In the early 1980s I worked at the Arizona Republic/Phoenix Gazette building. Located at 120 E. Van Buren in the “heart” of downtown Phoenix, the newspaper building was (and remains) monumentally rectangular and squat. Three floors high and sparsely punctuated with slit-like windows, the building occupied an entire city block with a plainness that seemed an architectural surrender to the blast of desert sun that daily bathed it. A block down 2nd street on the left lay Phoenix Civic Plaza, at that time an acre or so of sun-blasted concrete sporadically peopled with disturbing modern statuary and anchored by Phoenix Symphony Hall.
Directly across Van Buren from the newspaper building was Phoenix’s hometown modernist skyscraper; the insanely glassy Valley National Bank Building (or “VNB”—today’s Chase Tower), whose lobby dinette I would occasionally patronize in my pitiable brown knit tie. Lunchtime forays to the forbidden realm beyond the VNB would reveal an eerie windblown downtown Phoenix of Olde— low-slung shoe shops, timeworn diners and sepia-toned, jazz-age office blocks that looked haunted in broad daylight.
That was then.
City within the City
The former sun-baked Civic Plaza is today’s celebrated Phoenix Convention Center—ground zero of Procore’s much-anticipated 2019 Groundbreak Construction Technology Conference. Completed in 2008 amid much fanfare, the architecturally stunning edifice is both luxurious meeting spot and habitable art object. The environs surrounding the Convention Center today boast 200 or so restaurants (don’t forget the one across the street that rotates) and some 3,500 hotel rooms, making this pleasantly gathered urban center a desert oasis.
Over the past 30 years downtown Phoenix has undergone a justly celebrated transformation. In just the past decade or so, nearly $5B has been thrown at downtown, the former no-man’s land transformed into a lavishly appointed city within the city. Light rail, arts, culture, sports, cocktails by lamplight—the downtown core of Phoenix today is a high tech wonderland of dazzling architecture and top-drawer hospitality.
Complex Sports Complexes
The transfiguration of downtown Phoenix may be said to have truly begun with the massive arrival of sports complexes downtown in the early 90s. Today’s Chase Field and Talking Stick Resort Arena (yes, the desert is a strange place, and that is part of its appeal) are located just south of the Phoenix Convention Center, and are as ostentatious, gigantic, and heart-quickening as spaceports in a sci-fi movie.
Chase Field, completed in 1998 (just in time for the Arizona Diamondbacks’ first season, and their imminent 2001 World Series win against the NY Yankees) was the first MLB field in the U.S. to feature a retractable roof—if roof is the right word here. Chase is also the only MLB field with a swimming pool in center-right field. Just the “press area” in this thing takes up 17,000 sqft. Seating? 48,569. Phoenix is a baseball town.
The very reasonably-named Talking Stick Resort Arena, built in ‘92, is the project that really set Phoenix on its ear back in the day, landing a world-class (and behemoth) sports coliseum square in the middle of a dusty desert downtown sorely in need of revitalization. Home of the Phoenix Suns (NBA), the Phoenix Mercury (WNBA), Arizona Rattlers (Indoor Football League), and, initially, the Phoenix Coyotes (NHL!), Talking Stick features a 16,000 sqft glass atrium, air conditioned and eye-popping, for chilling before a game or just hanging out before a concert. Seating is a mellow 18,422 within a shell whose footprint measures one million square feet.
Procore’s Groundbreak conference celebrates, venerates and elevates construction, and in 2019 has found a host city that is likewise immersed in the mission. Of Phoenix’s 792,000-strong workforce, about 71,000 of them are construction workers; meaning Phoenix has twice the number of construction workers one would predict based on employment figures. What better indication of a city that has (yes) risen from its own ashes on the wings of construction? Procore’s annual Groundbreak gathering— THE construction networking and techfest to rule them all (so to speak), awaits you.
While at Groundbreak, soak up some desert living—blazing sunsets so unbelievable you would laughingly dismiss them at an art show, statuesque saguaro cacti gesturing every which way, and bone-warming night air redolent with the lilting perfume of orange blossoms. Honestly.
I’m a writer at Procore, and a sentimental fool. I left Phoenix decades ago and am headed back this October for Groundbreak, and to check out my old stomping grounds. At least the parts I can recognize. Camelback Mountain, Scottsdale’s 5th Avenue, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West, and a power-gathering of your fellow world-builders....you’re gonna like it there. Grab your hard hat and stop in. And don’t bother cleaning the thing off. We’re family.
See you in Phoenix. Register for Groundbreak and learn more about travel and accommodations.