By Mark Carlisle
Litchfield Park is taking the first steps to create its City Center mixed-use project that would overhaul downtown into a commercial destination.
“The city does not have a property tax. Our city works off of retail sales tax that we get from any retail-type projects,” said City Manager Bill Stephens. “And so, our objective is to increase the revenue flow from a retail sales tax base in order to help the city to continue to maintain the lifestyle and quality of life that folks here in Litchfield Park currently live and have grown accustomed to live by.”
The city has earmarked $3 million for City Center-related construction projects in the tentative budget for fiscal year 2020, which begins July 1 and ends June 30, 2020. City Council also directed staff to begin general plan and zoning amendments to create a City Center district, directed staff to begin an ordinance adopting design guidelines for City Center and directed the city engineer to examine what infrastructure exists under the site.
City Center is planned to include retail, dining, offices, entertainment and possibly residences. The project is planned for 33 acres of vacant city-owned land around City Hall, bordered by Fairway Drive to the north, Wigwam Boulevard to the south, Litchfield Road to the west and Old Litchfield Road to the east. The project would not disrupt the Church at Litchfield Park in the northeast corner of the block or the existing shopping center at the southeast corner.
Two of those four projects, the Village Parkway extension and the park, are projected to cost $1.25 million. The city has not announced cost estimates for adding curb and gutter and turn lanes on Litchfield Road. “I don’t know that we’ll spend the whole $3 million, but we probably will get part of that spent for sure,” Mr. Stephens said of the planned expenditures. Mr. Stephens said the city could take on more than these four planned projects during the next fiscal year, but nothing is planned now.
Another City Center project, adding three roundabouts to the Village Parkway inside City Center, is planned for fiscal year 2021 and is projected to cost $300,000. At $750,000, the Village Parkway extension will be the city’s second most expensive capital project of the fiscal year, behind a $910,000 street maintenance program. The extension will connect Litchfield Road and Old Litchfield Road via Village Parkway. Two turn lanes will be added to Litchfield Road for turns eastbound onto the Village Parkway extension: a right-turn lane for northbound traffic turning east and a left-turn lane for southbound traffic turning east.
Mayor Tom Schoaf has led the charge to take down the wall along Litchfield Road bordering City Center to both increase visibility of the project once it is built and to increase visibility now so potential investors can see the site’s potential. “The wall is a really big impediment for really selling this area for somebody coming in and say, ‘Well this would be a great place to have a business,’” Mayor Schoaf said. “When you drive down Litchfield Road, you just see a wall. You don’t see this land at all. But we can’t take the wall down because right now there’s no curb.” Curb and gutter will be added before the wall comes down to keep cars from driving off the road into the site. The park will be at the center of City Center and is planned for entertainment purposes. “That park would then be multi-use for special events that we do throughout the year and any other events — say for example if we have an amphitheater, we can do outdoor musicals, concerts and things like that,” Mr. Stephens said.
There is no timeline for City Center to be completed, Mr. Stephens said, because the city is still in the process of securing a developer. Last month the city entered a 90-day discussion period with the developer Destination Litchfield Park. The group designed a master plan and design guidelines for City Center and will have the first opportunity to negotiate a contract with the city to develop the site. The city could reject the offer and select a different developer after the 90-day period is up in mid-August. “We’re not looking for a proposal that covers all 30 acres,” Mr. Stephens said. “Because we’re looking more to parcel it out. So, there’s potential here that we could have multiple developers working on multiple parcels across the 30 acres.” Parcels could be developed concurrently or in phases. A developer would also be involved in attracting companies to the site. Mr. Stephens said companies could build their own building or buy or lease buildings constructed by the developer. The city will not have the developer build on speculation; it wants a company to invest before a building is constructed. Any company constructing its own building must enter into a development agreement with the city with specific requirements on things like architecture styles and color palettes, similar to Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CC&R) of a homeowners association.
Destination Litchfield Park is led by Scott Phillips, vice president of the developer Carefree Partners and Joel Thomas, principal at Norris Design, which works in planning, landscape architecture and branding. “Destination Litchfield Park seeks to provide additional opportunities of community through a city center anchored by public spaces and inviting streets,” the group stated in its City Center Master Plan. “Instead of changing the culture of Litchfield Park, we are working to introduce more of the world to the embrace of the unique place nestled as the heart of the West Valley. “Through a variety of uses including retail, entertainment, office, public facilities and other uses, we have sought to deliver a place the residents and visitors alike will identify as a place epitomizing the sense of community. As Litchfield Park is rich with entrepreneurs, artists and an engaged citizenry, we are providing a design not just enabling all to occupy the same space but encouraging the interaction.”