Today’s post is by contributing writer Kirby Hoyt:

Alright Phoenix, it’s time to find out what we’re made of. The call to improve Margaret T. Hance Park into a world-class amenity has sounded. It’s up to the citizens of this community to answer that call and show the rest of the world what this city is all about. And the challenge is substantial. World-class cities spend world-class amounts of money to construct their public spaces. In order to match what other cities have done, Phoenix will have to step up to the plate and prove their determination for this project. It will cost way more than most people think and too many will provide opposition because of that fact.

Let me take you through some of the numbers. When Hance Park was constructed, the underlying infrastructure on which the park is located, cost around $100 million to build. But the park itself only cost $5 million. For a 30-acre park, that comes to about $3.50 per square foot. In order to understand what that means, let’s compare it to the 35-acre Parc André Citroen in Paris which was built at the same time. Parisians spent $60 million for construction, which didn’t require costs of for any underlying infrastructure, meaning they spent $39.00 per square foot on the park. It’s one of my favorite parks that I’ve visited and is well-used and loved by Parisians and visitors alike for all types of activities.

Another example, Millennium Park in Chicago, a bit smaller than Hance Park at 24.5 acres, was built on top of a new garage/mega-structure. The total cost of the park inclusive of its amenities and infrastructure was $482 million. That comes in at a hefty $451 per square foot, with around $168 million of that being the cost of the garage and mega-structure. What you see above ground cost $294.00 per square foot. Chicago used their civic pride to initiate fundraising and they had several corporate and philanthropic backers to endow their new public space along with taxpayer funding. And the park is such an attraction that today it is returning on those investments.

Another example of an urban park is Grand Park in downtown Los Angeles which just opened to the public. At 12 acres it’s less than half of the size of Hance Park and the cost to implement it was $56 million. That’s a cost of $107 per square foot. And some residents there aren’t sure they’ve invested enough to make it an attraction. If Phoenix used the same construction costs for Hance Park as Grand Park costs ($100/sf) the budget for reconstruction of Hance Park should be $130 million.

These numbers may seem high but this is the reality of creating something at this  magnitude. My firm recently designed a new 5.5-acre neighborhood park in Henderson, Nevada with a $4.5 million budget. That’s almost $20 per square foot. And even though I designed it and happen to think it’s going to be pretty cool, it’s hard to imagine it would ever be called world-class. It’d be nice but I don’t think so. What’s important is the data shows that in order to realize the dream, the budget needs to be set accordingly.

Before we can have a world-class public space on the site of Hance Park, we need to take into consideration three things: 1) context, 2) cost and 3) programming.

Hance Park does not have the adjacent uses and traffic that other cities such as Chicago or Paris enjoy. Therefore it’s going to take creating some sort of destination attraction that will bring residents as well as visitors. What is the “thing” that will bring people to the park, a “must see/experience”?

Secondly, it’s going to cost a considerable sum of money to build and maintain. As I mentioned above, great spaces cost money. We need to be creative to find people and companies who want to share their civic pride and invest in Phoenix. How can we leverage what exists and building upon it? How can we invite donors to share in this endeavor?

And lastly, any great space needs great programming. There needs to be food vendors, a variety of entertainment and events happening year-round, and a diverse amount of activities when events aren’t taking place. With these things in place, Hance Park can become a positive attraction for Phoenix and a huge point of pride. All you have to do is ask yourself, why would I go to the park? What’s there for me? Your answer is part of the solution to making the park a great experience.

It would be a shame to have this much momentum and not set a realistic budget for the reconstruction of Hance Park. I would hate to see the people that have been working so hard on this effort be let down if it’s not funded properly and have this seen as a lateral move. If we invest in Hance Park let’s be sure to get a return on that investment, just like Chicago enjoys. Let’s make it happen and not lose this opportunity by being short-sighted. We can do this.

Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of the author.

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17 Responses

  1. With due respect to Mr. Hoyt, the author of this piece, I think he might want to have a conversation with the Hance Park Conservancy, a public-private group that has been formed to facilitate and fund the process Hance Park the new international standard of excellence for urban parks. Or he should speak with members of the now-sunset Hance Park Master Plan Steering Committee. Any one of us would gladly have had a conversation with him to get him up-to-date on the conversations and processes that have gotten us to this point. There is a Request for Qualifications process that is in the works to attract an international-class design team to develop a new Master Plan for Hance Park. More eyes are on Hance Park as there is more density in the area.

    (I am a member of the Hance Park Conservancy but I am not speaking on behalf of or for them in this post.)

  2. Jonce says:

    Excellent job with the numbers and comparisons. Basically, do we have the will?

    Eddie- I don’t think the story downplays the work that has already occurred. The RFQ is mentioned. I read this as simply making comparisons to other cities.

  3. Will Novak says:

    Unfortunately the current planning regarding Hance Park has been a joke. Any plans that allow a dog park to be built on the ‘hills’ over on the West side, or allow for the old Channel 12 Building to remain standing for the long term are laughable and ought to be immediately tossed into the waste bin.

