Subcommittee approves lot sale, partnership with ASU

A city subcommittee was set to vote on controversial voting changes until a letter from neighborhood organizations including Evans-Churchill's led staff to continue it to next month's meeting. (Sarah Nachbar/DD)

A city council subcommittee voted to advance motions which put a city-owned parking lot up for sale as well as a future partnership between the city and Arizona State University to assist start-ups.

Items that would have made significant changes to downtown’s zoning code were continued to next month’s meeting of the Downtown, Aviation, Economy and Innovation subcommittee. The move came after a letter from seven community group complaining about the changes was sent to the mayor’s office and city council members.

RELATED: Community groups voice opposition to zoning changes

The subcommittee did recommend City Council authorize to issue a Request for Proposals for the sale and development of the land located at 30 N. First St. in downtown Phoenix.

The space is located next to the historic Hanny’s building and is currently being utilized as a surface parking lot that provides approximately 30 parking spaces. City staff is seeking authorization to begin the process of selling the land due to downtown development and increased market interest.

According to Miles Buckles, general manager of Hanny’s, selling the lot to developers could potentially benefit business for the restaurant.

“Anything that can get people downtown is a good thing,” Buckles said.

The subcommittee also recommended City Council approve entering the partnership with Arizona State University’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

The 2-year agreement, if approved, would include a $250,000 contribution from the Downtown Community Reinvestment Fund.

Phoenix Community and Economic Development Director Christine Mackay said the agreement and investment are part of an ongoing strategy adopted in 2014 to drive more entrepreneurship and startup activity in downtown Phoenix.

“We’ve been working on that effort over the last three years, and it’s really starting to pay dividends,” Mackay said.

The Phoenix area ranks eighth on the Kauffman Index of Startup Activity, which measures business startup activity from 1997 to 2016 in the United States.

Mackay said the potential agreement with ASU would help to continue that growth. She also said she’s been working for approximately two years to bring the center downtown.

Ji Mi Choi, associate vice president of Entrepreneurship and Innovation for ASU, put together the initial proposal for the agreement and views it as an opportunity to bring national attention to the growing startup ecosystem in Phoenix.

“We think that the idea that you can be a very successful small business or startup right here in Arizona is an important message for people to understand, both for the people who are actually living and working here, and also for the people that are looking to continue to invest in growth areas,” Choi said.

The Resource Innovation and Solutions Network (RISN) is one organization which could benefit from the pending partnership between Phoenix and ASU.

Jason Franz, senior manager of strategic marketing and communications for the Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives, said RISN is dedicated to sustainability.

“One of the programs that we tried to develop out of RISN was…essentially a startup venture incubator for businesses looking to create a new product, technology or company out of this same vein of finding value out of waste resources,” Franz said. “We’re directing this towards developing a circular economy in the region.”

According to Mackay, the pending agreement with ASU could provide the environment necessary to nurture startups and produce ready-made tenants who can enter the RISN Incubator and utilize the technology.

“It’s really a way to jumpstart RISN by starting it through this partnership in downtown Phoenix,” Mackay said.

Mackay said the agreement, if approved by City Council, will be an active partnership between the city and ASU and not just a monetary investment.

“Ji Mi Choi and I will be working closely together on marketing, on messaging…and I provide her with information on what I’m hearing from the startup community as to what they think is important,” Mackay said. “So it’s truly a collaborative partnership.”

The Intergovernmental Agreement will be placed on the agenda for the formal city council meeting on Oct. 23, Mackay said. She said she anticipates the proposal will be approved and expressed her excitement for the future opportunities the partnership will provide.

“Some of the things that (Choi) is bringing into the market are things others aren’t focusing on,” Mackay said. “This is very unique and very exciting for us to be a part of.”

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