In recent decades, the city of Scottsdale in Arizona has experienced continual growth. Although it’s been good for the economy, the expansion has proved to be a mixed blessing: in a classic case of suburban sprawl, it has also resulted in a downtown facing a slow de-vitalization, transportation and connectivity woes and a lack of affordable housing for the city’s millennial generation. When Rebecca Grossman, Chief Executive Officer of the Scottsdale Area Association of REALTORS® (SAAR), learned about the REALTOR® Party’s Smart Growth program, she knew her city was a prime candidate.
Grossman is grateful for the work SAAR’s Director of Community & Government Affairs, Suzanne Brown, did to secure two consecutive Smart Growth Action Grants, to establish an annual Smart Growth workshop series for the civic and business leaders of Scottsdale. The first three-hour program was held in September 2015, and the second in January 2017; both were led by accredited Smart Growth consultant Nathan Norris, who followed each engagement with a day of meetings with key players in the city’s future development.
“Doing these workshops has really established our relevance as an organization in the eyes of community leaders,” says Grossman. “No one else has had this success in bringing all the stakeholders in to one room, at one time, to talk about these important growth issues in our city. It’s put us in a position where the city is now calling us! They’re recognizing our expertise and commitment.”
Getting those stakeholders in the room took some effort. Grossman knew that to be effective, the workshops had to be specifically for high-level professionals, rather than a town-hall meeting format, so she and Brown reached out to much of the guest list with personal phone calls, emphasizing the exclusive nature of the event. The workshops were attended by about 50 participants, including Scottsdale’s vice mayor; a number of city council members; the city manager; the chairman and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce; the CEO of the Convention & Visitors Bureau; regional transportation and economic development directors; city staff, including the heads of the municipal departments of Zoning, Long Range Planning, Transportation, Tourism, Economic and Downtown Development; and the chiefs of the Fire and Police departments. REALTORS® were well represented by several board members specializing in commercial real estate, as well as the state and local association presidents. SAAR opened the invitation to Major RPAC Investors, too, as a special benefit.
Brown explains that the focus of the first workshop was getting everybody on the same path, going in the same direction. “The big questions were ‘What’s your vision?’ and ‘Can we come to a consensus in order to achieve forward momentum?'” she says, noting, “We all came out of the workshop with a big ‘Yes!'”
The second objective of the first workshop was to determine how the vision could be accomplished. “There had been a lot of confusion about whose responsibility it was to take the next step, and one of the most important results of this workshop was getting that cleared up, so that everybody understands how we need to approach this,” says Brown. Presenting side-by-side visual comparisons of successful and not-so-successful growth and connectivity within the urban fabric, Norris effectively convinced the room what its next-step goals should be. “It was a real eye-opener for many of us in the audience!” notes Grossman.
SAAR plans to make the Smart Growth workshops an annual event, each one building on the progress of the previous year, and further establishing the REALTORS® as leaders and a source of expertise regarding Scottsdale’s built environment. After the first workshop, Grossman and Brown formed a group to keep the flow of discussions ongoing, and they’ve since created a formal organization that will address key development issues in Scottsdale. Capitalizing on the momentum from the first workshop, the second one moved forward with focus on zoning and building codes. That focus has been timely, as the city is currently engaged in a downtown feasibility study, and the ideas and attitudes coming out of the workshops are informing that project, says Grossman. “It’s very affirming to be sitting in a planning meeting and hear someone quote points from one of our workshops,” she says, adding, “People are already looking forward to the next one.”
Nathan Norris is impressed by how much the Scottsdale REALTORS® have already achieved: “Rebecca and Suzanne are really showing fantastic leadership on behalf of the REALTORS®,” he says. “For the second year in a row, they put the right people in the room for the workshop, and just like last year, they’re following through with real action. This is a REALTOR® association that is truly serving its city, and the city clearly recognizes its initiative.”
To learn more about how the Scottsdale Area Association of REALTORS® is leading its city in Smart Growth development, contact Chief Executive Officer Rebecca Grossman at 480-945-2651; or Director of Community & Government Affairs, Suzanne Brown, at 480-945-2651.