Movers & shakers define Old Town Scottsdale evolution

The Issues & Experts panel from left, was Scott Nelson, Carter Unger, Rick Carpinelli and Jim Thompson. (Independent Newsmedia/Bret McKeand)

Business leaders and city officials gathered at Scottsdale Community College for a panel discussion to describe the changing face of Old Town Scottsdale.

More than 50 attendees joined the breakfast event in the Turquoise Room at SCC.

Moderated by Scottsdale Independent Managing Editor Terrance Thornton, the Issues & Experts forum included Scottsdale City Manager Jim Thompson, President of Spring Creek Development Carter Unger, Scottsdale Charros member Rick Carpinelli and Macerich Senior Vice President of Real Estate Services Scott Nelson.

Scottsdale’s downtown area is anchored by a variety of shopping, activities, entertainment and arts happenings. The Scottsdale Fashion Square, owned by Macerich, is one of the city’s golden gooses, bringing in millions in tax remits.

In recent years, the city has been actively exploring options to keep Old Town vibrant for years to come. Last month, the city announced a new branding campaign that combines the area previously considered downtown with the traditional Old Town boundaries — with a renewed commitment to inclusively call the area Old Town Scottsdale.

More changes are in the works as Scottsdale Stadium, leased by the Scottsdale Charros during Cactus League season, are in talks with the city of Scottsdale and the San Fransisco Giants to implement updates that will bring consumers to the stadium for more than just baseball, Mr. Carpinelli says.

Local development experts contend they’re examining the way consumers and marketplaces are evolving to best-fit the Scottsdale cache.

The panel spent over an hour at SCC covering topics from development to providing affordable housing in the Old Town sector.

“Old Town has an excellent mix of both working opportunities, as well as residential opportunities, as well as shopping venues,” Mr. Thompson explained at the onset of the event.

“Old Town is a very vibrant area and I would compare us to any areas in the country and be very proud that we’ll be at the top of that list every time. I think it just continues to show that.”

Scottsdale City Manager Jim Thompson. (Independent Newsmedia/Bret McKeand)

Since 2010 the downtown area has seen a 28 percent population increase, Mr. Thompson says, and considers the area a “high-demand” area with 25,000 workers.

“You think about that — in over eight years, the downtown population has grown that immensely,” he said. “So when you look at Old Town and where we’re going in the future — I suspect we’ll hear from a few today — some new opportunities are going to be presenting itself to continue for that to grow.”

Mr. Thompson says there are several hotels and resorts looking to move into the popular Scottsdale area.

“There are quite a few hotels right now that have approached us in multiple areas — if I counted, I’m almost filling both my hands,” he said of counting blossoming industries on his hands.

“Normally they’re very hard to find; normally we have to seek out venues like that, we have to actually go and spend time, and in many cases and many communities, you have to offer incentives. Fortunately for us right now, they’re lining up at the door.”

Enhancing Old Town’s uniqueness

Carter Unger, son of local developer Fred Unger, is now at the helm of Spring Creek Development and planning a project in Old Town Scottsdale.

Mr. Unger pointed to other local projects the family company has participated in over the years, including the Hermosa Inn in Town of Paradise Valley.

“There’s a certain something about Old Town Scottsdale, that it’s the right mix of glit but glammer, it’s the refined cowboy,” he explained.

“It represents the culture of Scottsdale, and it’s important that while we look to add to what we have already, we look to create more but still really focus on what has been.”

The arts community, said Mr. Unger, is a popular attraction that could use more bodies.

“Our new project is going to be looking to bring more people, and create an urban living that’s full of excitement and energy and restore the greatness of Fifth Avenue,” he said.

Mr. Unger wouldn’t share specific details of projects planned by his company for downtown. He said the projects could be a combination of retail, office and residential and would serve to connect the different attractions in the area.

“We need to rope it all together. I think we can all agree that so much change and growth has happened, but it’s time to really link it all together — create a better sense of walk-ability,” he said.

