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South Scottsdale Fosters 'Small Town Mentality,' New Growth

(Photo by Mariana Dale -KJZZ)
On a weeknight you find a wide swath of people celebrating birthdays, playing poker or just catching up.

Flicka Alvarado moved his namesake Baja Cantina just north of McDowell on Scottsdale Road 20 years ago.

On any given night, you’ll find him moving from table to table to greet new guests and exchange hugs with well-known patrons. The walls are lined with memorabilia from his southern Arizona hometown, Douglas, and once abundant nearby antique shops. 

“It’s like a small town mentality,” Alvarado said of South Scottsdale.  “They’re always willing to help each other and keep an eye on each other.”

In two decades, he’s seen car dealerships leave Motor Mile for busier streets, the Los Arcos Mall close and promised development fail to materialize.

But that's starting to change.

“There’s people that see the growth and how the beauty of south Scottsdale is starting to transform.” Alvarado said. “People are excited about it.  Before people were just thinking about moving up north.”

For a while, south Scottsdale became known for the projects that didn’t happen, like the Arizona Coyotes hockey arena.

“There were questions from everyone about the financial viability of the site,” said Jan Dolan, who was city manager at the time.

The hockey team backed out of Scottsdale in 2001 after an arduous, more than two-yearlong attempt to redevelop the Los Arcos site. A later sales tax subsidy to support a big-box retail center at the site failed to gain support.

The Arizona State University Foundation partnered with the city to create SkySong, a residential, research and business center in 2004.

Now, SkySong reports more 2,000 people work there and it's home to more than 50 businesses.

SkySong's "sails" rise over the former site of the Los Arcos Mall. (Photo by Mariana Dale- KJZZ)

The area around the center is changing too.

City data showsouth Scottsdale home values have increased 101 percent in the last five years and there are 27 percent more active business licenses.

To spur development, the city offered discounted residential and commercial building fees between 2004 and 2009 and again in 2015.

“Really the idea is to offer a benefit that will then encourage the property owner to then invest more in their own property,” said Danielle Casey, Scottsdale economic development director.

Former city manager Jan Dolan left her post in 2008, but she still lives in Scottsdale and pays attention to the politics. She said the changes to south Scottsdale have been slow, but positive.

“That is hard for people to accept, because usually it feels like the degradation seems like it happened overnight," Dolan said.

McFate Brewing Company is one of several businesses to migrate to south Scottsdale in recent years.

While the bar is a relative newcomer, the building it’s in just south of the McDowell and Scottsdale Road intersection was once home to French buffet Cafe Casino.

Owner Steve McFate ate there after weekend cycling practice as a kid. When he re-visited the spot in 2014 in search of a larger location for his growing brewery, the building had been vacant for years.

“We did a complete remodel: new plumbing, new HVAC. You name it, it feels like we remodeled it,” McFate said.

On a weekend night, the patio buzzed with activity while more than a dozen house made beers poured from the taps.

“In the short period of time, the sheer number of regulars we have makes me feel really really good,” McFate said.

Kyle Moyer co-founded Scottsdale Gateway Alliance, a nonprofit that advocates for development in the area.

One of the biggest projects on the horizon is Scottsdale Entrada. It could bring 750 new residential units, a hotel and retail to the vacant Scottsdale Auto Park.

It’s not only the business appeal Moyer pitches, it’s the people of south Scottsdale too.

“They're not how you would typically define a Scottsdale resident,” Moyer said. “They’re a little bit broader, kinder, welcoming, perhaps a little bit more genuine and authentic.”

Vista del Camino Park's 71 acres stretch from McDowell Road south to McKellips Road. (Photo by Mariana Dale-KJZZ)

Vista del Camino Park on a weeknight is a cross section of the population - longtime residents and newcomers enjoying cool spring air under the setting sun.

Jim Manning cycled with his family. He’s from north Scottsdale. An area that’s seen major development and investment from the city.

The family moved to south Scottsdale five years ago.

“Everything is a lot more easily accessible and I don’t know, it’s just a better quality of people,” Manning said.

But he has noticed the changes and he doesn’t think they all improve the community.

“Condos, tons of condos that we do not like,” Manning said. “We understand there’s a lot of fluctuation of people. They’re just building boxes that are plywood boxes basically.”

Not far from the Manning family, Maria Mena is out for a walk with her daughter.

She has lived in the neighborhood nearby for 26 years and doesn't plan to leave anytime soon. 

“There aren’t a lot of problems in the community, nor in the schools or when you’re walking at seven or eight in the evening,” Mena said in Spanish. “It’s very calm.”

To hear a longer interview from KJZZ's The Show, click here.

Mariana Dale rustles up stories as a senior field correspondent based out of KJZZ’s East Valley Bureau in Tempe. She’s followed a microphone onto cattle ranches, to the Dominican Republic and many places in between. Dale believes in a story’s strength to introduce us to diverse perspectives, inspire curiosity and hold public leaders accountable for their actions. She started at KJZZ on the digital team in 2016 and still spends a lot of time thinking about how to engage with our community online. Dale has learned from stints at Arizona Public Media, The Arizona Daily Star, The Arizona Republic and as an intern at NPR’s Morning Edition in Culver City. She graduated from the University of Arizona with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Dale is grateful for the mentoring of the New York Times Student Journalism Institute, the Chips Quinn Scholars program and AIR’s New Voices Scholars. A desert native, she loves spending time outside hiking, tending to her cactus and reading.