February 15, 2017
Office complex, renovated hotel, restaurant transform crime-ridden area into a thriving center, pump $670 million into the local economy each year
On the bustling northeast corner of 27th Avenue and Camelback Road, Grand Canyon University is turning an area plagued by crime and blight into a major commercial hub that is destined to change the face of the gateway to the West Valley.
The university has replaced a run-down hotel, adult shop, used car lot and swap mart with a newly opened 325,000-square-foot office complex, renovated hotel, new restaurant and a business/ economic/education innovation center that will pump an estimated $670 million into the state and local economy each year.
"This development is part of our broader vision to return the area into a safe, middle-class neighborhood, with good-paying jobs, A-rated schools and K-12 students excited about the prospect of going to college," GCU President Brian Mueller said. "That corner, in particular, had for many years been one of the worst crime areas in the Valley. Through our partnership with the Phoenix Police Department and other outreach efforts in the community, we've been able to change that. There's more work to be done, but this new commercial space will continue to extend prosperity into our surrounding neighborhood and spur economic growth in the West Valley."
The 37-acre development, which sits off Interstate 17 at the proposed home of a new light rail extension that will connect Phoenix to the West Valley, includes 1.3 million square feet of office, retail and parking structures. Part of this development is a state-of-the-art, four-story office building that brings more than 2,700 university employees to the neighborhood each day. Most of those previously had been employed at leased office space in Tempe and northern Phoenix. The 155-room GCU Hotel and Canyon 49 Grill are expected to draw thousands more to the area.
All told, the development will have an estimated annual economic impact of $660 million, including wages of more than $250 million, according to findings from a study by Elliott D. Pollack & Company. Tourism will pour another $9.8 million into the local economy each year, the study reports.
On top of the annual revenues, construction of the development resulted in a $170 million economic output in 2016. Of that total, construction taxes generated $6 million for the state, $1.3 million for Maricopa County and $2.7 million for the city of Phoenix. Once the complex is fully built out, the state will collect $2.6 million annually in taxes, the county will net $1.1 million and the city will realize $2 million each year from primary and secondary tax revenue generated by operations, according to the study.
"Grand Canyon University is a significant positive for the Phoenix area," said Elliott Pollack, renowned economist and CEO of his parent company. "Not only does it provide quality education to a large number of students, but it is a significant catalyst to investment and has been a prime catalyst behind the redevelopment of an older community in Phoenix. The university is for the most part a base sector industry. It brings money into the community from the outside and keeps money here that might have otherwise gone out of state. Overall, the impact when considering construction impacts, operational impacts and student impacts exceed $1 billion annually in economic output. The fiscal impacts in total are in the tens of millions of dollars range annually."
Since purchasing the hotel, GCU upgraded the rooms and added a resort-like pool plus a 300-seat Canyon 49 Grill restaurant. The university also invested in staff: The hotel is managed by a veteran of the hospitality industry who spent nearly a decade at luxury hotels such as the Ritz-Carlton and the Four Seasons.
In addition to accommodating parents, alumni, online students, athletic teams and other visitors to the area, the hotel will serve as a training ground for students in the university's hospitality management program.
Canyon 49 Grill, named for the year of the university's inception, is where the GCU spirit meets the Phoenix food scene. It features a full breakfast/lunch/dinner menu, coffee bar, live music in the evenings and outdoor patio games.
The new four-story office complex will be home to student service departments that support the University's 80,000-plus students - approximately 65,000 online and 17,500 on the ground campus.
A 131,031-square-foot building that was converted from a swap mart into an office building will now transition into a business, economic and education innovation center for new ideas and business ventures. It also will be home to GCU's New Business Development Center, which opened last summer. NBDC offers free seminars, resources and one-on-one consulting for existing business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs in the Canyon Corridor area.
The 27th Avenue renovation is part of the university's five-point plan to revitalize the west Phoenix neighborhood in which it resides through:
- Job creation on GCU's campus: The number of full-time employees has tripled from 1,219 in 2008 to nearly 4,000.
- Job creation off campus: GCU is launching 10 new business enterprises that will provide management opportunities for its recent graduates and employment opportunities for current students and neighborhood residents, while spurring economic growth in the area.
- Significant support for K-12 education: The university's free tutoring/mentoring program has expanded to 25 Phoenix-area high schools and is served by 1,200 GCU students. Through partnerships with Valley businesses, it provides 100 full-tuition college scholarships per year for students from inner-city schools.
- Home values: The largest home renovation project in the country with Habitat for Humanity and a throng of university volunteers, coupled with GCU's expanded presence in the community, has resulted in a 30 percent increase in home values in the 85017 zip code in the past year.
- Safety: GCU is in Year 4 of a $1 million partnership with Phoenix Police to improve safety in the communities surrounding GCU. Crime has dropped 30 percent in the two-mile radius surrounding the University.
"These are real programs that are producing real results in an inner city," Mueller said, "and they're impacting thousands of families."
During the past eight years, GCU has grown from a roughly 100-acre campus with approximately 900 traditional ground students to a roughly 300-acre campus with approximately 17,500 ground students. The university also expanded its academic offerings; there are now more than 200 academic programs across the university's nine colleges.
To complement its campus expansion projects - which will total $1 billion over a 10-year time frame --the university, through a dynamic public private partnership with the City of Phoenix, also transformed the deteriorating Maryvale Golf Course. A property that was costing taxpayers $250,000 a year is now the profitable public Grand Canyon University Championship Golf Course, with a new clubhouse and Lope House Grill, that is attracting thousands of visitors to the west side of Phoenix.
About Grand Canyon University: Grand Canyon University was founded in 1949 and is Arizona's premier private Christian university. GCU is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and offers more than 200 academic programs for both traditional undergraduate students and working professionals. The University's curriculum emphasizes interaction with classmates, both in-person and online, and individual attention from instructors while fusing academic rigor with Christian values to help students find their purpose and become skilled, caring professionals. For more information, visit gcu.edu.
- Bob Romantic
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