Metrocenter Mall in Phoenix to be razed for walkable district

Phoenix’s Metrocenter Mall, a once-beloved fixture of northwest Phoenix that closed more than a year ago after dwindling in appeal, will soon be demolished for a new walkable district that city leaders hope will turn the area around.

Developers have a plan to buy the property, near Interstate 17 and Dunlap Avenue, demolish most of the mall in the next year, and begin to build a new $750 million district that will transform nearly 70 acres within the mall circle and the surrounding area. The Dillards, Harkins Theatres and Walmart will stay.

Picture a walkable village with tall apartments with ground-level shops and stores, street parking, and a central plaza. The plans include an amphitheater, open space and immersive water features, such as splash pads.

The new development would connect to the future end of the northwest Phoenix light rail extension, which is being constructed over the freeway and ending in a raised platform on the mall property. By the time that extension opens in 2024, the plan is to have some of the housing and village center complete.

While prior plans to redevelop the property have fallen through, the developers — Concord Wilshire Capital, Hines and real estate investment firm TLG Investment Partners — promise they will see through their plans, and the city’s economic development director Chris Mackay says she trusts them.

Before the plan is fully underway, the sale of the property has to close, and the City Council has to approve a plan that would allow for public financing for the planned parking garages on the site.

Demolition is expected to get underway in 2022, although the project will take several years to complete.

What the new Metrocenter will look like

Overall, plans include more than 2,600 multifamily residences, 100,000 square feet of retail space and up to seven public parking garages.

The City Council will consider creating a new taxing district for the area to pay for public parking garages used for the light rail line and the development.

The oval-shaped mall property is tucked down side streets, not off a major road, in a commercial area with stand-alone restaurants and other businesses that over the years have struggled and closed as the mall’s success declined.

The developers hope to help the area by connecting their community to key fixtures outside of the mall loop, such as the city’s Cholla Library, Castles & Coasters and the canal that lines the south side of the property. That canal runs under the freeway, which will provide residents and visitors to the new district a pathway to Rose Mofford Sports Complex on the other side of Interstate 17.

“It will elevate the region,” Councilmember Ann O’Brien said.

Decades of mall memories

O’Brien grew up in the area. That was her mall, where she would go with friends and to take photos with Santa. It was a central part of the community growing up, she said, and now the new development will again make it a place people want to visit and come back to.

The mall opened in 1973 and quickly became the place for young West Valley and north Phoenix residents to hang out, shop, go to the movies and even ice skate in the indoor rink.

From the 1970s, through the 1990s, teens would cruise around the mall property, making laps with their friends. The night the mall closed, longtime Valley residents took one last cruise around the mall.

The mall was made famous in 1989 as the location for the mall scenes in the movie “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.”

Metrocenter isn’t the first Phoenix mall from that era to disappear. Earlier this year, the council OK’d plans that paved the way to raze and redevelop Paradise Valley Mall. Demolition of that mall, which had opened five years after Metrocenter, began in July.

Mayor Kate Gallego says the redevelopment of Metrocenter will provide an “enormous economic boost to the entire west side of Phoenix,” with the construction and permanent jobs it will bring.

Investors get tax break, hope to lift up area

Hines developed the office park near Chandler Mall, called Chandler Veridian, which integrates shops and restaurants to provide a seamless connection between the mall property and the office park.

“We created a sense of place,” said Chris Anderson, senior managing director of Hines. “We have a track record of this, connecting to existing assets.” The plaza and walkability will be done with “careful thought,” he said.

The Metrocenter property is located in a federal Opportunity Zone, which will give developers a major break on capital gains taxes as the development comes to fruition.

The program was meant to incentivize development in struggling areas.

Mackay said she believes the project will decrease other vacancies in the area and give the area an overall boost.

Steve Betts, who is working with Concord Wilshire on the project, said that with the new development and jobs coming along I-17, he sees major changes for the area that will help the development succeed.

Betts called it “skating to where the puck is going.”

While currently the area isn’t walkable, Mackay said the city is looking at how it can improve the roadways for pedestrians to make for a more inviting environment, with better sidewalks, streetscapes and pedestrian crossings.

Bye, Metrocenter Mall: How fans said farewell with one last cruise-in

Metrocenter property sale is in process

Mackay said she has been strategizing how to transform the mall property since starting at the city seven years ago.

There were many plans and many pitches, she said, but none came to fruition — and she said none really fit exactly with what the city wanted.

The I-17 corridor is attracting lots of new industrial development, and Mackay said the property could have easily turned into another industrial park. But that’s not what residents in the area wanted, and not what the City Council wanted, either.

In 2016, the mall owners Carlyle Development Group of New York had the property rezoned for what they thought would be a massive redevelopment project. Those plans fell through, but they set the stage for the development to come.

Carlyle began pursuing a sale of the property in mid-2020 when closing the mall, Mackay said.

Nate Sirang, president of Concord Wilshire, said the company, which has offices in Los Angeles, had been eyeing the property since 2010. When it came up for sale in April, he said, they decided to move forward.

Concord Wilshire signed a contract with Carlyle in June to acquire the property, and the inspection period is complete, according to a company news release. The sale is scheduled to close in the second half of 2022, and the companies reached an agreement to demolish the mall ahead of the closing.

Mackay said when she first heard the developer’s plans, she was weary, knowing how plans have fallen through in the past.

“But from the very first meeting, there was such a clear differential from every other developer,” Mackay said. “They had a clear vision of what they wanted to do, and it so closely related to what the City Council have told me they wanted.”

While construction is set to begin in 2023, the developers say to expect five to seven years before it is complete.

Asked if the plan would really happen, Sirang said “absolutely.”

Reach the reporter at jen.fifield@azcentral.com or at 602-444-8763. Follow her on Twitter @JenAFifield.

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