Not Your Run of the Mill
Venue Projects and Sunbelt Holdings enter into negotiations to redevelop Tempe’s iconic Hayden Flour Mill
By Nora Burba Trulsson
For generations, Hayden Flour Mill has been a Tempe landmark. Located at the upper end of Mill Avenue, it’s an industrial complex once known for milling Arizona Rose and other flours, as well as for its iconic grain elevator and silos that rise next to the rocky Tempe Butte.
Also—seemingly for generations—there’s been talk about redeveloping the mill, with several proposals fizzling due to economic downturns or lack of funding. But in February, the City of Tempe, which owns the property, entered into negotiations with two local players to redevelop the mill site, an announcement that has received a thumbs up from entities like the Tempe Historic Preservation Commission, four Arizona tribes with ties to the site and the Arizona State Historic Preservation Office.
Venue Projects (venueprojects.com) and Sunbelt Holdings (sunbeltholdings.com) presented a proposal that goes light on the site, restoring the original mill buildings and developing the remainder of the five-acre property as a community-centric space, which will lean towards specialty retail food and beverage outlets, arts spaces, office and other hospitality.
“We are excited and honored to be a part of this project,” says Lorenzo Perez, a principal with Venue Projects. “We all feel this development needs to tell the story of the mill, Mill Avenue and Tempe, and honor the area’s cultural history.”
The pairing of Venue Projects and Sunbelt Holdings seems to be a match made in development heaven for this particular project. Perez co-founded Venue Projects in Phoenix in 2008 with fellow “re-developer” and builder Jon Kitchell, becoming a boutique practice known for breathing life back into Arizona landmarks, with such projects as the Rise Uptown Hotel, The Newton and The Orchard. Sunbelt Holdings, founded in 1979, is known for its large-scale projects, including McDowell Mountain Ranch in Scottsdale, and Tempe’s Marina Heights (near the mill), a 20-acre site that’s home to the largest single-tenant office development in the state’s history. “Both of our companies have different skill sets, which mesh perfectly for this mill project,” notes Perez.
The mill’s history dates back to 1874, when businessman and judge Charles Hayden (and father of U.S. Senator Carl Hayden) established the mill. The building burned twice until the present reinforced concrete building was constructed in 1918. The looming silos and grain elevator, also made of concrete, didn’t come on the scene until 1951 and were the tallest buildings in Tempe for years. While it seemed like the site sat abandoned for decades, it was actually an active mill until 1998. The property was sold to one developer in 2001, then purchased by the City of Tempe in 2001. Two other entities subsequently received development rights to the property, and those rights expired. In 2011, the city embarked in some light restoration of the mill and its grounds.
Perez explains that the Venue/Sunbelt approach is still fluid and evolving and will be based on extensive research and interviews with various stakeholders. They’ve put together a shortlist of potential architects, builders and landscape architects, too, keeping that list flexible, with a potential of collaboration between several design and build firms. “Right now, everything is still being formulated, so we don’t have any dates or budgets,” he says. “We’ve talked about creative ideas like using the grain elevator room as a distillery, the vestibule as an interpretive museum and maybe putting some kind of a view deck on top of the silos. It’s all just ideas right now.” Perez also notes that new buildings on the site would be low-key and not obscure the historic structures.
Why this, why now? “Mill Avenue was a very different place, even just a few years ago,” Perez says. “This is a significant, complicated site, and maybe that’s why nothing went forward for years. But Tempe is no longer just a small college town. This site is now surrounded by Class A offices and it has easy access to transit, Sky Harbor and downtown Phoenix. It will take time, but we are all trying to create a legacy here and a cultural amenity for Tempe.”