The long-awaited Verde at Cooley Station project, a mixed-use commercial and multifamily residential development, has started construction on what its developers believe will be the linchpin of the 650-acre master planned community in east Gilbert.

Norm Brody, a partner at SB2-Gilbert LLC, the project developer, said Verde at Cooley Station, located on the southwest corner of Williams Field and Recker roads, will be a centerpiece for the Cooley Station community, a series of primarily residential developments.

“We just want to have a place that’s going to feel really comfortable for the neighborhood and for the greater Southeast Valley,” Brody said.

Verde at Cooley Station’s developers are capitalizing on the nearby residential and commercial buildings and the developer’s proximity to Arizona State University’s Polytechnic campus, which has a need for additional amenities in the area. Gilbert officials also say they hope the development will be a link between the town and the Poly campus.

The $60 million project includes nearly 450 multifamily residential units and 150,000 square feet of commercial space, which developers are looking to make sustainable in the wake of the trend of online shopping.

The development will also fill what developers see as local needs, such as medical offices, while looking to the future with plans for a commuter rail station that is likely more than a decade away from construction.

Community, ASU connection

While the ASU Polytechnic campus and the surrounding area have grown considerably since the campus opened in 1996, the perception remains there is not much to do for students at Poly as compared with opportunities for students at the Tempe campus.

Sammy Castillo, 23, a Gilbert resident who graduated in December with her degree in human systems engineering from the Poly campus, raved about the campus but said many of her fellow Poly college students who live on or near campus must drive, take a shuttle, or use a ride-hailing app to get to Tempe “to get the fun they want out of college life.”

“I can’t see how that would be optimal for a good old Friday night,” she said.

Verde at Cooley Station proposes to address that as a walkable space that includes restaurants—casual Asian diner OBON, West Alley BBQ and The Creek Cookies and Cream ice cream treats store are the first to sign on—as well as retail and “The Green,” a large, open park area that takes up 30% of the development. The park area will include a modest pavilion area of about 1,000 square feet where music, car or art shows, farmers markets, movies in the park or similar events can be held.

ASU Polytechnic Vice Provost Duane Roen said the growth of the campus and surrounding area has provided more activities for students, and Verde at Cooley Station will further help to change how people perceive the campus.

“We’re really excited when we think about the restaurants that are going to be there, the entertainment venues that are going to be there, the shopping that will be there,” Roen said. “I think the students will find that attractive—and also faculty and staff, I might add.”

Castillo, who said she also likes to frequent the Heritage District bars and restaurants, agreed.

“[For] some places in Gilbert, the targeted demographic isn’t ‘young adult college student,’” Castillo said. “It’s more like the family that they’re really targeting. So I think that [Verde at Cooley Station] would be super great. I think college students would love hitting that up.”

That should be welcome news to Mayor Jenn Daniels.

“I really believe that this is the true connector for ASU Poly to the community,” she said at the development’s groundbreaking. “I am just so glad that their students will have access to world-class amenities right here and in close proximity.”

Roen and Brody touted job and internship opportunities for students in the restaurants, retail businesses and offices at the development. Roen also sees other opportunities for faculty and staff at the entertainment venues, such as sharing research or conducting workshops to help community members at Cooley Station.

“Judge us by how well we serve the community through our teaching and our research and our service,” Roen said, referring to ASU’s charter. “So this is part of our commitment to the community, and Cooley Station is another opportunity for us to fulfill that commitment.”

‘Amazon-proof’ development

Brody said part of the plan for the area was creating something to address the closing and downsizing of many brick-and-mortar businesses competing in the digital age.

“The vision was to create a development that was what we like to call ‘Amazon-proof,’” Brody said, referring to the online shopping behemoth. “That’s why we have a mix of uses that are not as susceptible to Amazon as some traditional shopping centers or commercial development—hence a large component of both general office and medical office [buildings]; restaurants; fitness; health and wellness uses; and a smattering of retailers that are forward-looking.”

Retailers may be more along the line of “clicks-to-bricks” stores, where online retailers use a small shop for display and ship directly to customers, Brody said.

To encourage people to stay, Brody envisions graphics on the wall that he hopes will provide people with “Instagrammable moments”; public art, including sculptures from local artisans; numerous shade structures; and a children’s play area.

“There’s two types of retail shopping centers: sort of like ‘want’ and ‘need,’” Brody said. “There are developments that cater to what people need. That’s really what the Fry’s center [across the street at the Post at Cooley Station] is. They’ve got this big grocery component. That is what people need, but we’re going for ‘want,’ which is a comfortable place for them to hang out.”

Filling future needs

The medical offices are a significant part of the development; The Sina Companies, a national developer of medical facilities, is a project partner.

More than 2,000 apartments and 1,000 single-family homes, including an age-restricted 55-plus community, are under construction within a quarter-mile of the development. So despite Gilbert having three hospitals and numerous medical facilities, Brody said he still sees a need.

“Those are all three to six to 11 miles away,” he said. “This area is the hole of the doughnut, if you will.”

Medical office buildings also will generate traffic throughout the day, another component in the Amazon-proofing strategy, Brody said.

One more is building a commuter rail station on-site. The Maricopa Association of Governments and the Arizona Department of Transportation have had a proposal for commuter rail since 2009. The proposal includes a San Tan Line Corridor that would include Gilbert, though any movement on such a commuter rail project is likely a decade or more out.

Gilbert could potentially have two rail stations along the San Tan Line Corridor into downtown Phoenix—at Verde and in the Heritage District, which are about six miles apart.

“If you live in the Gilbert area, you can drive to Cooley Station and park your car and then jump on a train,” Brody said. “You come in the morning; maybe you’d grab some breakfast; you have some coffee. Then, you come back at night; maybe you have dinner; meet your wife or your husband at one of the restaurants. We love that idea ... so we’re very bullish on this location long-term.”