Posted 03.04.16 by Miranda
With the Tempe Election right around the corner, we asked candidates running for Tempe City Council about some issues affecting Downtown Tempe. Check out what Kolby Granville, Phil Amorosi, and Irina Baroness von Behr had to say.
Downtown Tempe is experiencing a growth unlike that in the rest of the Valley. There are many projects under construction, more in the pipeline, and additional projects being proposed regularly. How do you anticipate managing that growth, what do you view as the vision for Downtown Tempe, how many residents is ideal for the downtown district, and how do we responsibly create a 100 year neighborhood?
Kolby: If there is anything I know for sure, it's that the market is better at knowing what it wants than the government is. The market will largely determine what Downtown looks like in the future. However, my hope is that it will be a active and exciting downtown with people living, working, and socializing.
Phil: The good part is that half of the proposed projects will not happen. Tempe needs to be more selective in what they would like to see and not accept every project that is proposed. We need to do our due diligence. How many residents are “ideal”? I would think we welcome everyone but before we approve anything ask our departments like utilities and public service if they would be able to handle the extra services that are needed with more people. We don’t want our quality of life to suffer because of unfettered growth. How do we create a 100-year neighborhood? Realistically you cannot predict even 50 years into the future. Think about how things were in 1966. Change is happening so rapidly that is why we update our General Plan every 10 years.
Irina: We need to focus on attracting more business and jobs into Tempe, not more renters. One of the things I would like to promote is a convention center next to the Center for the Arts. I would also like a high rise mall with exclusive shops and restaurants and adequate parking (a parking garage). While I understand the need to cater to ASU students, we must also attract people who spend more money. Tempe Town Lake is the 2nd most visited attraction in Arizona. We need to take full advantage of that.
One of the most critical challenges to downtowns nationwide is the increase in transients, panhandlers, homelessness, etc. It is crucial that we find solutions that provide resources for those in need while discouraging behaviors that decrease tourism and business engagement. Specifically how would you work to create equitable solutions to these quality of life concerns? Beyond downtown, what strategies would you propose to reduce homelessness in Tempe city wide?
Kobly: Tempe is moving forward with a policy change to limit transients downtown. I support this. While there is a need for services, there is also a need to remove the easy money from panhandling downtown.
Phil: Currently Tempe only has faith-based emergency services for overnight stays, that is not addressing the whole problem. This is complex; we need to break down the word homeless into categories. There are the homeless that don’t want to be but due to social/economic circumstances they are; they can be helped. Then there are the mentally ill that just need services; they can be helped. Finally there are the chronic homeless that chose that lifestyle and do not want to be helped. If we work on the first two we can probably lower the homeless rate but Tempe will need to step up with a proven best practices government program like “Housing First”. It is proven to lower costs for police intervention and emergency health care. It has been around for decades and cities lower their homeless population by as much as 90% just by having shelter and services in town. If a conservative town like Provo, Utah can do it, a progressive town like Tempe can do it too.
Irina: Tempe cannot make it more attractive for the homeless than any other place. Otherwise, they will all come here like magnets. As humanitarian as we want to be if we make it too attractive, then we will have an overflow of transients, panhandlers, and the homeless. We need to continue working with the non-profits that are serving this part of the community and let them provide the outreach.
Transit is key to the success of urban environments, and especially those that are looking to attract millennials and urban professionals. Downtown Tempe has an incredible asset in the existing light rail and hopefully we can expect the first phase of streetcar in our near future. Are you supportive of new transit projects that will increase mobility to/from and around downtown while reducing the dependence on vehicles? How will you fight for these projects during your tenure? Please provide examples of how you would use this leadership role to personally advocate for transit.
Kolby: Yes. I am supportive of the streetcar. I am also supportive of biking, walking, and orbit. Downtown is never going to have enough parking spaces so that each person can drive alone to the downtown. That's fine, so long as we provide other options.
Phil: I come from a big city, Philadelphia, with a great public transportation system. I am a firm believer in multi-model options. I will go to MAG meetings and public outreach meetings with citizens but we have to be proposing options that will actually move people from destinations to downtown. Places where we can have park-and-ride lots so people can get from Tempe Marketplace, Arizona History Museum or the Library or the Tempe Arts Center and get to downtown. I would fight to make sure transit funding is adequate enough to maintain proper frequency because if people have to wait too long when it is 110 degrees they will not use public transportation. I propose we work with businesses to see if they can get employees to work from home, work on alternant schedules or give them incentives to car pool. We give discounts to students to take public transportation maybe that needs to be extended to other frequent user groups as well. When we have new developers come in we need independent verification of traffic counts, we can’t depend solely on the developers numbers that are always skewed in their favor. Young people don’t seem as intent on owning a car as previous generations so this will help too. I think the future of driverless cars will also have a big impact on traffic congestion.
Irina: I am an advocate of an elevated rail system. Because Tempe is land-locked and building upwards, our transit system should be looking upwards as well. This would allow for more accessible transit without adding to our street traffic. It can connect to the existing light rail and possibly the bullet train between Phoenix and Tucson that will pass through Tempe.
