As an independent chronicler of all things downtown, DPJ takes a comprehensive approach to covering the urban living movement in Phoenix and, with this Conversation series, spotlighting the people who make it move.
“Ultimately it’s the people that have made the difference.”
Mike Ebert, a founding partner of RED, the development company responsible for building CityScape, has a heartfelt passion for downtown Phoenix. Originally from Nebraska, he moved to Arizona thirty years ago to attend ASU, where he majored in real estate and finance. For many years RED’s development activities were focused in suburban locations but, in the mid-2000’s, he and his partners at RED, which has property in 10 states west of the Mississippi, began noticing an overall trend toward downtown development, which inspired the desire to work on a development here in their home state. We sat down with Ebert at an outdoor table at CityScape on a beautiful spring day to get his perspective on the future of downtown Phoenix.
In addition to spotting an urban trend, Ebert’s appreciation for great cities was part of what inspired him to want to create CityScape. “New York City is the most inspiring place in the United States to visit from a walkability experience,” he said. “It is my favorite city to visit. Certainly there is San Francisco and several other great American cities,” he continued. “All of these cities always help inspire you.”
One trip to New York, in particular, helped galvanize his thinking about developing CityScape. “During the deepest part of the recession, when we were just starting construction here in 2009, I was walking by Rockefeller Plaza. I’m not one to stop and smell the roses, but I stopped and read a plaque there and learned that during the 1930s, Rockefeller had developed 6,000,000 square feet, which is a big portion of Manhattan.” The realization that Rockefeller had invested so much in the city during the depths of the Great Depression fueled his confidence in the CityScape project. “It reinforced that we were going through a tough time as a community, but there was a much brighter day ahead of us.”
“That’s what I’m most excited about, is being a part of and supporting the entrepreneur developer, the smaller projects that are going to make this downtown area truly special.“
What has made the biggest difference in the development of downtown? “Ultimately it’s the people that have made the difference,” he said. “For much of my career as a developer you just hoped people didn’t oppose you. This (the development of CityScape) was the first time in my life where people were rooting for us. That helped change a lot of my view of community, cooperation and the things that happen when people are working together.” As he puts it, “it was the first time people who didn’t have a direct interest were working for us.”
He is quick to appreciate what a great job the city has done to enable development in downtown, but firmly believes that the private sector has to finish the job. “Cities are very good at doing the big items: infrastructure, light rail, and the university, but the cities aren’t the ones that can finish it, that can make a neighborhood of downtown.”
The next phase, from his perspective, needs to be undertaken by entrepreneur developers. “That’s what I’m most excited about, is being a part of and supporting the entrepreneur developer, the smaller projects that are going to make this downtown area truly special.”
Ebert sits on the board of Downtown Phoenix Inc. and has been involved in its formation from the beginning. He believes that this new structure is critical to long-term outcomes for downtown. DPI will allow the definition of downtown to expand beyond the boundaries of the current Downtown Enhanced Municipal Services District (Downtown Phoenix Partnership) to include neighboring areas such as the Historic Roosevelt Neighborhood, the Evans Churchill neighborhood (home of Roosevelt Row) and others. This expanded definition of the geography of downtown will create a stronger, unified voice.
“I believe head to toe that the most talented people in the state live and work downtown in education, healthcare, law, sports, travel, and hotels. The hope with DPI is that we will give those talented people a clear picture of what they can be involved in downtown. If we ignite that group of talented people and connect them, they can move mountains.”
His experience with the outpouring of support for CityScape appears to have been the seed that planted his appreciation for the tremendous value of people working together. “We’re seeing for the very first time tremendous collaboration in a pro-community way.”
The biggest challenge going forward from his perspective is the vacant lots in downtown, most of which are owned by the city and the county. These vacant lots make it challenging to create true walkability, which is key to a vibrant downtown.
“I believe head to toe that the most talented people in the state live and work downtown in education, healthcare, law, sports, travel, and hotels…If we ignite that group of talented people and connect them, they can move mountains.”
“People like crowds, people like seeing other people,” said Ebert. “We’ve got virtually no serious crime down here to speak of, but you always have that perception of safety if you have vacant lots. My hope is that DPI can help encourage the development of the vacant lots, and encourage private investment, which will help with shade and walkability.”
Because they are such important landowners, according to Ebert, “the city and the county can have a big hand by just working with the community to put those properties they have into production.” For Ebert, encouraging this will be a big part of what DPI can do over the next several years to make a difference.
What is the most important quality that he brings to DPI? “I hope it’s passion,” he said. “We’ve got a great board. They were put together for all the right reasons. Being the only real estate developer, I have a passion for the development of downtown,” he said. “Not just our development, but development by others. We do need the private sector to step up and have a pro-downtown agenda.” He believes that DPI should have the strongest voice in the development of downtown.
