High-profile development openings coming to Gilbert

Epicenter, Verde at Cooley Station under construction
(Sources: Johnston & Co., SB2-Gilbert LLC/Community Impact Newspaper)

(Sources: Johnston & Co., SB2-Gilbert LLC/Community Impact Newspaper)

Image description
(Sources: Johnston & Co., SB2-Gilbert LLC/Community Impact Newspaper)
Image description
(Source: Town of Gilbert/Community Impact Newspaper)
The COVID-19 pandemic marked nearly every aspect of life in 2020 and 2021 in Gilbert, including construction, but after months of delays, 2022 will be a big year for major developments in town.

Having experienced pandemic-related delays, Epicenter in the Agritopia neighborhood and Verde at Cooley Station are now close to swinging open their doors on the two high-profile mixed-use developments.

“It has [overcome obstacles], that’s for sure,” Johnston & Co. CEO William Johnston said about Epicenter. “But I will say that, as my dad always says, ‘If you want to do something right, it’s not going to be easy.’”

Epicenter, from Johnston & Co. and StreetLights Residential, features multifamily residential housing above first-floor retail and restaurants in what is called a “loft-above” arrangement. It is the first vertical mixed-use development in town and will have 320 residential units and 49,038 square feet of retail. Stacking the different uses on the 21.8-acre site is what makes it vertical, according to developers.

The residential portion opens for move-ins in late January while the first commercial tenants should open by first quarter’s end, Johnston said.

Verde at Cooley Station from SB2-Gilbert LLC, a partnership of Brody Associates and Sina Companies,•is a horizontal mixed-use commercial and multifamily residential development. It is meant to be the linchpin of the 650-acre master-planned Cooley Station development in east Gilbert. The commercial component includes restaurants, retail and medical offices.

The development anticipates a two-phase opening with the first phase beginning in April and lasting into the fall, developer Norm Brody said.

“We’re always excited to see these new developments come to fruition, especially when they’ve been a long time in the planning,” Mayor Brigette Peterson said.

Additionally, 2022 should see further progress on several projects that are part of the Heritage District’s 2018 redevelopment plan.

Added delays

Both developments took several years to get off the ground, but even after construction began, each project suffered from pandemic-related delays, which developers said has been typical in the industry.

“I think more and more, learning how to overcome obstacles and stick to your vision—stick to really what you want the end vision and end goal to look like and not compromise—I think that is something we’ve done really, really well through the COVID[-19] situation,” Johnston said.

Johnston said the delays at Epicenter have been typical of construction during COVID-19, such as labor issues due to either illness or labor shortages, and supply-

chain issues with product and materials that did not arrive within an expected window.

“I mean, if a developer told you that COVID[-19] didn’t affect him, then they’d be lying for sure,” Johnston said. “COVID[-19] definitely brought its fair share of challenges, but I think that we were able to navigate them with StreetLights Residential in a very kind of easy and normal way when it comes to what they were.”

Brody said he saw the same challenges at Verde, along with one other: a monsoon storm in August that caused more than $100,000 in damage to the construction site.

“The biggest sort of issue we’re facing is just feeling like we’re kind of being piled on, between the monsoon ... and COVID[-19],” Brody said.

Current state for developments

Despite challenges, Johnston said he saw one advantage from the COVID-19-caused delays: strengthened tenant offerings.

“I think that in the end, when we look at our tenant mix and the residential spaces, everything just really turned out better than we expected, especially given the situations and scenarios that we were presented with,” he said.

Johnston said he also believes COVID-19 may have helped some businesses narrow their focus when it came to growth, and that played to Epicenter’s advantage.

“I think that timing with COVID[-19] helped a lot of businesses look at their growth goals and also where they wanted to do additional locations,” he said. “COVID[-19] caused a reset for everyone to think, ‘If I’m going to do one or two locations, additional locations, I’ve got to be very strategic with where I go.’”

Brody said the delays with Verde at Cooley Station changed opening plans. Instead of a big grand opening, the two-phased approach came in, though he still expects some kind of celebration in the fall.

He said he estimates openings for first phase to continue into October. Second-phase openings could start in the first half of 2023, Brody said.

The residential component to Verde includes 450 multifamily units in two apartment complexes, plus another 300 units for senior housing. The apartments are in preleasing and may start leasing in the summer while the senior housing is expected to start construction sometime in the next 30-60 days, Brody said.

The first two medical office components are at 65%-70% leased, he said.

“Leasing remains strong as far as the amount of the interest, and we’ve got several transactions pending right now,” Brody said of the restaurant and retail offerings. “So we’re pretty happy with that.”

Johnston said Building 1 of Epicenter’s multifamily units is about 50% leased, and leases should open up for Building 2 in the next couple months. As for the commercial space, all is either leased or in negotiations except for one space, he said.

The developers naturally are bullish on what the projects mean for Gilbert.

“Having Epicenter being one of the largest vertical mixed-use projects in the Valley ... speaks volumes to the Gilbert market,” Johnston said. “Also the caliber of tenants ... finding home in one location, I think it highlights just how Gilbert’s grown over the last 10, 15 years, what people want here and the overall perception of how Gilbert’s viewed in Arizona and the Phoenix metro.”

Brody said he expects Verde to be a community magnet.

“Once [people] really get the feel for what Verde is going to be, once we get everything opened, I think that it will be a great gathering place for the community,” he said.

Heritage District still unfolding

Meanwhile, in Gilbert’s downtown, the Heritage District may not have any large projects from the 2018 redevelopment plan completed to date, but progress continues on several tentacles of that plan.

The North Anchor project, now known as Heritage Park, continues in design. At the time of the land sale in May 2019, the plan called for multifamily housing, office and retail space and a boutique hotel. Town staff is paying attention to the public amenities that are part of Heritage Park, including the Commons, open space for public events; and the north end of the Paseo, a pedestrian and bike passage, Gilbert Redevelopment Program Manager Amanda Elliott said.

Construction on Heritage Park could start in late summer or fall, she said.The town also has held meetings to receive public input on what may be wanted from the Paseo.

The Vaughn Ventilator, which will provide vehicular access to and from the district from the west side, has been in the design phase, and the town recently purchased land from Gilbert Public Schools to accommodate it, Elliott said.

Additionally, the parks and recreation department is working on a “refresh” of the Water Tower Plaza, including programming, Elliott said.

The district’s South Anchor site is in a request for proposals phase. Economic Development Director Dan Henderson said the town is taking time to choose the right partner before going to council later this year.

“We are really excited,” Henderson said. “Taking things back to the 2018 redevelopment plan, we had some big vision in there.”
By Tom Blodgett

Editor, Gilbert

Raised in Arizona, Tom Blodgett has spent more than 30 years in journalism in Arizona and joined Community Impact Newspaper in July 2018 to launch the Gilbert edition. He is a graduate of Arizona State University, where he served as an instructional professional in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication from 2005-19 and remains editorial adviser to The State Press, the university's independent student media outlet.