By Mark Carlisle
As it takes over the campus formerly of the Thunderbird School of Global Management, Arizona Christian University plans to transform the campus from a commuter school to an on-campus living environment. New housing developments are also planned for the 85 acres of vacant land neighboring the campus.
The school plans as many as 1,400 on-campus housing units and a neighboring housing development plans to build as many as 642 homes on the vacant land next to the campus.
Glendale’s Planning Commission approved zoning amendments for both the campus and surrounding land, which will slightly modify allowed land uses on campus and pave the way for housing developments next to it. City Council must give final approval on the zoning amendments.
The YMCA on the property will stay.
Arizona State University moved its Thunderbird School of Global Management from its long-time home at 59th Avenue and Greenway Road in Glendale to ASU’s downtown Phoenix campus last year. ASU then transferred the Thunderbird Campus to ACU as part of a land exchange agreement in which ASU received ACU’s former campus in north Phoenix.
ACU plans major renovations to the Glendale campus and plans to open by the fall.
“ACU is excited to come to this campus. It’s a new chapter in their story,” said Brian Greathouse, a lawyer with Burch & Cracchiolo representing ACU. “We’ve heard from the city that the city’s excited to have ACU on this campus… The Thunderbird School and ASU are also excited to transfer this campus to a new university to continue the campus use on the property and continue the rich tradition of this area.”
In addition to transforming the campus from a commuter campus to an on-campus living environment, ACU projects its student population will nearly triple in the next decade as it moves to Glendale. The school currently has about 700 students. It wants to reach around 1,250 within five years and around 2,000 within 10 years.
The proposed zoning would allow for up to 1,400 housing units on campus. Up to 550 of those units can be traditional apartment-type units or senior housing. The rest must be student-only housing.
At its peak, the Thunderbird School had about 2,000 housing units on campus, according to Mr. Greathouse. Before its departure to Phoenix, only about 200 housing units were being used.
Student housing buildings can be up to 65 feet and five stories high, based on the proposed zoning. Other buildings on campus are limited to 56 feet.
The campus includes a hotel, which would be limited by the proposed zoning to 150 rooms, down from 250 in the current zoning.
Glendale’s special projects executive officer Tabitha Perry said part of the hope for an on-campus living environment at ACU would be to boost surrounding businesses.
Mr. Greathouse echoed that hope.
“If the students are supported on the site, students will stay on the site and they’ll shop at surrounding businesses, providing some interjection of money into the area,” he said.
The proposed zoning will allow for certain commercial uses on campus to compliment the university. Ms. Perry said these would namely be restaurants, as well as things like medical centers or child care facilities.
The zoning change for the vacant land around the campus is a separate zoning request as it is still owned by ASU until it sells to a home developer. The proposed change would allow for up to 642 homes across the 85 acres for a development called Thunderbird Village.
The YMCA, which originally leased but now owns the land its on at the southwest edge of the site, will take up five acres.
Mike Withey, lawyer with Withey Morris representing ASU, said one of the top concerns he heard from the community was to keep the YMCA.
“That was not just a benefit to this property, it was a benefit to the community at-large,” Mr. Withey said.
Ten acres to the north of the YMCA will be designated for townhomes. Sixteen acres at the north end of the site will be designated for apartments. The bulk of the site, 54 acres at the southeast, will be designated for single-family homes.
The 54 acres of single-family homes would require a new subdivision, which will require the planning commission and City Council to approve a preliminary and final plat for the development.
At the request of existing residents to the south and east of the site, there will be no traffic access to the proposed residential developments along Acoma Drive to the south or 55th Avenue to the east. Instead, access will mainly be along 57th Avenue, which intersects the campus and the planned residential site, as well as a few points along 59th Avenue and Greenway Road.
There will be pedestrian access to the south and east of the site, largely to allow access to the Kachina Elementary School and Saint Raphael Catholic Church to the southeast.
The campus first opened in 1941 as the first U.S. Army air-training base in the Phoenix area, before becoming a university campus in 1946. There are several original buildings still on the site that have been repurposed.
Ron Short, President of the Glendale, Arizona Historical Society, said 10,000 pilots from 30 countries trained at the base during World War II.
ACU plans to preserve the airfield control tower, international business information center and Thunderbirds Pilots Memorial, said James Griffiths, ACU’s Vice President for University Engagement. The memorial might be relocated, however, likely next to the control tower.
Mr. Griffiths said ACU wants to but cannot commit to preserving the Yount building and the hangar building. He said because the Yount building is in the middle of campus, “it may need to be modified or potentially removed to allow ACU to develop its full plans for this site.”
ACU hopes to use the hangar as an athletics building, likely as locker rooms, but renovation costs may make preserving the building unfeasible. The university has found problems with the buildings roof and fears it may discover asbestos, which it has with several other buildings on campus, driving up renovation costs.
“We understand and acknowledge and actually appreciate the historical significance that it brings and desire to make it part of our campus community. We just aren’t certain what that will look like going forward,” Mr. Griffiths said.
Mr. Short spoke at last month’s planning commission hearing urging commissioners to add a stipulation that the school must preserve both the hangar and Founder’s Hall.
“Historic preservation matters,” Mr. Short said.
The commission approved the zoning changes unanimously without adding further stipulations. Mr. Griffiths did not speak to ACU’s plans for Founder’s Hall.