Construction on a four story, 266-unit apartment complex in midtown Phoenix called Elevation Central is slated to begin this December on the southwest corner of Central and Highland avenues.Verdura Residential is the residential development company in charge of the complex, which will be located near two light rail stations – Campbell and Central, and Central and Camelback.“This is a true transit oriented development project,” Vedura Residential Managing Director Bruce Hart said. “We have designed the project so that it interacts with the light rail.”Hart said that the team believes Elevation Central will serve “a pent up demand for residents that would not have a lot of options in the Central and Camelback area.”Elevation Central is one of the many transit-oriented developments planned along the light rail corridor. It is located a short distance from the light rail, and offers 50 bike parking spaces in the six-story parking garage. It will feature studios, one-and-two-bedroom apartments, a two-story fitness center and a swimming pool.“Transit oriented development is a term used in urban planning that refers to larger buildings, or what we call higher density development, that we try to promote around major transit corridors like the light rail,” said the project manager at the City of Phoenix Planning and Development Department, Curt Upton.
Upton said the basic purpose of transit-oriented development is to have a real estate development pattern that makes it easier, safer and more convenient for people to walk, bicycle and use public transit. He described transit-oriented developments as typically multistory buildings set close to the street, and often without a large-surface parking area. Upton also said that these kinds of developments create a “more lively street scape.”
However, some community members question whether Elevation Central will offer the “fine urban grain design” that many residents desire and are concerned with the design and long-term planning behind the project.
“One thing that people in Phoenix are trying to do is to create more walkable areas,” said Lisa Parks, an organizer for Phoenix Spokes People. “When you have a huge complex like that, it doesn’t encourage any kind of walking because you’re just walking past this enormous building.”
“Fine urban grain developments” incorporate a smaller, more detailed cluster of businesses, restaurants and variety of facades, according to Upton.
Though the designs for the complex may depict a seemingly endless walking experience, the project’s PUD Submittal states that, “visual interest is provided through varying architectural rhythms, depths, heights and materials. Public spaces for leasing, mail, lobby and fitness have been located along the sidewalk facing Central Avenue where transparency is encouraged to activate the street scape.”
“That fine-grain block pattern makes it easier to walk around, and easier to get to different types of destinations,” Upton said. “There could be more small stores as opposed to one big box development.”
Parks explained the appeal of fine urban grain designs by comparing living in Phoenix to her experiences in other large cities like New York City, San Francisco and Boston.
“I loved walking because I was always passing different restaurants and shops, and the blocks were shorter,” she said. “It didn’t make it feel like you were walking very far; you could just walk forever and not feel like it.”
The building’s design depicts a stretch of apartments along the entire block. Citizens’ comments suggest that this design challenges the goal proposed in the Elevation Central PUD Submittal to “create a strong and attractive urban edge along Central Avenue that is inviting to the street, enlivening, energetic and positive.”
“We need to create shorter blocks,” Parks said. “If it’s not going to be on a block that can be shorter, then it would be better to have something on the lower level so at least you’re walking past shops and restaurants rather than a massive building with just apartments.”
Alex Turley, who lives on Sixth Avenue and Fillmore, believes that Elevation Central may not be maximizing space as efficiently as possible.
“It’s wonderful that there’s going to be something on that vacant lot,” Turley said. “My concern is that there are only four levels. If they build it and things continue to grow like they have been, there’s not going to be enough housing downtown.”
Upton said that Elevation Central’s multistory design meets the goals of creating “urban vitality.” Put simply, multiple stories house more people. This creates more opportunity for small businesses to thrive with a concentrated population of customers, Upton said.
“What we’ve heard from a lot of the residents in that part of the city is a need to revitalize the Camelback corridor, that is, the commercial properties west of Central,” Upton said. “This type of project and other projects like it are going to really help revitalize and bring in more business activity, and less commercial vacancy than there is now, which is a big priority for the community.
The complex is Vedura Residential’s second development project in the state, according to Business Real Estate Weekly. The complex is set to be located across the street from the Brophy College Preparatory campus and the St. Francis Xavier church and school.