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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