Energy, optimism characterize start of Hallman’s reign as
By Mark Moorehead
Most mayors wait until their first day on the job to begin work. Not Tempe’s Hugh Hallman. Grappling with some of the difficult issues that loomed on the horizon as early as May 1, Hallman seems to have dived into his new responsibilities before the honeymoon was over—or even started, for that matter.
Weeks prior to his inauguration, Hallman was mediating a dispute between landowners and developers regarding the site of the new Tempe Marketplace at Rio Salado Parkway and McClintock Drive.
Likewise, the new mayor has been meeting with ASU President Michael Crow, his staff and local business and community leaders for more than two months to help kick start a program of work that only officially started July 15.
I recently met with Mayor Hallman to discuss his vision for Tempe. It doesn’t take long to realize this man has more energy than the Palo Verde Nuclear generating plant and more enthusiasm than a stadium full of ASU boosters.
His hour-long, almost stream-of-conscience discussion of current and long-range priorities yielded a litany of observations, ideas and plans.
For example, in spite of a budget deficit and city staff reductions of 135 positions, Hallman predicts a bright future.
He says he intends to attract businesses to Tempe Town Lake that will make it vital and attractive, at the same time generating enough revenue to offset the cost of maintaining the facility.
As to the worries of some who are skeptical regarding ASU’s planned new direction, Hallman says he is excited about Crow’s plans to shape it into a research institution with the Bio Design Institute.
Hallman says he will work to make Tempe a “user friendly” city government for the spin-off businesses that wish to locate here for the benefits that come from that research.
What’s more, Hallman says, he envisions a vibrant university town with revitalized older neighborhoods, better maintained rental housing and legions of professionals calling downtown Tempe their new home.
Although downtown has undergone enormous physical growth in just a few short years, significant challenges remain, says Hallman.
“The city of Tempe has to address two fundamental issues. (First) it has to rebuild its economy. (Secondly), use those resources that it earns from that economy to stabilize and renew our older neighborhoods.”
Rebuilding Tempe’s economy is of paramount importance to the new mayor, he says, as he recounts some troubling statistics.
“For the first time in the city’s history we ran a $2 million deficit last year. Within two years, we’ll have a budget deficit of about $7 million, and the year after about $8 million,” says Hallman.
One of the reasons for the projected revenue deficit, says Hallman, is a decrease in Tempe’s share of revenue from the state of Arizona.
The state collects taxes and splits up this pool of revenue among cities based on population. Because Tempe’s population has grown at a much slower pace than communities like Gilbert and Chandler, its share of revenue from the state shrinks. According to Hallman, Tempe needs to stabilize the economy by “bringing back residential ownership downtown.
“That’s where the Center Pointe Project comes in. The Four Towers will be built at Sixth and Ash. That’s an example of the kind of project I think is correct,” says Hallman.
“I wouldn’t have jammed it through quite so quickly, and I think there are some issues that got overlooked. But philosophically the project is the right way to go. We need to have residences downtown,” Hallman says.
Such a larger residential presence downtown will produce a demand for more services, including grocery and drug stores, which Hallman says would diversify as well as increase Tempe’s tax base.
In turn, Hallman says, these returning businesses would be able to service surrounding neighborhoods, further strengthening them and reversing the growth of rental properties.
Mopping up the red ink
According to Hallman, one of the reasons for Tempe’s red ink is declining sales tax revenue along Mill Avenue.
Over the last 10 years, says Hallman, entertainment venues along Mill Avenue increased in number, followed by the recent smoking ban that drove away many patrons from these establishments.
And, downtown Tempe lost many of its one-of-a-kind, mom-and-pop establishments that never had to compete with mall stores because of their uniqueness.
However, a preponderance of chain-store businesses and restaurants that now occupy the downtown must compete with their counterparts at so called “big-box” malls in Scottsdale and Chandler.
Hallman says part of the solution is for Tempe to “return to its roots and seek to acquire and attract unique mom-and-pop kinds of retailing and operations.”
Hallman contends that another critical component to guarantee the long-term stability of Mill Avenue as an economic district is the need to connect to Tempe Town Lake. “Currently we have a two-block region between Mill Avenue and the lake that is just a dead zone,” Hallman says.
“People going downtown to Mill Avenue don’t go to the lake,” says Hallman. “People who go to the lake don’t go to Mill Avenue.”
This zone includes the flour mill site currently in litigation, with two deed restrictions preventing residential development.
Hallman says Tempe needs to preserve the mill and silos. However, he also emphasizes the need for this area to be developed with an appropriate mix of residential, retail and commercial development in order to eliminate the “dead zone.”
It will then become what he characterizes as “the neck connecting the head and body” of downtown Tempe.
“When you look at the lake corridor and Mill Avenue, and that T-intersection, bringing that together gets you the kind of synergy that’s similar to these larger outdoor, successful mall stores,” says Hallman.
In recent years, being mayor has been thought of as a part-time job. But considering Hallman’s whirlwind pace, there’s no doubt he’ll be putting in a lot of “overtime” in the next four years.
Pecan Grove Estates resident Mark Moorehead writes regularly for Wrangler News.