Pursuit of the next generation: Scottsdale Millennial leadership takes form

As Scottsdale looks to the future, much remains the same as changes may occur in preparation for the next generation of leaders. Pictured, a historic photo from 1975 shows similarities between Old Town Scottsdale then and now. (Historic photo courtesy of Scottsdale Public Library; artistic view courtesy of Arianna Grainey/Independent Newsmedia)

The next generation of Scottsdale leaders is beginning to take shape as young, working adults and parents seek to create their own future and build upon the foundation laid before them.

With desires to be represented at City Hall, options for affordable housing, more transportation, good schools and seeking an increase to family neighborhoods, the future some Millennials want doesn’t sound too far-fetched.

However, in a room full of Scottsdale residents who were mostly under the age of 50, having their priorities represented at City Hall was a common concern by those in attendance.

In reality, the younger generation is a minority within Scottsdale, as residents ages 20-39 represent less than 25 percent of the population.

Meanwhile, residents ages 40-59 make up 27.3 percent of the population, and residents ages 60-79 account for 25.6 percent.

An illustration of fewer young adults in Scottsdale can be found in a lack of dynamic event programming, the president of the Scottsdale Arts says, pointing to a need for new entertainment bookings and events that meet the wants of younger audiences.

Scottsdale Arts President and CEO, Dr. Gerd Wuestemann says younger, hipper events are missing from the entertainment landscape.

“I also feel Scottsdale is evolving quickly — in south Scottsdale, the Galleria, Yelp and other entities, there is a young millennial workforce. People often from here, and stay here year round,” Dr. Wuestemann explained. “That’s a generation for whom we haven’t had enough to offer in recent years. I think that’s unfortunate for us, I see a great opportunity there.”

In late August, a handful of Scottsdale community members and dignitaries — political public relations specialists, community activists and board members — invited about 30 business owners, employees and residents to a private happy hour event to talk about the city they call home.

Over beer and pizza, tables comprised of six to eight people of all ages discussed what they would like to see as the future of Scottsdale.

Two developers with projects coming down the pike presented their ideas for the area — one which includes aspirations to find a solution for low-income housing in Scottsdale — and two business owners spoke about their desires for the area.

In all, the event put on by SCOTT — Scottsdale Coalition of Today and Tomorrow — wasn’t for just for Millennials, but for the overall future leadership of Scottsdale, Executive Director Don Henninger says.

SCOTT is a group seeking community activism for “a better Scottsdale,” according to group founders, who does outreach with residents to empower them to get involved in building a successful future for the city.

At McFate Brewery on Aug. 22, leaders of SCOTT and the South Scottsdale Alliance sought to ignite a spark already lit within many Millennials.

Stephanie Bray Greenfield

The South Scottsdale Alliance, a nonprofit organization, is dedicated to advancing investment and revitalization opportunities in the south Scottsdale community and along the McDowell Road Corridor, according to its website.

“I wanted to learn about Next Gen and what the organization aims to do,” Stephanie Bray Greenfield, 28, said afterwards.

“I heard about it through a colleague and was interested to know that the next generation of leaders is grouping together to make their voices heard. The recent local, state, and national political scene has been rather negative and I am very interested in joining a group of proactive, progressive, and thoughtful young leaders who can affect change in a positive way.”

The associate broker at The Bray Team at Berkshire Hathaway Home Services says she sees the split between the three boroughs of Scottsdale: north, central and south.

“I would like to see Scottsdale as an inclusive and diverse city that continues to be a magnet for tourism but also has a strong sense of community for its citizens,” Ms. Greenfield said.

“I would love to see some connective public transportation that ties Scottsdale closer to its neighbors like Tempe, Arcadia, and Phoenix. I think thoughtful development, planning, and zoning over the next 20-30 years will be crucial to achieving a fine balance between beautiful homes, luxurious resorts, public transportation, renowned retail and restaurants, and open desert space to still see our gorgeous sunsets.”

