If you haven’t traveled Rio Salado in downtown Tempe recently, you might not be aware of the massive changes coming to the area. If you do live, work or play in the area, there is no doubt that you’ve been watching the development between Mill and Rural along the south side of Tempe Town Lake. Yes, massive. As in, millions of square feet of office space at Marina Heights, a new “luxury apartment building” called SALT, a new hotel at Hayden Ferry and the completion of the third commercial tower at Hayden Ferry all within that stretch of the road near Tempe Town Lake.
To say that the game is changing in this area is an understatement. These projects will have a huge effect on traffic, transportation, commerce and future development in the area. Love it or hate it, the fact is downtown Tempe is changing. And changing a LOT. Hopefully, plans can be implemented to help ensure that we have ways to move people in the newly congested area(s) and to have enough city services in the area.
We have talked about the Tempe Streetcar and about light rail / public transit a LOT on this blog over the years, and this streetcar project has been VERY interesting to follow. On again, off again. Council support has seemed strong, and council support has seemed weak. Heck, it doesn’t always look like everyone is talking about the same project at times. There does appear to be an agreement on the latest route proposal, and the city is beginning to give us a feeling that they understand that the streetcar would be a benefit to the area. Some of the political posturing over the last couple of years “might” have something to do with the large funding shortfalls for the operation of the streetcar. We’ve also heard arguments about density of the areas, quality of life, ugly overhead wires, proper technology and more from the public, from transit planners and from council members.
Heck, I have even heard one council member say he would not vote on the project because it has overhead wires. Excuse? Lack of information? Lack of understanding about streetcar technology? Posturing for a no vote if others don’t step up to help fund the route? Who knows?
Now that the “new” and expanded route seems to be firmly in place, and since it travels east of Mill Avenue along Rio Salado, there seems to have been some progress in finding a funding source from some of the area businesses AND it appears ASU might even play a part. I’ve said many times that this entire project is a HUGE benefit for ASU, so hopefully there is a way for it to mutually benefit the University, the City of Tempe and the business owners in the area.
According to a recent article in the Phoenix Business Journal, a business improvement district is in the works where four major Rio Salado area property owners may step up to help fund the Tempe Streetcar.
The remaining $13 million may be found through a business improvement district. Four major property owners in the area have stepped up and offered to be part of the BID. This allows the city to bond for the remaining money and collect it from a special property tax allocation. ASU, and the owners of Marina Heights, Hayden Ferry Lakeside and the new Douglas Wilson Cos.’ office-hotel complex have come to the city agreeing to help with the shortfall.
The city council will look at a way to create a new tax for the business owners to offset costs. Maybe this is a good way to move the streetcar project forward and to help move people in the area? Of course, the thousands of jobs coming to the area NEED to be able to get to and from work, and streetcar isn’t the only answer. Even with the streetcar and with good planning, there is little doubt that Rio Salado and the entire Tempe Town Lake area will be jammed full of traffic at times.
The business owners, the city, and the college may all need to work together in this area to create new and improved options. I’ve heard of possible shuttles to and from State Farm to the light rail station on Mill Avenue, and I’ve heard that many of the jobs in the area will start at different times during the work day so that there may not be huge traffic spikes at the morning and evening rush hours. Heck, who knows how this will all play out. One thing is for sure, there will be a LOT more people living, working and playing in the area in the very near future. I hope we are ready…