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The $600 million expansion of the Phoenix Convention Center—managed by the city's public works department—will triple the building's size to 2 million square feet. Photo: Phoenix Convention Center

Even the best-built home needs sprucing up from time to time, especially if the family living there has grown. The city of Phoenix has increased in size from its incorporation in 1881 (2500 residents) to today (1.3 million), turning it in a little more than a century and a quarter from a humble desert town to the fifth largest municipality in the country. That's quite a big “family.”

To keep the quality of life in pace with the quantity, city planners and developers have teamed up to revitalize downtown Phoenix: adding and expanding entertainment complexes, convention space, educational facilities, research centers, and other world-class features. Without the city's infrastructure managers, however, efforts to reinvent the city would go nowhere.

Juggling ambitious downtown development with aging infrastructure, omnipresent budget shortfalls, and meeting the needs of one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the country are a challenge for Phoenix's infrastructure managers. However, the leaders of its Public Works, Street Transportation, and Water Services departments meet these challenges with open communication, and thoughtful planning.

Back In The Beginning

If you ask any of the directors of the city's public-works-related departments, Phoenix has always been a first-rate metropolis. However, since about two decades ago, future-minded planners and infrastructure managers saw population growth and urban sprawl were nibbling around the city's edges, a situation that could only worsen into the approaching millennium.

“Rapid growth has led many people to look for an alternative to continued suburban sprawl,” says Brian Kearney, president and CEO of the Downtown Phoenix Partnership. “People are tired of the sameness of the suburbs, the long commutes, etc., and are looking for another type of place to escape to from time to time.”

Kearney's organization, formed 17 years ago, is a non-profit entity comprising a partnership between city officials and scores of developers, put together to foster revitalization of Copper Square, the 90-block core of Phoenix's downtown area. While the Downtown Phoenix Partnership constitutes a sizable chunk of the downtown area, it's not the only player in the game that infrastructure managers must face off against.

Five years ago, the city created a dedicated Downtown Development Office consisting of legal counsel, finance directors, and infrastructure managers. The group is intended to help the city's public works-focused departments keep apprised of projects, and to make sure infrastructure can meet the needs each project creates. And in 2004, the city released Downtown Phoenix: A Strategic Vision and Blueprint for the Future. This revitalization manifesto spells out city planners' goals to develop new housing units, attract more businesses and jobs, foster artistic and cultural development, and provide financial incentives to developers to make it all happen.