Ground has officially been broken at the future site of Litchfield Square, an ambitious development project nearly three decades in the making that has cycled through several rounds of city leadership and design concepts.
Various city leaders involved in the project spoke to a small crowd Wednesday at the groundbreaking ceremony held outside the gated-off construction site adjacent to Litchfield Park City Hall.
The $52 million development project is the city’s attempt at creating a downtown core, which will be on the east side of Litchfield Road, north of Wigwam Boulevard.
Plans for Litchfield Square, which was until recently named City Center, envision a public-private mixed-use project featuring 400,000-square-feet of multistory restaurants, retail, offices and possibly residential space surrounding a 2.5-acre park.
City Engineer Woody Scoutten, also the project manager of Litchfield Square, called the development a “legacy project” and the culmination of his 50-year engineering career.
“It’s also a huge legacy for the city,” Scoutten said. “There’s not a lot of cities that have the opportunity to plan and build a significant portion of their downtown from scratch.”
Litchfield Park leaders past and present were in attendance at the groundbreaking ceremony. Mayor Tom Schoaf thanked the city’s past mayors and council members for continuing to push forward with the development plans.
“Without their leadership, we wouldn't be standing here today,” he said.
Schoaf choked back tears as he recognized the contributions of Paul Litchfield, the deceased Goodyear Tire executive for whom Litchfield Park is named.
“I also want to remember and recognize Paul Litchfield,” Schoaf said. “He was dedicated to this vision of a new town...his dedication is what...allowed this town to prosper and be such a special place for the families that live here...“I know that (Paul Litchfield) would support” the Litchfield Square development, Shoaf said.
The origin of Litchfield Square goes back to 1996, when city leadership conceived of a project then named the Village Center Specific Project. Plans were drawn up with the help of famed Colorado architect Carl Worthington.
It appears there was not an appetite for such a project in the mid-1990s. “It’s unfortunate that that plan caused tremendous controversy,” Shoaf said, for reasons he called “totally unfounded.”
The project remained dormant for many years. Then, between 2014 and 2017 the city began buying up parcels of land for about $5 million. The city now holds about 30 acres, and a little more than 12 of those acres will go to private developers.
In 2018, Destination Litchfield Park began drawing up plans for the development, which took two years and included input from city residents.
Construction plans were delayed in 2020 because of the pandemic. In November 2020, Chandler-based construction company Achen-Gardner was brought on as construction manager at-risk.
The groundbreaking ceremony was just that 一 ceremonial. Workers from Achen-Gardner Construction have been at the site for months, leveling the ground and preparing utility installations and drainage improvements.
As city leaders addressed the crowd, workers in neon green vests and white hard hats milled around the site. Trucks could be seen spraying down the dirt lot, beeping incessantly as they reversed backward.
The first and second phase of development, expected to cost $6.3 million, are already underway, and have been since July and early August. Development is planned in five phases, called “GMPs” in city council agendas.
Right now, crews are preparing underground utilities and installing a storm drain system. Curbs, gutters and pathway infrastructures are being built, and roadway improvements will begin on Litchfield Road, including the installation of a $1 million roundabout at Village Parkway.
Phase one of the park will begin, and Schoaf announced the city is in talks with potential developers.
City leaders are expecting to see tremendous progress on the development during the next year, but the long road to a fully-developed downtown core is far from over, as Schoaf recognized.
“This journey we're on is not going to be done quickly,” Shoaf said. “Some mayor may be up here a decade from now saying...we’re going to finally close out construction.” he said.
The project is not expected to be completed in full until 2028.
Scoutten told the crowd he can hardly wait for Litchfield Square to be completed.
“For me this project is kind of like being a kid a few weeks before Christmas. I know the day is going to come when I'm going to get to open this present and see it in its final form.” Scoutten said.
“We're all going to get there one day and this is going to be a wonderful project.”
Madeline Ackley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or found on Twitter @Mkayackley.