CityScape nears full occupancy as critics, supporters debate its progress

After being open for more than a year, CityScape is nearing full occupancy with an influx of new restaurants opening before the end of the year. National chains such as CVS and Verizon are some of CityScape's tenants. (Jessica Zook/DD)

A little over a year ago, CityScape, a new, $900 million mixed-use development project, arrived in downtown Phoenix.

Few stores inhabited the development when Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon marked CityScape’s grand opening with his annual State of Downtown address. A gym, downtown’s first CVS/pharmacy and an Urban Outfitters were among the handful of stores open for business.

Today, CityScape is nearing full occupancy, as a bevy of new restaurants gear up to open before the end of the year.

First up is The Breakfast Club, which is set to open Wednesday, said Jeff Moloznik, development manager of RED Development, the company that leases and manages CityScape. Italian concept The Strand will open Saturday, followed by fast-casual Mexican restaurant Chipotle on Dec. 6. A Starbucks location is slated to open early next year, Moloznik said.

But while developers are filling out CityScape, some community members say the property is making the same mistakes as similar mixed-use properties in the area that have been largely unsuccessful.

J. Seth Anderson, a blogger and outspoken critic of CityScape, said the development has failed to live up to the promise that was proposed to Phoenix City Council members in 2006. Anderson said he likes some of the offerings at CityScape, such as The Arrogant Butcher and Lucky Strike Lanes, but that the property is a disappointment overall.

“Short of tearing it down and starting over, I don’t know if it can be fixed,” Anderson said.

Taz Loomans, an architect and sustainable building advocate in downtown Phoenix, said CityScape suffers from a lack of street accessibility or originality and a reliance on big-name retail chains.

“CityScape is sort of an attempt to bring other parts of the Valley to downtown,” Loomans said. “You can sort of pick up CityScape and put it in North Scottsdale and no one would notice the difference.”

Loomans said CityScape’s inward design and tenants – including a recently opened Verizon store and the upcoming Starbucks – are reminiscent of other large developments in downtown Phoenix that have struggled.

“It’s kind of repeating some mistakes that we’ve made in the past with the Arizona Center,” she said. “I’m kind of skeptical about its long-term resiliency.” The Arizona Center also houses a Verizon store and a Starbucks.

Moloznik said CityScape’s timing, location and diverse tenant base set it apart from past development projects.

“I’m not too concerned that a project developed 10, 20 years ago will affect our longevity and success,” Moloznik said.

Moloznik also rejected the notion that CityScape is pricing out local tenants. More than 50 percent of the retailers at CityScape – including Vitamin T, The Arrogant Butcher, Par Exsalonce, The Breakfast Club and The Strand – are local tenants, he said.

“Generally, if we do look at the tenants we have here, the reality is the majority of them are local businesses,” Moloznik said. “All I need to do is do a better job educating the critics.”

David Roderique, president of Downtown Phoenix Partnership, said CityScape officials have done an effective job luring a mix of tenants, especially amid a still stagnant economy.

“They’ve done a nice job of balancing (chains and local stores),” Roderique said. “The majority of the stores are not national retail chains.”

Special events and programs, such as the annual holiday ice rink, make CityScape more dynamic and offer opportunities to collaborate with the surrounding community, Moloznik said. Preliminary plans are underway for CityScape to host a welcome back skating excursion on Jan. 6 or 7, he said.

The holiday ice rink this year is twice the size of last year’s rink and features real ice, Moloznik said. It opened this weekend and drew 1,500 skaters and an estimated 3,000 visitors total from start to finish, Moloznik said, more than quadrupling last year’s turnout for the event.

Though CityScape opened during the recession and has had to cope with unexpected economic challenges, the development has offered much-needed entertainment to the area, Roderique said.

“I would say (CityScape) certainly met our expectations. It’s certainly been a great addition for downtown,” Roderique said. “They’ve had a little bit of ups and downs as it relates to specific businesses but that’s typical for a development like that.”

For now, Moloznik is impressed with the progress CityScape has made in one year but said he is excited to see how the property develops going forward.

“It’s going to take a long, long time to take downtown to evolve, mature and grow, and you have to be patient,” he said.

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  1. Could the reporter clarify Anderson’s remarks and objections. Specifically, what promises does he feel were not kept?

  2. Hi Retha,

    J. Seth Anderson said he attended some of the city council’s meetings in 2006 and was an early supporter of the proposed CityScape, which was intended to have more street accessibility and possess a residential component, he said. Anderson said CityScape’s design, lack of housing and its current roster have made it an underwhelming development project — things that were affected by the recession and funding constraints.

    Thanks for your question.


  3. I’ve got no qualms with the local vs chain aspect. CityScape does a good job of including local biz, and that’s not even a criteria of making a successful downtown (though local biz definitely makes a better downtown).

    But CityScape’s two-brain-cell design is a concrete fucking disaster. If Roderique thinks CityScape “met our expectations”, then he had pretty damn low expectations — and needs to consult more quality urbanists before he again influences downtown development. We can only survive so many $900M failures.

  4. As a downtown resident of 21 years, as well as a community activist of 27 years, and owner of The Clarendon Hotel, I’d like to chime in on a few observations:

    * Layout/Design – this project should have closed up the inside space, maximized leasable square footage, and created a green rooftop park that acted as public space / event space / outdoor dining space. This would have allowed the project to open up to the streets, right now most sides are either entrances to parking garages, weird curbs, inaccessible areas, etc.
    * Tenants – they could have kept it more local on the food side and more national on the retail side.
    * Housing – the extra floors on top of the Kimpton Hotel aren’t going to be built for a while, and they should be built immediately as rental housing. If the city could help RED cough up $900 million in low interest loans all while not paying a penny for property taxes (not mentioned in this article), a housing component should have been required. Housing is the key to success for downtown…. building housing and everything will follow, without tax incentives and GPLETs.
    * Property taxes… the fact that this $900 million development, along with Arizona Center, Collier Center, The Westin, The Sheraton, The Wyndham and other buildings do not pay a dime in property taxes while independent businesses like mine do is a big slap in the face… they only become stronger competitors against me because of lower operating costs due to property tax waivers, it makes it really, really hard for us… so think about this when booking a hotel room in Central Phoenix please! Oh, and since those property taxes aren’t being paid by big business, guess who’s paying those shortfalls…. yes, the rest of us 99%.

    Great article, thank you!

  5. That’s actually not true re: the bigger projects and property taxes. The new large developments can’t compete with old properties because the ad valorem (i.e., based on value) property taxes they would have to pay would not make new buildings economimcally viable. New developments that receive a GPLET pay an excise tax (the “ET” in “GPLET”) on a per square foot basis directly to the City. If you want new development, you have to make it economically viable. The reality is new buildings cost more than old buildings. Of course, these new buildings create construction jobs in the short term and office, hotel, retail or other employment in the long-term. As the owner of The Clarendon Hotel, you clearly don’t like the competition.