Empire Group, a Scottsdale-based developer, recently hosted a ribbon cutting to officially unveil Village at Pioneer Park, a luxury build-for-rent community in Peoria.
The event included some light refreshments, model home tours and a brief presentation.
For Shelby Duplessis, president of land development for Empire Group, this has been a long journey and a long time coming. She said with all the back and forth, she is grateful to the city’s team for sticking with the project.
“This has been a long time coming and a huge celebration for us and our team in the city of Peoria,” Duplessis said.
“Thank you for always bearing with us,” she added. “Thank you to the city for working with us and reinventing this project.”
A build-for-rent community was not always the plan for the property. Duplessis said at one time, the area was zoned for a “big commercial user.” However, three weeks after it was approved by Peoria City Council, the end user changed their model and canceled the deal.
“I always say to our team, if it was easy, anyone could do it,” Duplessis said. “I think that is what differentiates us at Empire is staying committed and, in the game, trying to figure out what works not just for us in our model but with our team.”
From there, Duplessis said the company turned to a residential plan. Empire Group already owned the property and had to completely retool the thought process.
“We were as you would call it stuck,” she said. “We just had the fight of our lives to get this commercial piece approved and to get the neighbors not only on board but satisfied with where we ended design wise. Now, we go back and tell them, ‘Just kidding. We want to do something different now.’”
After many planned meetings between Duplessis and Councilmember Vicki Hunt, Empire Group had its vision.
“I care deeply about this community and don’t have that much more to develop down here,” Hunt said. “This was a big one — 28 acres. That’s a big property, and I wanted it done right. I didn’t want tall, single-family houses and Shelby drove me around. We floated around to show me different models and what they look like. She would go back and tell her team, ‘No, that was a no, so we’re back to square one.’ But look what happened. Because we held out and we worked together. I wanted it to feel like home … and look at what they came up with.
“Anytime Empire wants to build in my neighborhood, you’re welcome.”
Randy Grudzinski, partner, head of capital markets for Empire Group, said this build-for-rent-style of housing didn’t exist five or six years ago. For him, this community opening in Peoria could not come at a better time. This community can serve as an option for a real “sense of home” to a very large demographic.
“What you’re looking at here is … a potential solution to one of the biggest problems facing us right now, and that is the fact that we’re under-supplied by 3 to 5 million housing units,” Grudzinski said. “We’ve all seen what’s happened to house prices, and we see what’s happened to rent. You have more millennials than baby boomers. They’re falling in love, they’re starting families, they’re learning how to cook, moving out of their parents’ basement, and they are just stuck right now with the massive affordability issue.
“Then all the way on the other end, this is a wonderful option for empty nesters. I remember one of our prior projects, we had an 81-year-old, an 84-year-old and a 91-year-old single female in these projects.”
Grudzinski was pleased with the way the build turned out and gave a ton of credit to Lance Keller, who is a managing member with Lifestyle Homes, the contractor for the community’s build.
“He (Keller) is the magician that makes all of this happen,” Grudzinski said.
Village at Pioneer Park is a gated community that features 332 one-, two- and three-bedroom single-story homes ranging from 670 square feet to 1,282 square feet. Each home includes a kitchen, laundry room, dining area, private landscaped backyard, doggy door, smart home technology and two parking spaces, along with access to many amenities.
The community is currently leasing its homes and is about 40% occupied.
“I think it speaks for itself; it’s very nice,” Keller said. “They (Empire Group) are a topflight developer.”
He said the whole project, despite being a complex one, went very efficiently.
“Even with those complexities, it went off very well,” he said. “It’s a very challenging project with the neighbors, noise and traffic, but the city’s been a wonderful partner.”
Mayor Cathy Carlat was also in attendance for the ribbon-cutting event. She said is “amazed at how beautiful this development is.”
“When you think about what this was in the past, and how far forward we have come,” Carlat said. “The evolution of this area is just phenomenal, what has happened and what has been allowed to happen.
“You helped raise the bar and you helped raise the standards. We have a lot of different kinds of people in our community, people who want to stay in the city of Peoria. They don’t want to finish with college and stay in Tempe or Downtown Phoenix; they want to come back to a more suburban life, and this allows them to do that.”
At the end of the day, Duplessis feels as though there is a common misconception as it pertains to the public’s thought process on developers.
“Everyone thinks the developer always just wants to get a project done and we’re out to just make money,” she said. “We all work to make a living, for sure, but we really do want to become a part of the community that we’re building in. I feel like we really did that here, and it took all of us as a team.”