Scottsdale residents and business owners gathered at McFate Brewery in August to discuss their city. (Independent Newsmedia/Melissa Fittro) 

What is a Millennial?

Generally, a Millennial is defined as a person born after 1980 to the mid 1990s. In Pew Research Center’s data, they reported Millennials as people born between 1981 and 1996 — they are ages 37-22 now.

The next generation of Scottsdale’s leaders were ages 5-20 when the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks happened; and in high school, college and starting their adult lives when the Great Recession occurred. The group is also the first generation to come of age with modern technology.

Now, millennials make up the largest portion of the U.S. workforce, claiming a 35 percent stake.

As of 2017 — the most recent year for which data is available — 56 million Millennials (those ages 21 to 36 in 2017) were working or looking for work. That was more than the 53 million Generation Xers, who accounted for a third of the labor force. And it was well ahead of the 41 million Baby Boomers, who represented a quarter of the total, Pew Research states.

Furthermore, the data center reports more than one million Millennials are becoming first time mothers per year.

In Scottsdale, numbers show 66,570 residents, or 22.5 percent, were between the ages of 20-39 in 2018. The median age is 47.6, numbers provided by the city show.

A labor of love

Scottsdale resident Carter Unger, 37, is leading the charge on a major redevelopment in Old Town Scottsdale that he hopes will create a better city for everyone.

On a Thursday morning in September, Mr. Unger was headed to spend several hours at the local VA hospital for the day.

Carter Unger

“Everyday I put on dress clothes more than I ever did, and put product in my hair more than I ever did,” Mr. Unger commented about his corporate lifestyle that began months earlier.

“The great stories would be that, you know, I grew up in this amazing city and I want to keep it moving forward — and I did, and that is true — but that’s not at all how anything happened.”

Following studying in Switzerland and earning a political science degree, Mr. Unger joined the United States Army after the 9/11 attacks. He went on to help train the Afghanistan National Police along the Pakistani border.

“I really loved the Army,” he said, acknowledging the service comes with its own demons sometimes.

“I thought that if I could have a lot of friends from Muslim backgrounds in other countries — we’re going to be in a war, that’s not my choice — but as an officer in charge of a group of people, I can affect what’s in my control.”

Mr. Unger is taking the same approach to his local neighborhoods.

Upon finding love, Mr. Unger hung up his Army boots and settled down in north Scottsdale with a job as a firefighter.

On his days off from the Chandler Fire Department, he began working with WestWorld of Scottsdale at the behest of his father to bring in events at the city facility.

“When my dad’s illness got worse, he asked me to take over for him. He thought he maybe had a year or so to groom me, teach me things.

Unfortunately, I spent December and January caring for him medically,” he explained. Fred Unger passed away at the beginning of 2018.

“All of a sudden I was in charge of a six-and-a-half-acre redevelopment — a million and a half square feet of construction. So, like I did when I came into the Army as an officer, I went to the people who know, with humility.”

Over the past few months, as Mr. Unger learned the ropes of his new job, he has been asked to join the governing boards of several local entities, including Scottsdale Public Art, the Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce and SCOTT, which he believes are looking to bring in younger minds.

“I really immersed myself in that stuff so I could get to know the downtown again, because when I knew it, was as a single guy looking to party,” he explained. “Now when I go down there, I see Marshall Way doesn’t have any galleries left on it. I see Craftsman Court can’t keep any good retail unless it’s office because there isn’t good foot traffic.”

Anchored by a multitude of local establishments, store fronts and art galleries, Scottsdale’s downtown area expands 1.3 square miles along Scottsdale Road, between Earll Drive to the south, Chaparral Road to the north, 68th Street to the west and Miller Road to the east.

The Old Town Scottsdale area is home to 90 restaurants, 320 retail shops and more than 80 art galleries, according to city officials.