    Kirby is right, Hance does need a major attraction/attractions. It also needs to be slightly expanded so not everything is being put on the deck. I wrote an over arching plan for Hance back in January that touches on a lot of the things Kirby mentions above:


    • Kiesha Locklear says:

      Thank You for the link. So many great points and ideas in there. I am forwarding it to members of the Hance Park Conservancy.

  4. Kiesha Locklear says:

    I wholeheartedly agree that Hance Park is in desperate need of a facelift. Which is why I also got involved with the Hance Park Conservancy. As a Roosevelt Neighborhood resident and graduate student in architecture and urban design, I felt compelled to become a part of the process. If Phoenix is to ever become the major metropolitan destination it wants to be, having an engaged population that is invested in successful public space is essential.

    As far as the article above, I appreciate the way the economics were broken down. However, when you start to make assessments based in $ per square foot, you should then also be talking about something that is not mentioned in the piece, DENSITY.

    Lets play the numbers game.. When thinking about the cities mentioned, Chicago, Paris, LA.. and lest we forget New York City (no shout out to Central Park?), and comparing them to Phoenix, density is essential to the whole comparative equation. Manhattan’s density is approximately 70,000 people per square mile. Paris: 55,000. Chicago 17,000. Los Angeles: 8,000. Phoenix? 2,700 people per square mile.

    Also, Phoenix is 500 square miles. Paris is only 40 square miles. Paris’s density is 20 times that of Phoenix on only 8% of the land area. Manhattan (at only 23 square miles!) also has a finite amount of land. Expansion is not an option, so land is extremely valuable. Because of these traits, any land devoted to public space in these cities is that much more valuable, and therefore worth investment. Another reason why we maybe shouldn’t compare Phoenix and these urban megalopolises. Although to a much lesser extent, a Phoenix/Chicago or Los Angeles comparison share similar disparities.

    Perhaps we should be looking at places like Houston and Dallas, Texas. Cities that have much more similar densities and climate. Or even a city like Denver, which has similar density but completely opposite climactic concerns, however they do have to deal with extreme weather conditions.. how do they approach climate as an issue in public space? These cities have dense downtowns that mix residential and commercial and have vibrant public space projects. Denver: 16th Street Mall, Dallas: Trinity River Corridor Project, Houston: Discovery Green.

    Density is essential to the metropolitan ideal that many Phoenician mentalities are obsessed with. Unfortunately, Phoenix is, simply, spread way too thin for this model to be a reality in the near future. Philanthropy was touched upon in the article, but you still need that density for those that are philanthropic (both businesses and individuals) to exist to draw upon for capital investment. Last time I looked, Phoenix is not dripping with billionaires… not in Hance Park anyway. You also need enough tax-paying bodies per square mile to have the money for not only capital investment but the maintenance of great public space as well.. Yes, there is state and federal money out there. However, depending on that for the overall well being of public space in a city, is a mistake. This is supposed to be a Republican state right?

    So.. a conundrum indeed. However, until we understand how serious a role density plays in the economics of Phoenix, and address it somehow, it will be quite difficult to devise successful solutions to Phoenix’s issues in general, let alone those of Hance Park.


    (Disclaimer: this comment is my personal viewpoint and does not reflect the opinion of the Hance Park Conservancy.)

    • Will Novak says:

      Density, in the way you’re using it, isn’t a relevant statistic. Phoenix is less dense than many Cities, but not as much less dense as your numbers would suggest.

      How many Cities have America’s largest City owned park in them? One. Its Phoenix and that park is South Mountain Park, its 16,000+ acres. South Mountain park is within the City limits and has a population density of zero. Now add in all the other Mountain and desert preserves, that too drives down our population density.

      Now if you look at all the huge areas of undeveloped land, you also see why PHXs raw population density is low. Look at all the land in far North Phoenix that the City annexed and hasn’t been developed and likely won’t for many years, that area also pushes PHXs population density number downward.

      What you want to look at is, density per built mile. From my understanding, if you look at those numbers PHX is on par with some East Coast cities like say Baltimore. Also, PHX is getting more dense each year, not less dense like most Cities.

      All of that being said, yes Central PHX needs to become more dense to support the urban lifestyle many of us want. The density issue is one of the many reasons the City needs to take a holistic view looking at Hance Park, not only does the Park need to be fixed but so does the ‘outer park’, the surrounding areas.

      Making Hance Park a world class park may encourage more density around the park. Or maybe increasing density around the park will make more people interested in the park, and they’ll push for it to be world class. Its a chicken and the egg issue. However, in my view, the City owns the park and can actually start doing something about that end of the equation. The City isn’t a real estate developer, and they can do a lot to encourage new development and density around the park, but mostly thats up to the market.

      • Kiesha Locklear says:

        The argument that park land accounts for some of the density issues that Phoenix has is a bit off the mark, I think. 17.8% of Manhattan is public park land. However, parks account for only 14.8% of Phoenix.

        So, while the quantity of open space park land in Phoenix greatly exceeds Manhattan, or any similar city, the percentage of park land, park density, is roughly equal. With park density being so similar, the fact that the density of people differentiates by so much becomes completely relevant.

