Laveen Residents Asking for More Stores, Restaurants
The retail season may be upon us, but for Laveen resident’s options for shopping in the suburban village are limited to a handful of retailers such as Wal-Mart, Big Lots and Big 5 Sporting Goods. Grocery stores and pharmacies round out the choices, but there is no concentrated area of retail.
Many people would like to see that change. An informal poll of which businesses Laveen residents most want to locate here among the approximately 50,000 potential shoppers reflects national chains that are typical of destination shopping and retail areas such as Glendale’s Westgate Entertainment District or Desert Ridge Marketplace in northeast Phoenix. The retail wish list also indicates that Laveen folks really want some great places to buy food or to eat out.
Topping the Laveen retail wish list are Sprouts (which was overwhelmingly listed most frequently) Target, Trader Joe’s, Costco, Winco, Kohl’s and a movie theater. More than 200 people responded to the query and listed their top choices. Many named restaurants such as Sweet Tomatoes, Olive Garden, Golden Corral, PF Chang’s, Pei Wei as well as requests for family-owned, ethnic and specialty shops such as delis and farmer’s markets.
“I like the idea of having a classy outdoor (fair) with art booths and local farmers contributing, like a farmer’s market,” said Luci Fierin, a 10-year resident of Laveen. ”Kinda like a First Fridays featuring the local vendors and the Laveen charm.”
“In the Southwest Valley, a lot of the communities are looking for certain amenities such as theaters, malls, hospitals … those have been on the list for decades,” says long-range city planner, Marc A. Thornton II. “What we have done with other departments here at the city and through the Arizona Department of Transportation is create a guide based on the construction of the South Mountain Freeway and we’re hoping that will help spur some of that economic development.”
Planners and community leaders quote the oft-heard cliché that “retail follows the rooftops” as to why that type of development has yet to arrive.
“My response is wait for the freeway, you’ll get all the commercial you want,” says Phil Hertel, a long-time Laveen resident and member of the Laveen Village Planning Committee, which makes recommendations on development and planning to the Phoenix Planning Commission. “A lot of the things people are wanting are on the books. There are not enough rooftops yet, nor a freeway close enough to make those businesses come.”
Hertel said that zoning is in place for structures that could house a movie theater at about 59th Avenue and Baseline Road, and that plans for a hospital are included in the zoning at 61st Avenue and Dobbins Road.
“It’s a great challenge,” says 10-year resident Kelly O’Connell. “We need thousands more rooftops before restaurants or better stores will begin researching our area deeper. We also need higher income residents.”
Some of those demographics are starting to emerge. The South Mountain Freeway, which will connect Interstate 10 near 59th Avenue to the Loop 202 Freeway near Pecos Road in Ahwatukee, is planned for completion by 2020. ADOT currently is acquiring land for the construction, but legal challenges have the process stalled until court rulings expected in mid-summer.
In 2010, Laveen’s population was at 38,000, enough to count as a small town by many standards, but with few of the amenities. Estimates on July 1, 2015 put the number at about 39,000 – a modest increase. Thornton also said that Laveen Village has one of the city’s highest per capita incomes at about $64,000 annual median income, according to 2013 U.S. Census Bureau data. The national average in 2013 was $51,939. So why isn’t the area teeming with opportunities to spend that cash?
Thornton said that is the question developers and retail outlets have to answer. He said the research into the number of households; income, spending patterns and multiple other factors go into the decision-making process on where to locate a business. And unlike the movie preaches, just building it will not make them come. Several buildings along Baseline Road at 35th and 27tth avenues sat empty for years when the housing market imploded around 2008.
With no hammers pounding into new residential development, commercial progress stalled as well. It hasn’t helped Laveen, either, that some retailers and restaurants came in early on and didn’t succeed, such as Mervyn’s. The retail clothing was at 35th and Southern Avenues, but closed in 2008 as the national chain shut down multiple stores nationwide. The building stood vacant for several years before a Goodwill and a CAL Ranch Store took over the space.
“That does more damage to us than anything,” Hertel said. “And, all the food trucks are destroying our opportunities for new restaurants.”
He said the truck owners pay taxes where they are based, so the revenue doesn’t count as sales in Laveen. Those are numbers potential retailers review before deciding where to locate.
Thornton says a perfect combination of a developer with money, a landowner ready to sell and a community willing to put in place appropriate zoning and land use is required before any major development will take place in Laveen.
For now, residents will have to be patient.