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Smart city organization to put North American HQ in Scottsdale


Phoenix Business Journal

United Cities, a global program in partnership with several United Nations agencies, announced Tuesday that it has partnered with Caliber Cos. to develop its North American headquarters and innovation hub on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community near Scottsdale.

United Cities North America, the branch that will be based in Arizona, is focused on bringing the UN’s sustainable development goal 11, which is centered around creating inclusive, safe, sustainable and resilient cities, to North America.

“We are trying to grow a practical smart city and bring things that are practical and applicable to normal people’s normal lives,” Jason Lohe, head of UCNA, said. Areas that will be in focus include the internet of things, sustainability, mobility, water purification and energy.

The new building will serve as the UCNA’s headquarters and will also include space that Lohe said will function as an incubator and coworking space for companies that will lease space to work alongside one another. It will also include “university” space, which will not be affiliated with a single educational institution, but will be open to users from universities around the globe to do research or work with companies located there.

“We are an open architecture, open ecosystem,” Lohe said about the project. “We are open to collaboration.”

The project is also planned to have a “digital twin” dome inside, which will virtually map and assess cities throughout North America. The digital twin facility matches one that already exists in Norway and is used to virtually allow planners and economic developers to assess different aspects of cities through data and artificial intelligence.

Lohe said the Scottsdale campus will be bigger than the one in Norway.

“This is the next generation of that,” he said.

UCNA plans to have about 50 employees in Scottsdale, and most positions will include building strategic partnerships with companies and organizations worldwide.

When selecting a developer and real estate partner, UCNA sought one that would manage an “opportunity fund” and would provide real estate services, including site selection and master developer services for UCNA sites around the continent. Opportunity funds are a way for accredited investors to reinvest capital gains realized from a sale of property, stock or business to defer paying taxes. The money must be invested within 180 days for it to be eligible for the deferred taxes. The money can be invested two ways, either in real estate or in operating companies within designated opportunity zones.

Opportunity zone investment

The new United Cities & Caliber Sustainable Opportunity Zone Fund is available for Qualified Opportunity Zone investment.

Lohe said the project will benefit from being located in an opportunity zone in different ways, including the construction being funded through the opportunity fund, and businesses that lease space in the development can also benefit from being located there and their investors can use opportunity fund money.

“I believe opportunity zones have been underutilized to date,” he said, adding that the zones are areas that will benefit from the infusion of investment that comes from a project like UCNA’s.

“Caliber and United Cities North America’s partnership comes at a perfect time as we strive for a cleaner, more sustainable world,” Chris Camacho, president & CEO of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, said in a statement. “The growth Greater Phoenix is seeing in advanced sustainability technology is remarkable and the collaboration born out of innovation is driving us to be a leader on the global stage.”

Arizona has been a proving ground for some “smart city” technology and ideas, and Lohe pointed out the Douglas Ranch area, where El Dorado Holdings and Howard Hughes Corp. are planning a 3,300-acre master planned community called Trillium as an example of a community that plans to use “smart city” strategies.

Construction on the site is expected to begin in the first quarter of 2022.

Chris Loeffler, CEO and co-founder of Scottsdale-based Caliber, said the firm is in escrow on a 68-acre site near Loop 101 and Via de Ventura, and the UCNA campus will be built on about 25 acres of that site.

The development will include the innovation hub, which will be between 200,000 and 300,000 square feet, as well as a mix of uses that will include office, the digital twin facility and other amenities that might include a dorm-like building where visitors from around the world could stay and work with companies at the facility, Loeffler said. The plans for the development are still in preliminary phases.

The opportunity fund, he said, will be used to develop the headquarters but will also be used for UCNA-branded projects around the country. Caliber has been working with UCNA for about a year to plan the development.

Loeffler said Caliber is looking at a site in Texas and possibly in Colorado for UCNA as it serves as the site selector and master developer.


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