Hodgepodged together is what local residents and tourists alike have come to love; the downtown area includes Scottsdale Stadium, Scottsdale’s Museum of the West, art museums, Fashion Square Mall and the Arizona Canal, among many other well-known places.

A 10-month long study coined Scottsdale 2.0 created out of a five-year strategic tourism and events plan by city officials, identified challenges the downtown area faces includes seeing fewer visitors, a lack of a “high end” walking experience, lack of large outdoor space for events, no dedicated transportation option and a need for additional residents to support a bustling downtown area.

The downtown Scottsdale residential population goal should be 8,200 residents by 2025, which would require an additional 1,050 residential units, officials said in 2017.

An artist’s rendering shows Spring Creek Developments plans for the Old Town area along the southside of the Arizona Canal. Mr. Unger says this graphic shows the connectivity, walkability and open spaces the group is attempting to achieve in their proposed project. (submitted graphic) 

Issues Mr. Unger sees within the city include a vocal minority dominating City Hall, infrastructure costs and taxes.

Mr. Unger says ultimately, he wants to be a part of the solution.

“It’s more because it’s the right thing to do. It bothers me,” he said.

“It seems like we’re falling behind, booking events at WestWorld is harder because other cities have certain things they can do that Scottsdale says ‘oh we don’t need to do that, we’re Scottsdale, people will come to us.’ That’s crazy. The weather is the same in downtown Gilbert as it is in Scottsdale.”

Awaiting City Council approval, Mr. Unger says he is hopeful his project will pass. The Unger family owns land between Scottsdale Road to the west side of Goldwater, south of the canal, and stretches to Fifth Avenue.

His plans include two hotels, one for business travelers and another that’s a boutique style, to create about 300 rooms. Inside the hotels, he wants to incorporate art and the local art galleries to decorate throughout.

He also has about 150,000-180,000 square feet of class A office space planned, retail, a public food hall and condominiums in the works, all with underground parking.

“When the project started it had none,” he said, of adding office space.

“But that’s what the downtown economy needs, high paying jobs that will be there year round. We need bodies downtown that are of the right paying jobs, who can eat in the area, live in the area and shop in the area.”

Having been witness to failed businesses in his family-owned real estate, Mr. Unger says he knows foot traffic is a major problem Old Town Scottsdale is saddled with.

“I see what the end can be, and I know it can be great for more,” he said.

“I want to get involved in low-income housing. I think as the private sector, we can do all kinds of things.”

About 9 percent, or just over 21,000 human beings, live below the poverty line in Scottsdale, which is defined as a gross annual income less than $21,954 for a family of four, according to the latest Census figures.

Over the last fiscal year Vista Del Camino administered rent assistance to 898 households, which equates to $329,834, numbers show.

The Scottsdale Housing Authority, which serves as a pass-through agency for federal Housing and Urban Development funds known commonly as Section 8, offers 735 housing vouchers on an annual basis.

According to federal guidelines the fair market price for a one-bedroom apartment is $815 in Maricopa County, which housing officials say, must also include tax and utilities.

Furthermore, housing officials explain, the city of Scottsdale offers a $978 housing voucher, which is 120 percent more than the federal guideline.

Scottsdale Arts is looking to begin drawing more young audiences to their shows. (file photo) 

A great opportunity

At Scottsdale Arts, newly hired president and CEO, Dr. Gerd Wuestemann acknowledges missed opportunities in attracting young adults.

When the Scottsdale Cultural Council evolved into Scottsdale Public Art, Dr. Wuestemann says change within the organization was still needed, which led to internal reconciliation and empowering staff members.

“I’ve felt that Scottsdale Arts has done great work over four decades often in spite of leadership challenges,” he said.

Dr. Gerd Wuestemann

“Even before I came here I explored what my community really looks and feels like. I think there’s some things Scottsdale Arts has done well — I did feel we have not been a great community-based organization over these last 10 years. I felt that we missed opportunities in connecting with other arts organizations in Scottsdale.”

