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Tempe City Council approves Whole Foods, residential development for downtown area

The current empty lot on the northwest corner of Ash Avenue and University Drive where The Local is planned for 2018. 

The current empty lot on the northwest corner of Ash Avenue and University Drive where The Local is planned for 2018. 

The Tempe City Council approved a nine-story residential development, which would include a Whole Foods Market on the northwest corner of Ash Avenue and University Drive in a unanimous vote during their June 23 meeting. 

All seven city council members voted in favor of the development called The Local, which will feature a fitness facility, bowling alley and other amenities for residents, as well as the public. The Local is slated to open in 2018. 

Councilwoman Lauren Kuby said the arrival of Whole Foods will mark an important turn for the downtown Tempe area. 

"We have a food desert in Tempe," she said.

Kuby said the Whole Foods will be the first grocery store downtown in 15 years.

Councilman Koby Granville said he is also in favor of the development, but was unsure of whether Whole Foods would be the best fit for the downtown Tempe community. 

"The downtown area desperately needs a grocery store," he said. "I would have voted for any grocery store."

Granville expressed concerns that Whole Foods does not cater to the demographic that makes up downtown Tempe — mostly low-income college students.

Although Whole Foods ultimately got the deal to set up in close proximity to ASU, the Tempe City Council asked every grocery store they could find to move in, and they all denied, Granville said.

Granville said downtown Tempe is starting to grow residentially and needs a proper grocery store to continue in its growth.

By bringing more up-scale businesses such as Whole Foods to the area, those with higher incomes will begin to inhabit more and more of the area, Granville said.

"It you put in a Whole Foods, that attracts a whole different demographic to move into that area," he said. "What's there sort of affects who moves there."

Forum Real Estate Group is in charge of the development. Teresa Hanson, vice president of brand strategy, and David Clock, development manager, said they visited the area several times while planning the project to gauge the area's needs before moving ahead with the development.

The development was originally titled The Foundry, but switched to The Local to reflect a close-knit community, Hanson said.

"We really went out and surveyed the landscape and the people that live in it and found out what they like, what's missing," Clock said. "It's going to be a very Tempe, organic-focused development." 

Although The Local will have residences, it is also being designed as a hang-out spot for locals, Clock and Hanson said.

Wi-Fi, a bowling alley, a bar, a center courtyard and several other attractions are being planned to make the development open to the community, even for those who do not live in the building. 

"Our design is going to bleed onto University with a lot of outdoor seating area," Clock said. "They don't want to just go to the market, grab what they need and go. They want to go to the market and then sit and chat and hang out a little bit."

Hanson said the development will help meet the needs of the community, by bringing a reliable source of food to the area, as well as top-notch entertainment.

Residents will be able to take an elevator straight down to the Whole Foods store, something the chain has never done before, Hanson said. 

"As a resident, what better way to get your groceries than to just take a cart that's upstairs in your apartment?" she said. "It's going to be amazing."

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