“Fifth Avenue was always known for this great shopping, and as I said, we can’t compete with Fashion Square and we don’t want to. We envision having a lot more smaller, 500-700-square-foot, unique, Arizona-born and raised companies, where people know ‘oh, if you’re in Scottsdale you’ve got to go to Fifth Avenue because that’s where you’re going to find X, Y, and Z.’”

Bucking the trend

Sitting on the northwest corner of Camelback and Scottsdale roads and surrounded by several other retail shops, office buildings and restaurants is the retail shopping keystone community leaders say generates over $10 million a year — about 7 percent — of total city sales tax remits.

This past fall, Macerich, Fashion Square’s California-based owner, sought and received approval from municipal leaders to expand the mall along Highland Avenue by amending the zoning restrictions on the 56-acre site and increasing building heights up to 150 feet.

(photo by Melissa Fittro)

Since 1961 the Fashion Square has been providing Scottsdale residents and some eight million annual visitors with retail needs. First with Goldwater’s Department Store, and now with more than 200 shops and restaurants.

Macerich Senior Vice President of Real Estate Services, Scott Nelson, says he sees a “flight to quality” that will happen in brick-and-mortar malls.

“Our industry, and retail and regional retail has changed dramatically in the last two to three years.”

Mr. Nelson says when the concept of online shopping gained popularity 20 years ago, most consumers thought that was going to be the end of the brick-and-mortar mall.

“We lasted another 20 years and everything seemed to be going well, but there is a major paradigm shift, that obviously our company and companies like ours are jockeying to produce and create and put forth in communities and markets, relevant regional shopping centers,” he said, noting the company hopes to attract shops that can’t be duplicated online.

“Quite honestly, we’re getting back to what arguably, is kind of a town square mentality.”

In the past five years, Macerich has decreased the number of regional shopping malls it owns nationwide from 73 to 48.

“We are truly pruning to the best of the best; we think there’s going to be a flight to quality and Scottsdale Fashion Square is a perfect example of what we believe retailers have proven to demonstrate is an A Class regional mall in the country,” he explained.

Mr. Nelson says its location remains the top attraction to those seeking to move into Scottsdale Fashion Square.

“All of these retailers are passing the other shopping centers across town and wanting to locate and plant their flag in Scottsdale Fashion Square in downtown Scottsdale,” he said.

A well-known technology company will be planting its flagship store along Scottsdale Road in the future, Mr. Nelson says, in a space that’s planned to be about 15,000 square feet. The company name is not being disclosed at this time, Mr. Nelson said.

A view of Scottsdale Stadium in the heart of downtown Scottsdale just south of City Hall. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

Scottsdale Stadium play

The Scottsdale Charros, a local male philanthropic group created in 1961 as an off-shoot of the local chamber of commerce, provides financial support to groups in the Scottsdale community.

Since 1965 the Scottsdale Charros have hosted spring training in Scottsdale for five different ball clubs, culminating with the San Fransisco Giants. More than 200,000 attend the stadium every year, Mr. Carpinelli notes.

The overall spring training impact in the Valley is $544 million; compared to the Super Bowl’s revenue of $500 million, the Charro member said.

The Charros, along with the city and the Giants are currently discussing upgrades to the facility and surrounding practice facilities. Mr. Carpinellis says it’s beneficial for the city, downtown businesses and local charities to keep the Giants in Old Town.

“We’re in discussions; (the) Charros are at the table with city of Scottsdale, and San Francisco Giants, to try and figure out how to renovate the stadium, what the Giants need, what the city of Scottsdale needs, and from an operation standpoint, what the Scottsdale Charros needs,” he noted.

Mr. Carpinelli showed graphic renderings of potential plans for the stadium. The plan is to try and make better use of the stadium all year long, as well as expand the stadium’s footprint.

“This would be a new facility, and the objective would be to activate this stadium, more than just spring training and Fall Ball. How does this stadium get activated?” Mr. Carpinelli asked.

“Also, how to better incorporate this node, with the node just north of it, which is Civic Center Plaza. So there’s discussion about how to incorporate the two.”

Northeast Valley News Editor Melissa Rosequist can be e-mailed at or can be followed on Twitter at

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