Downtown Tempe is home to an incredible public space in Tempe Beach Park/Tempe Town Lake and the park that connects the TCA. However, many feel that the existing uses of this space are not best serving the City of Tempe residents. What do you envision as a plan for this amenity? How does the TCA engage better with Downtown Tempe? What is your belief about the size, scale and nature of programming that should occur in this space?
Kolby: Tempe Beach Park should be used for a variety of events. Concerts, cultural, and sporting events can all take place. These events should support the downtown, be cost neutral to city services, and promote the culture of Tempe through the valley and State.
Phil: Like I said in the previous answer if the streetcar went from TCA to downtown that would have helped immensely to connect them. Tempe Beach Park and the Town Lake need more trees and ramadas to make it more inviting to residents. My vision that I have been working on as a citizen for the past 3 years is to create a shaded sculpture garden on the north side of Tempe Town Lake across from the Tempe Arts Center. No other city in the valley has one. With a concentration of Palo Verdes we can have a spring festival when the trees all blossom in yellow like they do in Washington, DC with the Cherry Blossom Festival. There can be a special area for children’s sculpture to play on. Have a small amphitheater for talks and special events. Parking is at the TCA or from the Marquee Theater. It would energize that side of the lake. The funding would not come from neighborhood parks funds. It would come from the lake business district and arts community. I think we need to look at how many large events we have down there. There are 52 weeks in the year, I don’t know how many we currently have but I think a fair number would be around 15 large events a year but they can’t take up all the prime weekends when the weather is nice. Residents should have access on some of those weekends too. We should look at the sort of events that help the downtown merchants and make sure we bring those in on a regular basis to boost our downtown.
Irina: As I mentioned, I would like to see a convention center right next to the TCA. This will enhance the area and attract a lot more visitors that can take advantage of TCA and our town lake amenities. I would also like a high-end restaurant that rotates above the convention center to give a panoramic view of our glorious city.
Downtown Tempe is arguably the most dense city center in the Valley. We need leaders who truly understand urban centers and help us to advocate for smart choices that further develop a thriving urban development with engaging streetscapes. How would you advocate for urban policies, good placemaking projects and other improvements? What projects would you be looking to see emerge in downtown Tempe in the near future?
Kolby: Downtown needs to be a live/work environment. That means more housing, but also more of the support services for housing, like a grocery store and transportation options.
Phil: I feel my extensive experience improving Apache Blvd. over the last 15 years would carry over to helping downtown Tempe because if I can help downtown then it would naturally carry over and wrap around Gammage and come down Apache as an extension of Mill. They could feed off each other giving visitors different experiences within a streetcar ride. Even though I want downtown to be dense, planners have to keep in mind those small pocket parks and entertaining connective corridors where people like to gather between the shopping and eating. Number one on my list of projects is a downtown grocery store. Another idea to explore is small retail spaces grouped together that celebrates our Native American and Hispanic heritage in the area. That is a missing piece that I think would improve the attraction of downtown to visitors.
Irina: Again, I would like to see more high-end shops and restaurants, an elevated rail system, and a convention center.
As a Councilmember, what would your economic development strategy be for Downtown Tempe? What should the city’s role be in supporting and/or recruiting key sector jobs to the area and supporting both small and large business owners?
Kolby: The Council is a cheerleader for the downtown area to business and the surrounding community. Our job is to remove roadblocks to growth and prosperity, and to trust that the market will being in what is in demand and that only the market knows what the downtown wants. That said, my hope is to draw a mix of businesses with some catering to college students, and some to young professionals.
Phil: My economic strategy would start with an economic development plan for the whole city. We currently don’t have one and that would go a long way in seeing how downtown fits into the picture as a whole. I don’t have a problem with the city helping businesses with infrastructure improvements or alterations and permitting but I don’t want to see long term tax breaks. Our economy is too fragile; we need that tax revenue to maintain our quality of life that we enjoy here. We need to work closely with DTA, the Chamber and the Visitors Bureau because you are our ears on the ground.
Irina: The convention center would not only provide jobs, but would ultimately attract businesses into the area that would offer higher paying jobs. We can leverage ASU to attract jobs related to the space industry and defense. We are a short flight away from the Space Port in New Mexico and ASU made a major contribution to the success of the Mars project. We are on the verge of a new frontier in the space program and Tempe can be at the center.
What’s the most important thing the City of Tempe can do to support investment in Downtown?
Kolby: Stay out of the way, promote the downtown brand, be respectful of the noise, the excitement, and the events that come with a downtown, and push downtown as a "place", rather than simply a downtown with bars.
Phil: I was endorsed by the Tempe Chamber of Commerce. I understand business issues. I think the most important thing we can do is listen, streamline processes, update or eliminate outdated rules that no longer apply and keep an open dialogue with businesses and residents.
Irina: Continue promoting Tempe Town Lake for events and development.
So...what are your thoughts?