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By Anonymous Mike, pseudonymously.

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Friday, August 31, 2007
The Healing Power of Light Rail

I may be on a wild goose chase here but bear with me…

Target announced the other week that it will be closing its store at 7th Avenue & Camelback and opening a Super Target over at the old Chris Town Mall. On the surface this is good for, I do shop at the Wal Mart Super Center and having both stores in the same area can only mean good things for a shopper like me?

However what about the soon-to-be abandoned site at 7th & Camelback?

Here’s where the difference between a shopper and a local resident come in; as a Phoenix shopper I benefit from this but if I was a resident near there I have the distinct possibility of a large, empty store standing there for a long time causing a situation of possible blight.

There are 2 problems with the site and to get some insight I walked the property with a friend of mine who works for a development company in the East Valley. First is the size, while the store may not be a big box it’s big enough so that it will hard to fill with a comparable tenant. My friend also doubts with the distance between the site and the light rail line, even with the proximity of a station, that there will be a lot of foot traffic between the two. In other words it was an ideal site for what was built on it, a large discount retailer that served a customer base that used cars for transportation with superior access due to its location at a major intersection

The second problem is the light rail line itself. Before its construction, access from 7th Avenue was already partially blocked during rush hour due to the elimination of the turn lane during those times. With the light rail line eliminating the turn lane on Camelback, east-bound drivers on that road have no immediate access into that property; they would have to turn left on 7th Avenue and then turn left into the property. In other words access has been fundamentally altered. He added that when Target vacates, the Fry’s supermarket at the far end would look like an orphan

In short it may be a long time until something substantial (meaning something more than a $1 dollar store) goes in there.

Now there are a few pieces of information missing which are critical and the truth is I took enough of my friend’s time (the promised retainer of beer at Sonoran Brewing Company was already exceeded) and this isn’t his commercial beat so he didn’t have immediate knowledge. What was the current retail picture for the corner with the Target, Fry’s, and smaller stores along the frontage? He assumes that access with the light rail construction is already at its worst so if he had access to business metrics he could get an ideal of the current commercial potential. Second is the lease situation, go by the corner of 16th & Bethany Home where the site was abandoned by Basha’s several years ago but remain undeveloped because the company still holds the lease on the property

So what happens there next?

My friend did make a telling remark to the effect that with plans to extend light rail further out from Tempe and downtown Phoenix, this situation will occur more and more as the commercial viability of nearby property will change as businesses built on easy vehicular access will suffer. The question is what happens next… blight or redevelopment?