Dr. Wuestemann says there is some opportunity to be a better community partner, and this fall a concert series in partnership with Taliesin West is expected.

“We’re working on a number of initiatives to bring programming to our building,” he said. “Americana, R&B, Blues, younger, hipper shows, and an outdoor festival in the spring will be really awesome — with a variety of other things in between. Hopefully we can take some business that goes to the Crescent Ballroom or other arenas in the area.”

The arts director lived in Arizona shortly during college, and says he sees the Sonoran Desert as being “uniquely ours.”

“Putting more stuff on outside is really high on our list of things; sitting on the grass, having a more casual relationship,” he said. “I hope to be able to bring some of that to Scottsdale, to have tremendous opportunities as the demographic is evolving, I want Scottsdale Arts on the forefront.”

In terms of Scottsdale Arts’ renewal, Dr. Wuestemann says he’s receiving local support for his direction, and is engaging several boards and groups of people to receive diverse opinions.

Dr. Wuestemann points to Scottsdale’s Assistant City Manager Brent Stockwell for bringing different parts of Scottsdale together to create some upcoming community events.

“Thanks to one of our partners at the city level, the assistant city manager had an idea of connecting all the cultural organizations in Scottsdale at two summits with 30 or so arts initiatives coming together. It’s given us a platform for two major projects we want to execute together, small relationships and partnerships,” he said.

“Building more relationships across Scottsdale has been received very well. It feels like most of us, in the broadest senses, want to better engage our community.”

As Scottsdale looks to the future, much remains the same as changes may occur in preparation for the next generation of leaders. Pictured, a historic photo from 1975 shows similarities between Old Town Scottsdale then and now. (Historic photo courtesy of Scottsdale Public Library; artistic view courtesy of Arianna Grainey/Independent Newsmedia)

It’s their future

Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane, a civil leader for more than 14 years, says after his terms end, he hopes Scottsdale will continue moving forward with common sense and a straight-forward approach to issues as they arise.

During his time in the mayor’s office, Mr. Lane has placed a significant focus on the city’s youth through efforts such as the Mayor’s Youth Council and Constitution Day.

Mayor Jim Lane

“We like to remind ourselves that ‘the youth of today are our future,’ but it is important to remind ourselves sometimes, it’s really their future,” Mr. Lane said.

“It is a paramount responsibility for the community and its elected officials to create a positive atmosphere of opportunity for our youth.”

Mr. Lane says when asked about running for office, he advises young adults about the importance of life experience.

“Voters are generally looking for someone who espouses their principles and philosophy in governing,” Mr. Lane said. “Scottsdale, even though we still have a higher than average median age, is starting to become demographically younger and we are seeing young people get involved naturally.”

Mr. Lane pointed to the city’s boards and commissions, which ultimately help shape policy recommendations.

“We have opportunities on our city Boards and Commissions and having a variety of voices in those discussions that ultimately become policy recommendations to the City Council is beneficial,” he said.

“We have several ‘citizen academies’ that provide a deeper understanding to city operations and anyone at any age learning more will lead to a stronger sense of community, but I could see that young people, especially, may bring some new thought processes, disruptive technological solutions or other input that hadn’t yet been considered.”

Mr. Lane says he most often hears from Scottsdale millennials, whether single or married, how pleased they are to be in Scottsdale.

“Their concern is sometimes that they are not appreciated as full citizens and that there is a perception that some on council do not want them here and see no benefit having them in the community,” Mr. Lane said.

“Younger citizens have approached me about a range of issues from lifting regulations on the ability to operate an ice cream truck to adding wings at a park, but nothing comes to mind that I hear frequently.”

Ultimately, Mayor Lane says his wish for the future of Scottsdale is that it continues to be a hard-working city with a can-do attitude.

“Most of all, I hope we continue to climb higher on that list of happiest cities.”

Northeast Valley News Editor Melissa Rosequist can be e-mailed at mrosequist@newszap.com or can be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/mrosequist_.

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