$22 Million Redevelopment Puts Phoenix’s 15-Year-Old Desert Ridge Marketplace Back in the Heart of its Community

One could say that Desert Ridge Marketplace has grown up with its customers. The 1.2 million-square-foot lifestyle and power center, located in the 5,700-acre Desert Ridge master-planned community of the Phoenix Northeast Valley, officially reopened this past November, after a $22 million renovation.

The local trade area population is about 312,000, though the demographics have changed significantly since Desert Ridge Marketplace was built in 2001. “When we first opened the project, Gen-Y tenants were the focus because, frankly, all those households had teenagers,” said David J. Larcher, president and a founding principal of Vestar, which owns the project. “Now, as those teenagers have grown up and had their own kids, we are evolving the tenant mix a little bit so it becomes a little more sophisticated, a little more adult and a more well-rounded experience.”

Located along Loop 101/Pima Freeway at Tatum Boulevard, Desert Ridge Marketplace lists on its tenant roster Albertsons, an AMC movie theater, Barnes & Noble, Dave & Busters, HomeGoods, Kohl’s, Marshalls, Old Navy, Ross Dress for Less and Target.

The redevelopment’s timing was right, Larcher says, given the changing dynamics of retailing in general and of the local trade area in particular. “It’s been extremely successful, really, since the day it opened, 15 years ago,” he said. “But we just felt it was time for a refresh to bring it up to contemporary standards in terms of design and merchandising and the tenant mix. It really has a lot to do with how North Phoenix and the community of Desert Ridge have matured and grown.”

Loop 101 has become one of the busiest freeways in the entire Phoenix metro, and the local housing market has rebounded from the 2008 recession. The Desert Ridge area has also attracted the largest resort in Arizona: the JW Marriott Desert Ridge, directly across the street. The Mayo Clinic has opened a hospital and is building a cancer research center there in partnership with Arizona State University. American Express has continued to expand its offices, with about 7,000 employees living nearby.

Then, too, the cancellations of several planned retail projects help Vestar’s cause. “Those projects have gone by the wayside and are more than likely never going to be built, so hence it was an opportunity for us to take our project up to the next level,” said Larcher.

A key component of the redevelopment was the creation of a 60,000-square-foot section devoted to health and well-being. A Pilates studio, a Massage Envy and a Flower Child health-food restaurant are new tenants there. “These tenants, services and facilities are geared toward a female customer,” noted Larcher.

Adding more food options was certainly a priority. “We focused on putting in chef-driven restaurants and entertainment,” said Larcher. Mexican restaurant Barrio Queen, one of the area’s most popular eateries, opened at Desert Ridge Marketplace this past October, its third restaurant in the Valley. Larcher concedes that he had not anticipated this level of demand from restaurateurs for space in the redevelopment. “I would say that caught us a little bit by surprise,” he said.

Entertainment is a major theme and point of emphasis too — the center holds nearly 300 public events per year that are free of charge. “We’ve always believed in programming, and [we] created the common areas and common-area amenities to accommodate that,” said Larcher. “We’ve focused the remerchandising to put in uses that will continue to enhance and expand our trade area by doing entertainment venues.” The redevelopment includes a live-music venue and a comedy club.

Vestar also took the opportunity to update the center’s architecture and to create more connectivity between the buildings. “In terms of the physical improvements, architecturally and aesthetically it’s a more sophisticated vernacular in terms of the environment we’ve created, as opposed to the early-2000s, which was all about pastel colors and those sorts of things,” said Larcher. The new finishes include natural woods and more monochromatic tones.

The sophistication extends to a new outdoor-lifestyle area at one end of the center, featuring boccie courts and other recreational amenities that appeal to adults. Older structures used for shading were replaced with live palm trees, and the revamp incorporates artificial turf in areas once made from concrete, to give the project a more parklike feel.

Connecting every element of the center was important, Larcher says. “With a project of this size, obviously, there are huge parking lots between the buildings, so we connected the buildings with shaded canopy structures that are landscaped, have misting systems and play music.”

Larcher says he learned several key things through the makeover. First and foremost is the importance of knowing the local trade area. “You really have to know the local community and what their needs and desires are and do whatever you can to weave them into the fabric of your project,” he said. On one Sunday in early November, the center was host to a food-and-wine festival for some 7,000 people, which raised money for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

“All of a sudden, by [our offering] these opportunities for community members to really experience a nice environment, they embrace the project and it becomes theirs — the community takes ownership of it, and you develop a very strong customer loyalty by doing that,” said Larcher.

Vestar has two other major renovation projects under way. One of these is a 600,000-square-foot, destination lifestyle center called The Gateway, in downtown Salt Lake City. The firm has plans to transform the property into an urban entertainment center with the new tenants to include comedy clubs, music venues, a Dave & Busters, additional restaurants and a boutique hotel. “It’s probably one of the most exciting projects we have going on right now,” said Larcher.


September 2001 Vestar opens Desert Ridge Marketplace, first major power center in North Phoenix

September 2015 Plans announced for a $22 million redevelopment

January 2017 Ground broken on the renovation

November 2017 Redevelopment officially completed