Town renews bid to develop downtown

Queen Creek’s extraordinary growth is driving a significant increase in spending for the fiscal year beginning July 1 with three-quarters of it going to infrastructure. (Tom Sanfilippo/Inside Out Aerial)

The Town of Queen Creek has taken a big step toward developing a huge part of its downtown core by inviting developers to purchase a 6.8-acre parcel of land it owns located along Ellsworth Loop Road between Ocotillo and Victoria, adjacent to the library and Communiversity. 

The town is asking potential developers that their bids include conceptual designs because Town Council wants their expertise to provide some ideas. The bids are due by June 21.

In 2019, the town sent out a request for proposals for the same parcel, said town spokeswoman Constance Halonen-Wilson. “Negotiations with a developer continued in 2020, but the RFP was withdrawn due to the uncertainty of the pandemic.”

“The site was purchased by the Town as part of a larger property in 2005,” she added. “Nearly 16.7 acres were purchased for just over $4,460,500.”

Town Development Manager Jennifer Lindley said Queen Creek in the past “has strategically acquired property so it can ‘seed’ the type of development it wants to see in the area,”

One example is the Hampton Inn, she noted, explaining, “The town saw a need for a hotel when it wrote the RFP for the land and asked specifically for a hotel user.”

In the downtown core RFP, “the development should include mixed-uses that are geared towards pedestrian-oriented development that further the vision for the Downtown Core,” Lindley said. “The Town would like to see unique and specialty restaurants and/or retail, office, and other uses that focus on walkability, connectivity, and engagement of social and civic life.”

Such specialty uses refer to a “brand, product, restaurant or business” that essentially is in a “restricted geographical area” and considered a local brand, according to the town.

It could include mid to upscale restaurants, bakeries, markets of various kinds and wines or similar businesses that “celebrate all that is unique and special in Queen Creek,” the RFP noted.

“Overall,” Lindley said, “uses focus on walkability, connectivity, and engagement of social and civic life.”

A town release said officials want “to further develop a vibrant and active district that complements the culture and heritage of the community and provides a range of venues that celebrate all that is unique and special in Queen Creek.”

Zoning for this mixed-use development is Downtown Core (DC) and the maximum building height is 55 feet, according to the town.

“Shops and stores are encouraged to be front facing on or near the sidewalks with parking conveniently located on-street and behind building masses,” the RFP also states.

The Town also hopes for an artsy touch “that infuses whimsical features throughout the area,” although it stressed, “This effort should be done with very careful constraint so that it doesn’t overwhelm the area, but adds a certain flair.

“Cultural initiatives will be attractive to residents and visitors,” the town said. “The best places to visit are the ones that already work well for the people who call it home.”

This may be an optimum time for Queen Creek to seek proposals to develop its Downtown Core area.

Commercial real estate development is booming in the Phoenix area, said Austin Gottsacker, director of acquisitions and leasing at SIMONCRE, a Scottsdale-based commercial real estate company.

Adrienne Bryant, owner of Bryant Commercial Real Estate in Phoenix, said the Southeast Valley commercial real estate market is “tight” with the demand for commercial space outpacing the supply.

Moreover, the growth in the residential population is fueling the need for commercial services in the area, Gottsacker said. The residential growth in the Southeast Valley has been “remarkable,” he said. “A lot of this is driven by the tenant.”

Gottsacker said that developers have to keep in touch with what development is going on and coming up down the line to ensure the market is in “equilibrium.”

“(You) have to assess what’s there and what’s lacking and be in tune with what’s already there,” he said. “With that much growth, (you) have to make sure everything is in equilibrium and you don’t overbuild commercial.”

He said the company has a few projects “in the works” in Queen Creek, but is not prepared to release the details at this time.

In Gilbert, Bryant said 90-100 percent of the land is preleased before even breaking ground. “It is a very competitive market.”

She said COVID put a lot of the development on hold because of the uncertainties for a while.

“Now we’re playing catch-up,” Bryant said.

Moreover, a number of the projects planned won’t be out of the ground until 2023-2024, she said, which affects the lack in inventory of commercial space.

“There’s an influx of people” moving to Arizona and companies are coming as well, she said.

With that, commercial services and retailers are eager to tap into that growth because people want to live less than five miles from businesses like supermarkets.

The mixed-use component of Queen Creek’s downtown core land going out to bid should be attractive to developers because they can diversify their plan, Bryant said.

At the Queen Creek pre-proposal meeting on April 28, one attendee asked if housing would be allowed in the DC.

Lindley said the town is looking for both commercial and housing as part of the proposed designs. “We are interested in all proposals.”

She noted that the town hosts a food truck festival every Friday and hopes the developers will include this popular event in their plans.