        • Will Novak says:

          Park space is only one part of the equation. Look how much of the land in the City limits of Phoenix is undeveloped and likely will be for 20+ years. One only needs to take a trip North on the I-17 to see how amazingly far North the “Phoenix” border is.

          Density is important, but its also important how you lay out a neighborhood or development. A lot of new suburban stucco box neighborhoods are actually quite dense, the homes are built on tiny lots. But the homes are on curvilinear streets full of cul de sacs, abutting arterial roads, and its not laid out in a way that you can get anywhere except by car.

          Again, density per built mile is a more important statistic than just raw density. And the way a neighborhood is platted is vastly more important than either density figures.

  5. Juan says:

    International, world-class, $$$$, it’s all right; I just want to know, How is the park going to modify the weather and stimulate the people of Phoenix to stay outside year round?

    • Will Novak says:

      I lived in Boston where its cold 4 months out of the year. Phoenix has nice outdoor weather 8 months out of the year, and 4 months of the year its hot. If cold cities like Boston, Minneapolis, Toronto, etc. can have great places, so can a hot place like Phoenix.

      Trees, misters, shade, grass and proper sun orientation can do a lot to combat the heat. With good design, its a challenge but nothing that can’t be overcome.

      At least in a hot place you have the nighttime, when there’s some relief. In Boston, it only got colder and more miserable at night. Even in the dead of Phoenix’s summer, my girlfriend and I ride our bikes to Encanto Park and its cool green grass at night, and we see others doing the same, and fishing, swimming, playing basketball, etc.

  6. Gard Garland says:

    Thinking out loud, if/when Hance Park is developed what happens to Steele Indian School Park? Is there enough different programming to justify keeping it.

  7. Brandi says:

    Kiesha, thank you for this information. I am in complete agreement with your analysis of Phoenix’s needs, and will also oppose all development of Hance park that is aimed toward providing forms of recreation that other venues already provide. I believe Hance Park should maintain its current state of semi-developed space.

  8. Louise roman says:

    Exactly…we have Encanto and Steele and Civic Space and a number of smaller neighborhood parks not far away from Hance. But Hance has a unique urban location and assets directly around it:
    1) infrastructure of two light rail stations and major artery of I 10, as wells as surface connectivity to Central at McDowell and Roosevelt 2) proximity to downtown and Roosevelt Row and the vibrancy that area represents 3) cultural and civic amenities at its door step : Phoenix Central Library, Phoenix Art Museum, sister cities Irish Cottage and Japanese Friendship Garden, Jewish Cultural Center, Arizona School for the Arts, Phoenix Center for the Arts and others 4) nearby historic neighborhoods .
    Because these already exist a special investment in Hance is warrented.
    Therefore the RFQ for Hance that if well crafted
    and widely disseminated will draw response from local, regional, national
    amd international design teams !
    So let’s ‘start where we are’ with this unique opportunity. That will mean being mindful of all the efforts to date by the city, the neighborhoods and
    the officially recognized committees and civic groups. It will also mean being really engaged ‘on the ground’ in the civic and political work it will take to pull this off. We might start by looking here :
    1) let’s fully understand the typology of parks that exist in Phoenix: urban, suburban and preserve parks. How do each of these get funded for capital improvements as well as day to day operations and where are the opportunities to increase the flow to urban areas…taking the leap of faith that says’build it and they will come ‘?
    2) let ‘s really understand the potential assets of Hance but also the challenges that exist because it is largely on a ‘deck’ over I-10 . How do we partner with ADOT for a win-win going forward.
    3) let’s embrace the density around Hance and be alert to the potential for public/ private partnerships that support Hance with money as well as programming.

    (I am a member of the Hance Park Conservancy but I am not speaking on behalf of or for them in this post.)

  9. esc says:

    I think everyone made some great points in here and I have found myself thinking similar thoughts about urban spaces and parks. I have lived in other great cities and have seen how they used there parks and squares compared to the valley where I grew up. Places like Denver, San Fran, San Diego, LA, Portland, Chicago, Vancouver, Detroit and Philly. Some amazing spaces and places to be at during certain times of the year. Each had something similar and different that made it unique to each place. The thing I found myself asking is what makes this place? We have all the usual such as density, climate, design and so forth. Now each of these places can teach us something about how great parks are used and attract people. The competing issue here is that people do love open spaces. but the like more of the natural environment and mtns in and around the city. these by themselves thousands of users most of the year. They are great and unique spaces.

    People do like the outdoors here, but when it comes to typical park usage, its 105-112 during the summer. People rather go swimming, to the lake or river, the cool mtns, or California. But what did people do decades ago? I asked my family who has been here for four generations now. I asked my grandparents and parents who were here before air condition and how they survived the heat. Some interesting story’s of how they cooled off as kids, family’s and communities. They would use the canals or the Salt River at the old tempe beach park. the shade with native and river trees provided a cool and a fun setting for people to cool off. Most parks have water, but its not interactive or designer friendly or the city has legal issues with public use of water etc.

    I really like Hance Park. Its a great space that has some hurdles in my view and I wish those who are members of the HPC good luck in making this a great urban parks space. More open space and park space is not a bad thing here in the valley. Quality spaces is what is needed.

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