Arizona Christian University rezone historic Thunderbird campus

"This will help bring Glendale into the future with great things for this city.”

Nearly eight months after announcing plans to move to the old Thunderbird School of Global Management campus, Arizona Christian University has gained approval from council to rezone the site.

The 72-acre campus is located at 59th Avenue and Greenway Road. The current PAD, approved in 2008, allows for numerous office, retail, hotel, residential and commercial land uses. Some of those details will not change.

“The primary focus (is) on an education institution with associated services and office for a campus environment,” said Tabitha Perry, special projects executive officer. “The PAD also accounts for land uses that may or may not be associated with an education campus, such as single-family housing and/or senior-related housing, financial institutions and professional offices.”

Changes to the PAD include a maximum of 550 units for traditional multifamily and/or senior-related housing, with a maximum of 1,400 units allowed on the 72 acres.

The total units allowed for student housing are 1,400. Any multifamily units would be subtracted from that total.

“The difference is if 550 units are built for multifamily or senior, then the maximum student housing would be 850,” Perry said. “The original PAD also allowed a maximum of 250 hotel rooms, but this new PAD is only requesting 150 hotel rooms.”

One of the public speakers, Glendale Historical Society President Ron Short, pushed for ACU to preserve a number of the historical aspects of the area.

“The site of this ACU is an important historical site for the city, state and nation,” Short said. “The (Historical Society) governing board requests the city add a stipulation requiring preservation of the historical aspects of this area.”

The rezoning identifies specific existing landmarks to be preserved, including the Thunderbird Pilots Memorial, the control tower, the International Business Information Center, the Yount Building and the Thunderbird Airfield.

And ACU’s representative, Brian Greathouse of Burch & Cracchiolo, said the school is dedicated to work to maintain all the history they can.

ACU will “try to preserve as much as possible,” said Greathouse, who noted the hangar will be used as a football locker room this year, but the Thunderbird Pilots Memorial will be relocated elsewhere.

After numerous public meetings, some citizens who live in the area were still unsure about the project, even as it was approved by council, and what possible businesses could come in the future.

“I thought this was an educational facility, and what I read was this could have dry cleaning, delicatessen (and a) grocery store in this area,” local resident Gary Livingston said. “I can understand what is going on in this city, and this doesn’t follow the planned units that we were told. I don’t think this is in the best interest of our neighborhood.”

The Thunderbird School of Global Management, which became part of Arizona State University in 2014, moved to downtown Phoenix in late 2018, leaving the 140-acre campus it had called home for 71 years empty.

So, ACU cut a land deal with ASU.

The deal exchanges ACU’s current campus on Cactus Road, near 24th Street, for a portion of the former Thunderbird campus.

“I have known (ACU President Len) Munsil for some time and talked to him approximately three years ago, and he told me what he hoped to accomplish with ACU,” Glendale Mayor Jerry Weiers said. “When ASU announced they were moving Thunderbird downtown, it set off a bomb in my office. ACU coming in is perfect, and Munsil is encouraging his students to get out in the community and be active and help, and I find that extremely refreshing.”

Weiers said the Christian university will be good for the entire city.

“This is not going to be a place where students will be partying and drinking,” Weiers said. “I am extremely excited for the future and I am very, very happy to vote ‘yes.’ This will help bring Glendale into the future with great things for this city.”