(Source: EastValleyTribune) By Wayne Schutsky, Tribune Staff Writer.
Long overshadowed by their Valley counterparts, Chandler and Gilbert are now making inroads as entertainment destinations for residents as their long-gestating downtown development plans mature and draw key restaurants, retailers and other attractions to the areas.
The development plans behind both downtowns follow a valleywide trend that favors creating dense, walkable districts filled with local and regional vendors versus the traditional mall and power center models popular in the past.
But the walkable model has made parking another main concern for both Gilbert and Chandler. Both downtowns already contain several parking lots and garages and have more on the way.
Gilbert will invest in a new parking structure at the north end of the Heritage District that should open in early 2019 to coincide with the opening of the new Culinary Dropout at the Yard.
That parking will likely be necessary to support the influx of new business coming in alongside the home-grown brands that have provided the foundation for further development in Gilbert and Chandler.
In Gilbert, the native brands include Joe Johnston’s Joe’s Real BBQ and Liberty Market along with other local fare like Bergie’s Coffee Roast House and The Farmhouse.
Downtown Chandler’s local anchors include Peixoto Coffee, Bourbon Jack’s, Paletas Betty, Ice Cream Sammies, Yoli’s Café, and SanTan Brewing Co., among many others.
“I’m glad we came when we did, because this place is going to be a lot busier and real estate (costs are going to rise),” Peixoto Coffee owner Julia Peixoto Peters said. She opened the coffee shop, which sources beans from her family’s plantation in Brazil, about two and a half years ago.
In addition to local fare, Gilbert has also attracted Phoenix-based restaurant tenants, including concepts from Fox Restaurant Concepts (Zinburger) and Upward Projects (Postino, Joyride Taco House).
The presence of those chains has helped Gilbert attract other successful local Arizona restaurants to the area like O.H.S.O. Brewery, said Todd Folger, CBRE Retail Services first vice president.
The new O.H.S.O. location is scheduled to open in Spring 2018.
In Chandler, there are multiple major projects currently in the planning or development stages. The most obvious, the Overstreet multi-use development at Chandler Boulevard and Arizona Avenue, is under construction and will house a Flix Brewhouse movie theater along with restaurants, retail, fitness center and 19,000 square feet of office space.
Overstreet has an expected completion date of January 2018, said Kim Moyers, Chandler Downtown Development manager.
Gilbert’s Heritage District, which already has a unique entertainment option in longtime resident Hale Centre Theatre, is focused on developing additional retail and restaurant options, Amanda Elliot said.
Fox Restaurant Concepts’ Culinary Dropout at The Yard is scheduled to open in Spring 2019 at the north end of the district to coincide with the new parking structure.
There are also plans to add an over 8,000-square-foot restaurant and retail co-op space in between Vaughn and Page Avenues on Gilbert Road. The space is being developed by LGE Design Build, and will be similar to the now-closed UNION at Biltmore Fashion Park in Phoenix with multiple small retailers in an open setting, Elliot said.
There are plans for an additional building on a site just west of the co-op that will also include ground floor retail and restaurants with three floors of office space.
Gilbert is also putting out an RFP to develop additional office space on an eight-acre parcel west of Gilbert Road near the canal.
That diversification – retail mixed with office – is being developed in response to requests from the business community.
Chandler is making a similar investment in office space. The Chandler City Council on June 22 approved a preliminary development plan and rezoning of the Chandler 87 site at Arizona Avenue and Chicago Street from commercial and multifamily to a planned area development that will allow for office, retail, and a parking garage, along with Mid-Rise overlay for building heights up to 115 feet.
Chandler awarded the RFP for Site 6, the five-acre plot where Chandler 87 will be built, in 2014 but the project has moved slowly – due, in part, to a city requirement that 50 percent of the space be leased before construction can begin.
The city already relocated electric lines at the site underground during necessary infrastructure upgrades, Moyers said.
Local businesses owners are ready for the project to come out of the ground.
“Anything that brings more foot traffic is welcome,” Peixoto Peters said. “There have been plans to develop (Chandler 87) for a long time, but we have not seen action for a while (because of the occupancy requirement).”
Despite all of the development in the pipeline, neither municipality is done establishing its downtown center yet.
Chandler has roughly $236 million in existing development agreements downtown, Moyers told a City Council meeting late last year. Between FY2010 and FY2017, the city will have invested over $54 million in downtown capital improvement projects.
Gilbert owns most of the land in the Heritage District and by the end of the next fiscal year it will have a masterplan in place for its remaining property in the area, Elliot said.