With both the Super Bowl and Pro Bowl coming to town next February, Ebert believes we have a real opportunity to increase the number of people who will want to live, work and play in downtown. He points out that the NFL historically has not had events that they controlled or sponsored until the last three years in Indianapolis, then New Orleans, and last year in New York City. “The fact that it’s (Super Bowl Central) going to be in the core of downtown after those three experiences speaks volumes about where downtown is. It’s one of those affirmations of where we’re going.”
For Ebert, a key factor in the success of those events and the after-Super Bowl positive impact for the cities, particularly in Indianapolis, was their “great culture of volunteerism.” He believes that they really communicated a level of hospitality that was attractive to people. “People like to feel welcome,” he said. “There’s not more to do there than here in downtown Phoenix. They didn’t have any secret sauce that we don’t have.”
In conclusion, Ebert noted that membership in DPI will be very important going forward. “We have a passionate group,” he reiterated, “but it needs to be larger. We need to let people know, if you want to be involved in the community and serve, join the membership group. As it grows and members start collaborating, it will have a big impact.”
The City of Phoenix has taken a step forward on developing the Phoenix Central Station transit center site, a key downtown development area on Van Buren between 1st Ave and Central Ave. City staff recommended entering into negotiations with Smith Partners, LLC on their proposal for a mixed-use, high-rise apartment complex for the location.
Between October and December of last year, City staff met with various stakeholders, including the Citizens Transit Commission, Valley Metro, Downtown Phoenix Inc., Downtown Phoenix Partnership, Phoenix Elementary School District #1, Roosevelt Action Association, Evans Churchill Community Association and the Downtown Voices Coalition to develop the special requirements and evaluation criteria for the RFP for the site.
The RFP, which called for a “multi-modal, mixed-use, high-rise, transit-oriented development project,” was issued on December 24, 2013 with proposals due on February 24, 2014. By inviting development on this highly visible, strategic downtown site, the City is seeking to “further implement the strategic downtown vision, enhance the public transportation system, and maximize the return on the $4 billion in public and private capital that has been invested in downtown Phoenix over the past decade.”
“This is a prominent development site with tremendous opportunity, but it also presents some very complex challenges due to its physical location, transit facilities and operations, and legal and financial Federal Transit Administration requirements,” said Economic Development Program Manager Eric Johnson. “The City sought highly-qualified proposers, and was fortunate to receive two proposals considering the complexity, size and necessary resources needed to propose for such a project.”
The proposals were reviewed by a panel of 12 downtown stakeholders. After convening on March 4 and again on April 2, the panel proceeded to interview the two proposers on April 22 and determined their consensus scores, along with the strengths and weaknesses of each proposal.
On May 2, Hank Marshall, the Acting Community and Economic Development Director and Maria Hyatt, the Acting Public Transit Direct signed off on a memo from Deputy Economic Development Director Scott Sumners requesting that they concur with the evaluation panel’s score and recommendation to move forward with the Smith Partners, LLC proposal.
A key element of the winning proposal was a Class A high-rise apartment building with 476 market rate studio, one and two bedroom apartments. Estimated monthly rents will range from $800 to $1600 per unit.
The building will include a 24-hour doorman, concierge services, laundry and dry cleaning services, a fitness center, a media/theater room, a resort-style swimming pool and spa, an outdoor fireplace and indoor secure parking.
The proposed high-rise will be built to serve urban professionals and individuals seeking a full-service, highly secure living environment. The ground floor of the building proposal includes office space and a service component for the transit operations, and 24-hour flexible co-work space for start-up businesses.
Gross Square Footage:
- 348,965 SF Residential
- 117,100 SF Common Area/Mechanical
- 8,000 SF Amentity/Leasing
- 4,850 SF Co-Working Offices
- 4500 SF Transit office
Number of Rental Units: 476 market rate rental units
Number of Parking Spaces: 526
Building Height: +/- 390 Feet, 34 Floors \
Number of Construction Jobs: 200
Number of Permanent Jobs: 15-20
Estimated Construction Cost: $72.3 million
Estimated Project Cost: $82 million
City staff will commence negotiations with Smith Partners in the coming weeks. Pending successful negotiations, staff will present recommended business terms for consideration by City Council subcommittees, the full City Council, and the Federal Transit Administration.
DPJ will report back on the progress of this important development in a key downtown location.
An appointment with a lawyer is not usually an outing on par with a trip to an art gallery. Yet within the legal offices of The Law Offices of David Michael Cantor in downtown Phoenix, prepare to leave behind your preconceptions about stuffy law offices decorated with mundane posters or black and white photographs.
