Germek: Museum Square proposal is too tall of an order for Old Town

The Museum Square Project as proposed will seal the fate of Old Town Scottsdale through changes in zoning, variances and acceptance of proforma responses to the General Plan and the Old Town Scottsdale Character Area Plan.

AJ Germeck

The project plan submittal for Museum Square is mostly a marketing and promotion document (200 pages) complete with lavish praise for the design by the designers. It would be far more useful and instructive to publish a series of critical questions about design, finances, variances, environment, public amenities, etc. and clear, concise answers from the developer.

The look and feel of a true Western town will be swamped by a high-rise, Miami Beach resort-like environment. The submittal seems to be channeling artists and architects of the Southwest such as Haver, Kiva, Loloma, and Wright as somehow supporting the design.

However, Ralph Haver is mostly known for designing one story homes to fit the desert landscape. Lloyd Kiva is known for designing dresses and handbags and Charles Loloma for jewelry with native Indian influences. Frank Lloyd Wright designed the Guggenheim Museum to fit New York City but Taliesin West to fit the desert environment.

I think Frank would be apoplectic if he was used posthumously to endorse the Desert Square design. Contrary to the submittal’s statement, there is no “continuity between the newly proposed and existing architecture of the surrounding area.”

(submitted graphic)

Far and away the biggest concern of the public is the building height.

The buildings are too tall and completely out of character with their surroundings. The hotel is planned to be 13 stories, with a 6 foot spire on top, and three of the condo/apartment buildings are planned to be 11-13 stories.

These four proposed buildings are 60-85 percent taller than the existing building code that limits height to 84 feet. (7-8 stories).

The city will receive $855,134 for the height variance. However, if these variance are granted, it will set a precedent that will enable future developers to abandon lower level buildings that give Old Town its character.

Old Town would vanish among a cluster of high rise buildings.

To soften the shock of this reality, submittal seeks to soften the impact by stating that “desert views will be enhanced for the public and that the balconies [will] enhance the visual appearance of the buildings.” Further, “the buildings within the project will take advantage of and enjoy the views of Camelback Mountain, the McDowells and Papago Park.”

However, the only people who will enjoy these views will be hotel guests and apartment residents who have balconies and windows at the higher levels.

The second biggest concern is parking.

As planned, parking is insufficient. If 50 percent of the residences have one car and 50 percent have two cars that will take up 450 spaces and if 50 percent of the hotel guests arrive by car that will take up 50 spaces. This means 500 of the 600 spaces provided by the project will be unavailable to visitors, tourists, hotel staff and area residents.

The submittal states that the project will “encourage alternative modes of transportation such as foot, bicycle, bus and/or trolley.” I doubt, however, that visitors and tourists will arrive in Old Town by these alternate means or even by electric scooter.

Citizens who are concerned about the Museum Square project may be comforted by the fact that the designer considers it a “masterpiece.”

In bold, very large, all capitals, the designer includes this statement: “NOT VERY OFTEN DOES AN OPPORTUNITY LIKE THIS PRESENT
ITSELF TO THE CITY—TO HELP TRANSFORM THE ARTS DISTRICT INTO A VIBRANT, THRIVING CENTER OF ACTIVITY AND BEAUTY. I CAN’T WAIT!”

I don’t know about you, but I consider an endorsement by someone with a financial interest in the project to be highly inappropriate and self-serving plea to the city for variances and approvals.

If this is the level of professionalism involved with this project, I am not concerned about being highly skeptical about the benefits to Scottsdale.

There are at least a dozen more concerns that citizens have expressed but building height and parking are two of the most obvious.

Hopefully, City Council will take note of these and others citizen concerns and not just ignore them and charge forward to close the deal.

Editor’s Note: AJ Germek is a Scottsdale resident.

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