Scottsdale Civic Center Mall renovations begin to take shape

A view of meeting guests looking at model of Scottsdale’s Civic Center Mall. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

A study is under way to identify how to better improve one of Scottsdale’s signature, but hidden, locations: the Civic Center Mall.

Residents gathered to hear about the latest installment and provide feedback to a master plan meant to layout the steps of redevelopment and improve the area in the heart of downtown Scottsdale.

More than 50 people showed up to the public meeting that was held Wednesday, Jan. 25, at the Center for the Performing Arts, 7380 E. Second St.

Two previous meetings occurred in the fall of 2015, where initial resident input was collected. Over the past 14 months the Civic Center team has conducted a dozen public out reach and discussions, including private owners in and around the Civic Center Mall and Scottsdale Arts, they say.

The task at hand is to create a plan to improve the usability of the mall for day-to-day residential use as well as provide a better venue for entertainment. While Scottsdale City Council directed funds to create the master plan, there are no current plans or funding to begin any renovations at this time.

The Civic Center Mall, established in the 1960s, has evolved as the city’s civic and arts headquarters. Scottsdale City Hall, Civic Center Library, Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts and Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art call the Mall home.

Ultimately, according to Scottsdale Public Information Officer Erin Walsh, the Civic Center Municipal Use Master Plan will be the guiding principal for all future improvements of the Mall.

The plan is to reflect necessary improvements, upgrades and expansion of uses for both citizens and visitors from near and far for both small informal activities and larger events.

The area included in the plan stretches from 75th Street to the east, Second Street to the south, Brown Avenue to the west, and Indian School Road to the north.

This initial area is to be a stepping stone to larger plans, said Ms. Walsh at the Jan. 25 meeting.

Residential input points to the fact that Bennie Gonzales Buildings, lawn, garden character, trees, free parking and the Little Red Schoolhouse are all items with positive feedback.

Existing challenges, says the Civic Center team, include identity, visibility, lack of street presence, ineffective use of water features, disconnected lawn areas, and not purposeful or unusable surface changes.

Main complaints the team has heard from residents include the lack of visibility of the Civic Center from downtown Scottsdale, parking, bathrooms, and the fact that the area should not be considered a “mall” because it is not a shopping center.

Proposed changes

Diane Jacobs, an architect with Holly Street Studio Architects, said her firm was hired a little over a year ago to look at sites within Scottsdale, and how to look at open space as an asset.

“The idea is this conceptual design is not reinventing the wheel,” explained Ms. Jacobs at the meeting. “We are looking at many, many studies and a lot of good thinking that’s already been done in Scottsdale.”

The plan is to include how to adjust items within the Civic Center, and improve them. While showing artist renderings, Ms. Jacobs described the team’s proposed ideas.

Diane Jacobs, on left, presenting to a crowd at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts on Jan. 25. (photo by Melissa FIttro)

“On the west side you can see that the point here is to open up the west side of Civic Center to Main Street, clarify some of the way-finding issues, open up some green space around the Scottsdale Historical Society and make more of a direct route — not just for pedestrians, but also a visual direct route from Main Street and Brown into the Civic Center,” she explained.

Other proposed items include bringing the grade of the lawnscape around the Scottsdale Historical Society back to street level. It was previously raised up, to meet the doorway of the building. Now, they would include a ramp up to the front door of the building in order to preserve the integrity of the building.

“In general, the spaces within the center of the Civic Center would stay very much the same, although we would look at making it more performance ready, and work on having a pavilion,” described Ms. Jacobs.

The pavilion would be over what is now the bridge, she said. The team is looking at “cleaning up” the area around the water fountains, and make them more water efficient.

The east side of the area has been proposed to include a similar stage area on the east lawn, similar to what is currently there, said Ms. Jacobs, in addition to a smaller shade pavilion, a water feature and the Louise Nevelson sculpture affectionately called “Windows to the West.”

East side repairs include pathways, additional lighting, infrastructure, power and improved restrooms.

On the north east corner of the Civic Center, which is a parking area, is being recommended to be taken over by green space. The parking would be attached to the below-street level parking that’s at One Civic Center, to the north, said Ms. Jacobs, but parking is not a part of this project so any recommendations are only explorational.

Following the study, the Civic Center team will be delivering the results to the Design Review Board, Planning Commission and city council, to ask if they have their blessing for where things are to go within the Civic Center, said Ms. Jacobs. Approval is needed before smaller pieces of the puzzle can be designed, said Ms. Jacobs.

The Civic Center plan is a part of a greater plan, called the Downtown Public Space Master Plan.

The most deferred maintenance items identified include power sources, water, structure portions of the bridge that goes over Drinkwater Boulevard, improve public park amenities and expand performance park opportunities.

Providing for entertainment

A motivating factor in the Civic Center Master Plan includes the desire to use the area as an entertainment venue.

By providing more green space, says the Civic Center team, will allow for larger festivals and live entertainment to occur.

Scottsdale Arts has expressed the ability to use the space for a broader range of events, said Ms. Jacobs.

Planning Department employee, Dan Symer, said there is rezoning within the Civic Center area that needs to occur as a part of the plan.

“A part of this, we’re also looking at rezoning the Mall to ‘Downtown Civic Center’ designation,” said Mr. Symer.

“The Downtown Civic Center designation was written specifically for the Mall although the council has never rezoned the Mall to Downtown Civic Center. Currently, part of the library is zoned multifamily; part of the parking garage is zoned open space; and most of the mall is zoned commercial.”

Mr. Symer says the downtown designation was adopted by city council in 2009. In addition, the venue needs to apply for a live entertainment permit.

“We don’t have a live entertainment use permit,” he said. “We like to hold ourselves to the same standards we hold other people, so we will be requesting live entertainment for our venue. That’s an easy part — we already do it.”

As the entity who programs the events for the Mall, the Scottsdale Center for Performing Arts, has stated they are losing events because the city’s infrastructure is outdated.

“There’s a subsidy that they have to spend, an event venue might have to spend $5-$10,000 more to hold an event here on Civic Center Mall then they would, say, at the new ball park. So that drives some business away,” said Ms. Walsh.

After the Civic Center Municipal Use Master Plan is completed, a cost analysis will be conducted to evaluate the cost of the renovations.

Northeast Valley News Services Editor Melissa Fittro can be e-mailed at mfittro@newszap.com or can be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/melissafittro.

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