When you exit the elevator and walk through the firm’s glass doors on the 18th floor of CityScape, you are confronted with an 8’ x 12’ foot mural painting of Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio entitled When Pigs Can Fly, which Attorney David Cantor commissioned from then local artist Robert Anderson in 1997. The brightly-colored painting, known throughout the office simply as Tent City, depicts the Tent City jail in downtown Phoenix. It has become such an established focal point to the office that its image is emblazoned on the complimentary water bottles given to guests.
For Cantor, the bold conversation piece is integral to the spirit of his practice and Cantor is clearly proud to have When Pigs Fly displayed so prominently. The Cheshire Cat peering down from the top of the painting at the ruckus below reminds Cantor of the cat he owned at the time, and he notes that “the nose [on Arpaio] is very distinctive, and Robert [Anderson] told me he did that on purpose.”
While approximately 60 of the more than 100 paintings, drawings and prints in this avid collector’s possession are on display throughout the offices, this is not a corporate art collection. Cantor acquired each piece over the past 25 years personally, and many have transitioned back and forth between his office and home.
Cantor estimates that 90 percent of the collection is comprised of local Arizona artists. With the exception of one or two, all works in the collection were created by living artists.
Cantor buys a piece because he likes it. “It’s personal, it’s not value driven.” Working without an art advisor, and a casual, but not close relationship with many of the gallerists and artists, allows Cantor full control over his collection, which includes a number of provocative political works.
Somewhat counter intuitively, the more outlandish pieces are on display at work, while the less salacious works stay in his private residence. “I’m a criminal defense lawyer,” Cantor says by way of explanation. The paintings are not merely decorative pieces to fill conference room walls, but pieces rife with social commentary. “It’s personal, but we display a lot that’s relevant.”
Asked if any artwork has offended a client, Cantor dismisses this notion.
However, one painting, Colin Chillag’s It is a Fearful Thing to Love What Death Can Touch (of “The Girls Next Door,” an E! reality TV show about the Playboy Mansion), was deemed unsuitable for the average visitor, and now resides back by the IT desk.
Other paintings, like Eric Cox’s Sheriff Joezo and The Wicked Witch of the Southwest, both purchased from R. Pela Contemporary Art‘s “The Joe and Jan Show,” or a yarn portrait of Governor Jan Brewer, Brewer? I Don’t Even Know Her…, by Todd Daniel Grossman, are scattered throughout the office.
Brian Boner’s Theft Balloon and Disappearance, both from 2004 and displayed as a diptych, depict a less overt political message. Both were purchased during a First Friday art outing. “Boner’s garage was open and he was working on this piece and I said I’ll take ‘em.”
Cantor’s life as an art collector began in law school in 1987 with a print by Olivia De Berardinis, inscribed to him by the artist, “To David, Good Luck in Law School.” He bought a second piece right after that, by Patrick Nagel, and a collector was born.
While he does not have a formal art education, he relies on magazines like Art in America and ARTnews to keep him informed, as well as visits to local museums when he travels. He frequents downtown galleries like Modified/Arts, Eye Lounge and R. Pela Contemporary Art, whose recent show, “Banned at the Herberger,” Cantor cites as a recent favorite.
His collection is united with color and figuration. “That’s the theme. A lot of these either have faces of a human or an animal, or it’s color. Fauvist. Almost everything has color. Even the so-called muted colors aren’t really that muted.”
The literal translation of fauve is “wild beast” and refers to the early 20th century art movement of brash, bold colors and apparent brushstrokes. It is the focus on brightly pigmented colors that shows the Fauvist influence in Cantor’s collection. A reinterpretation of “wild,” which includes socially progressive subject matter and outlandish presentation of some of the central figures is central to his collection as well.
The collection, as well as the office space, is constantly growing. Every office has at least one framed work on its wall, all curated by Cantor. Office inhabitants rarely get a say as to the art on their walls. Throughout the hallways, paintings reach towards the ceiling and the rare blank wall is merely a space that has yet to be filled.
Behind the reception desk—and directly facing Tent City—is another rare commissioned piece, this one a copper fountain by Gary Slater. It provides a sense of tranquility with undulating earth tones setting a serene scene. The juxtaposition of this subdued piece with the brashness of the Arpaio mural enables Cantor’s duality, as a lawyer and art collector, to shine through. This collection of bold work by talented local artists’ uniquely embodies his personal aesthetic sensibilities, as well as the rich scope and quality of contemporary art being produced in Phoenix today.
DPJ’s Wire series delivers news and information straight from the source without translation.
