the canal.

Luck hasn't always been on Fred Unger's side.

Several years ago, the developer envisioned an "urban, pedestrian-friendly village" along the south side of the Arizona Canal in downtown Scottsdale that would "take its place among the world's great destinations to shop, to dine, to live, to be seen" as it then was described on his company's Website.

His vision was realized with SouthBridge, a mix of restaurants, retail and offices along Stetson Drive.

It was completed in late 2007 "just before the crash of the economy," Unger said.

Some setbacks occurred after that.

"Virtually every restaurant either failed or never opened, so I had to start over," he said. "I had to re-tenant the property, and I was so determined and so persistent in getting the right mix, living up to my commitment to the city . . . and so over the past year and a half, we have been very fortunate."

Unger has slowly repopulated SouthBridge with restaurants such as Marcellino Ristorante, Tapas Papa Fritas and the Herb Box, and new tenants are on their way.

This fall, Silvana Salcido Esparza, chef and owner of Barrio Café, will open a restaurant in the space vacated by Metro Brasserie, while Casa Blanca cocktail lounge will replace the Napoleon cigar bar, which closed this summer.

Amar Patel, who owns Magnum's Cigars, Wine and Spirits in north Phoenix, will open Casa Blanca.

"I fell in love with the space when I saw it for the first time," he said. "The patios are so spacious, the views are outstanding and the neighborhood is still very vibrant at night."

With SouthBridge back on track, Unger is feeling lucky again and is ready to refocus on new development along the south side of the canal. These phases will include 76 condominium units with retail along Fifth Avenue east and west of Goldwater Boulevard.

"We kind of think the worst is behind us with regard to downtown Scottsdale and we're very optimistic that this is the place people want to live, work and play," he said.

The right time

Unger was proceeding with plans to develop three parcels along the canal and then had to shelve the project when the "banks pulled out" in 2008. The project involved the city's Rose Garden parking lot, on the northwest corner of Goldwater and Fifth.

Unger recently told the Scottsdale City Council that his plans are back on track to finish the project, and the council adopted an amendment to its agreement allowing development on the Rose Garden property. As part of the deal, Unger will include 127 underground public-parking spaces and another 19 public-parking spaces along Fifth.

"We're updating the plans because things have changed since 2006, people's tastes have changed and market demand is different," Unger said.

The first phase, west of SouthBridge, will be 12 three-story brownstone condominiums behind the commercial buildings along Fifth. The units will face the canal, and include private elevators and garages.

The second phase will include:

22 lofts in a three-story complex with retail along Fifth, at the northeastern corner of Fifth and Goldwater.

42 condominium units in a two-story complex with retail along Fifth, at the northwestern corner of Fifth and Goldwater.

"All three developments will look and feel different," Unger said. "Compared to some of the newer proposed residential projects, we're much lower scale and density, and that's attractive to certain people."

As for financing, Unger is confident it will come through once he has his entire plan completed and can show that the project will be profitable.

"We hope to have them on the market in late 2013 and early 2014," he said. "We think by then the market will have absorbed the unsold condos in downtown Scottsdale at least, and this location is so prime."

Mayor Jim Lane said completing development along the canal would have a significant economic impact on all of downtown and generate additional fee and tax revenue for the city.

"Fred has been a highly respected developer of top-quality projects, and there appears there might be an opportunity to get these completed in a high-quality form," he said.


In the meantime, the city plans to increase activity along the canal by using $2.3 million in federal funds and $500,000 in city transportation funds to extend the concrete path along the south side of the canal from the Goldwater tunnel to 64th Street, said Reed Kempton, principal transportation planner.

"Once that's finished, you can take a shared-use path from downtown Scottsdale to Papago Park, and Tempe is just completing its section, so you can take it all the way to Van Buren Street," he said. "And we have plans to connect it all the way to Indian Bend Road, so the entire canal will have a concrete path all the way on one side."

The city has completed a concrete path along the crosscut canal from Indian School to the Tempe border, Kempton said.

The Arizona Canal project also includes improvements to the bridge at 68th Street and access to Lafayette Park, he said.

"We're designing the section from 64th Street to 60th Street, but we don't have the funds yet," Kempton said.

The city anticipates a big increase in public use of the canal pathway by pedestrians, cyclists and others once the concrete walkway is complete, he said.

by Edward Gately The Arizona Republic Jul. 13, 2011 11:04 AM

Developer ready to channel energy into completing SouthBridge

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