By Teri Carnicelli
It has been the home of an enormous, three-sided billboard for years. Transients often rested underneath in the shade, leaving trash and other debris behind. Even when fenced off, the lot at the southwest corner of Central and Camelback remained a visual blight.
But all that is about to change.
Last June the city of Phoenix directed the owners of Cornerstone at Camelback LLC, the partnership that currently owns the lot, to put in place some kind of beautification plan within one calendar year. That year is almost up—and a plan has been presented and approved by the city.
The property was first acquired by Cornerstone at Camelback LLC about seven years ago, with plans to develop it into a boutique hotel with light retail, with its convenient proximity to the Valley Metro light rail station. However, the partners believe the market hasn’t been strong enough to go forward with the development—yet.
In the meantime, a beautification plan has been approved with one very important factor: the giant billboard will be gone.
Martin Aronson and Reid Butler, partners in Cornerstone at Camelback, presented the beautification plan to the city’s Zoning Administrator on March 29. “We have not had any registered opposition, and the leaders of all four corner historic neighborhoods have expressed support for this plan,” Aronson said. In fact, the neighborhood associations for that area were ecstatic to hear the billboard will be gone, he explained.
The city has approved the removal and relocation of the three-sided billboard to another site, at 17th Avenue and Indian School Road. The billboard is owned by Out Front Media, and the partners explained that it is up to that company to get it moved, but hope it will be gone by June 1. “It has to be removed before the new one can be built at the new site,” Aronson explained. “We view that as an extremely important part of the beautification.”
Butler added, “We’re very pleased to see it get taken down.” He lives just south of the intersection in the Pierson Place Historic Neighborhood, and knows that many people in the surrounding historic neighborhoods view it as an eyesore.
But that is just the start of the beautification plan for that large dirt lot. The lot will be graded, with the remnants of old retaining walls removed. Walking paths with seating areas will be added, along with lighting, landscaping, and at least one bike rack area. The beautification also might include public art installations, similar to what currently can be found in the nearby Melrose District.
The partners also have proposed putting in directional signage for the nearby merchants, for those using the pedestrian pathways through the lot. Aronson says the exact design of those signs—including what merchants will be featured on which signs—will be determined through a process with the Uptown Merchants Association.
The partners also are working with the merchants group to develop a valet parking area, using the old paved bus lane west of Central Avenue, on the north side of the light rail tracks, that became defunct when the light rail station opened. “We are working with the Uptown Merchants Association to develop a plan for the valet lot, leaving it up to them to determine who will use it and how,” Butler explains. “It is not our intention to get into the valet parking business.”
In addition, a small parking area with seven reserved spaces for those with handicapped placards will be created on the existing cement slab where the old Maroney’s Cleaners used to be. It’s located closer to the light rail station than the existing handicapped parking spaces at the park-and-ride lot off of 3rd Street.
“We’re working with what’s already there,” Butler said. “We’re making a private investment to allow a public use.”
The partners anticipate grading of the lot will begin on or about May 1, with completion by July 1. They hope the entire beatification project will be fully installed by Aug. 1. The use permit required for the beautification additions is good until April 1, 2021.
As for Cornerstone on Camelback, “Mixed use is still the plan,” Butler said. “That kind of development requires the economy to be very strong.”
The Urban Land Institute in 2017 voted Central and Camelback as the “Hottest Intersection in Metro Phoenix,” due in large part to the nearby restaurants and the newly renovated Uptown Plaza, serving the area.
Of note is that the existing 11-story building on the opposite corner, which housed the BMO Harris Bank corporate offices, recently was sold to six tenant-in-common (TIC) investors, who purchased it from One Camelback Inc.
The six TIC companies—CD Camelback LLC, Randhurst Camelback LLC, KOT Camelback LLC, SS Camelback LLC, SD Camelback LLC and RH Camelback LLC—purchased the property at 1 E. Camelback Road for $14 million.
At the time of the sale, the 203,122-square-foot office property was almost vacant (3.4% occupancy). Located on a 1.97-acre site, the building was constructed in 1985 and features a subterranean parking garage and interior atrium—well suited for residential, hotel or office uses. The TIC group that purchased One Camelback is considering converting the newly acquired office building for multifamily use.
“The enormous success of several recent retail and residential projects in this exciting, and already well-established, urban infill location add to the appeal for high-density residents in the area,” said Eric Wichterman of Cushman & Wakefield Phoenix, which negotiated the sale. “Given these tailwinds, One Camelback should thrive as a luxury residential redevelopment.”