“REAL JAZZ” TAKES CENTERSTAGE AT FREE CONCERT AT CITYSCAPE
Event is one of many International Jazz Day events taking place worldwide on April 30
COME CELEBRATE “REAL JAZZ” AT THIS FREE OUTDOOR CONCERT
Downtown Phoenix is joining the line-up of more than 150 cities around the globe that will be participating in International Jazz Day on April 30, an annual event that is officially designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to celebrate jazz and the role it plays in uniting people in all corners of the world. The FREE “Real Jazz” outdoor concert at CityScape features world-renowned jazz saxophonist Azar Lawrence, along with an all-star lineup of local, national and international jazz artists. Often compared to John Coltrane for his sound and harmonic approach, Lawrence has performed with McCoy Tyner, Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard and Woody Shaw.
• Azar Lawrence – world-renowned jazz saxophonist plays tribute to the iconic John Coltrane and provides sneak preview of his new CD, The Seeker.
• Papa John DeFrancesco –soul-jazz music artist, father and mentor to world renowned organist and trumpeter Joey DeFrancesco.
• Carlos Rivas – International Latino jazz artist and founder and director of Mex-Sal, one of Arizona’s most prestigious Latin groups, has performed throughout the world.
• Kerry Campbell – Jazz saxophonist and former member of The Dramatics and famed band War has also performed with jazz greats Herbie Hancock, George Duke and Joe Sample among others.
• Nayo Jones – Mentored by her father Doc Jones, jazz vocalist Nayo is a rising star who has opened for jazz greats such as Chris Botti, Otis and The Temptations, The Whispers and Lakeside.
• Phoenix Country Day School Varsity Jazz Band – under the direction of David Rowe.
• William “Doc” Jones – Jazz saxophonist, keyboard artist, music educator and founder of the NextStudent Academy, has performed with Aretha Franklin and The Temptations among others.
WHEN / WHERE:
Wednesday, April 30, 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.
CityScape at 1 East Washington Street, Phoenix, AZ 85004
“Real Jazz” is FREE to the public. VIP event seating is available at Copper Blues for the first 100 people who make a $100 donation to support the NextStudent Academy, a local 501(c)(3) organization that works with schools and after school programs to make jazz music education available and accessible to students from kindergarten through college. For more information about the event visit nextstudentmusic.com. For donations and VIP seating at “Real Jazz,” call (602) 708-0810 or make your donation online at nextstudentmusic.com.
Here at DPJ, we’re all about sharing what we love. Beyond the stories that make us love downtown, we often come across things that catch our eye, tingle our senses or have us dancing in delight. “We Like…” turns a brief spotlight on the little treasures that make our day, with helpful links so you can share in the fun.
I love stumbling on secret delights in cities – the odd alleyway, a hidden bench behind a bushy shrub, or a work of art where you least suspect it. My early years in Phoenix were marked by dismay that I couldn’t get out and wander about as a pedestrian. I got a dog and walked my residential neighborhood, but I specifically craved city streets and their eccentricities.
There was, however, one thing about Phoenix that gave me hope for the great city it would become – its world class public art. Even 21 years ago when I first arrived, Phoenix was way ahead of the game in making art an integral part of its bones, especially given the irony that, at that time, the city was exploding with gruesome suburban sprawl.
But the public art was a revelation and, over the years, innovative public art throughout Phoenix has continued to shape the way our beautiful city feels. One of my favorite tucked-away examples in the heart of downtown is The Hohokam Camshaft Gates.
This wonderful, but easy-to-miss piece is a perfect combination of art and infrastructure. In 1994, Phoenix artists Bob Adams and Michael Maglich were commissioned to collaborate on the design and fabrication of gates for the loading area of the Phoenix Convention Center. They hit the nail on the head with a concept and execution that always makes me smile.
The spindles for the gates represent diesel truck camshafts, a nice nod to the importance of the trucking industry in the operation of the Convention Center. The masks that top the gates pay homage to the Hohokam people, the first Phoenix urban dwellers. The masks were sculpted by C. Matt Thomas and are enlarged reproductions from prehistoric Hohokam figurines. Kudos to everyone on this project!
The end result is a functional, but beautiful gate on the backside of the convention center, where visitors aren’t as likely to be wandering. It comes as a happy surprise for those who do stumble upon it. And when you stop and take it in, it tells an authentic story about this particular spot and the role it plays in our city. I love it because it isn’t grand, but it is integral. Stroll by and check it out. (A side note: when the Convention Center was renovated and expanded in the mid-2000s, half of the gate was moved to the Shemer Center.)
If You Go
What: The Hohokam Camshaft Gates
Where: Loading Dock Area – backside (east) of Phoenix Convention Center, on 5th Street between Jefferson and Washington Streets
Artists: Bob Adams, Michael Maglich
Want to share your love? Send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us what YOU like.