What’s your story?
I’m the owner and general manager of The Clarendon Hotel and Spa. I’ve always been involved in community efforts, since attending Brophy Prep years ago. I started The Clarendon with $3K and home equity loans and credit cards, and at the time that I purchased the hotel in 2004 it was considered one of the greatest sources of crime and blight in the entire valley. Over the past 10 years I’ve brought The Clarendon from zero stars to 4 stars, helped to turn around an entire neighborhood, and hopefully have created something that Phoenicians are proud of. We’re the smallest hotel in Central Phoenix, the only true ‘boutique’ hotel in Phoenix, and we hope that locals and guests leave with a great impression of not just The Clarendon, but of the city of Phoenix and all of the natural beauty and adventure Arizona has to offer.
Where you originally from and why PHX?
I was born in Mountain View, California in 1971, but quickly moved to Los Angeles and lived there until 1982 when my mother and I packed up and moved to Scottsdale for a year, then Phoenix. Besides a short 2-year stint at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Phoenix has been my home for over 3 decades. No matter what I do, I always have the best interests of our community in mind. I want to see us be the best city in which to live, work, and play…. and visit! We’re a city of opportunity - if I would have attempted to do a project like The Clarendon in a city like New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Miami, etc. I would have been laughed out of town. Phoenicians really supported my ‘pay as you go’ improvements to The Clarendon over the years, and for that I’m truly thankful.
What’s the future hold for PHX?
For starters, I think we’ll see First Fridays and Art Detour disappear in the next year, to be replaced with Fridays on Roosevelt, which will spread to the entire weekend. Currently, it’s a big feast on First Fridays with a huge famine the rest of the month for these businesses who’ve invested so much in downtown, and that has to change soon or we’ll just continue to see more businesses coming and going… we need to establish a weekly event instead of a monthly event in order to help these businesses out.
I’m trying to work on an annual music, arts, media, film, comics festival that lasts 11 days and ends with Memorial Day Monday every year. This is a high ‘need period’ for everyone, it’s a great time for people to book affordable flights and book affordable hotel rooms and affordable convention space. It’s a time when people are usually leaving and we can keep local in Phoenix while attracting people from all over the world. Think of a combination of Comic-Con, Coachella, Bonnaroo, McDowell Mountain Music Festival, ArtBasel, Art Detour, etc., etc. It could happen, it has the support of the Mayor’s office, and this is the time of year it really needs to happen. The days are nice and warm, but the nights are glorious. It would be an instant success and could bring 500,000 people to the Valley within just a few years. It would be a huge economic boost, and just before the summer months… this really needs to happen.
Phoenix’s future will always be bright. I think that we need to focus on a few things, such as getting people to understand that the actions of the state government don’t truly reflect the attitude of Phoenicians. While state politics are controlled by people from all over the state, a lot of Phoenicians came to Phoenix from much larger, much more progressive cities and states, and as Phoenix grows this will cause a shift in our politics.
I would like to see Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport become the Atlanta airport of the West, and with the merger of US Airways and American Airlines, I think this is finally possible and we could start seeing visitors from all over the world which would really help our economy.
I think we need to focus on building a segment of 225mph high speed rail from Phoenix through Yuma to Riverside, California where California’s new high speed rail system would then connect passengers to San Francisco, Sacramento, Los Angeles, Anaheim, and San Diego. This is truly essential as peak weekend flights are so expensive that it’s preventing people from visiting Phoenix - we can only get as many people into Phoenix as there are seats on flights, we have to keep that in mind. If you could take a high speed train in less door-to-door time than flying, and for $99 each way even at the last minute, we’d see millions of additional visitors to Phoenix each year, which would help to support local businesses and the local economy. During the day we can transport passengers… at night we can transport goods from the West Phoenix distribution centers and Goodyear Airport to Los Angeles and beyond, and also at night we can transport agricultural products from the Imperial Valley to Phoenix and Los Angeles.
I also think the future of transportation holds some unique twists that nobody is expecting to come soon, but it’ll happen sooner than we think: fully autonomous vehicles will not just virtually eliminate accidents and DUIs, but will enable multiple people to share the costs of one vehicle. This will reduce traffic, eliminate the need for many (if not all) bus routes, and reduce parking requirements at new developments. Not only that, but it will reduce everyone’s monthly expenses which means more disposable income for people to spend on local businesses, on vacations, and to save for retirement. We’ve already hit ‘peak car’, but I don’t think many people understand the impact this one piece of rapidly-advancing technology will have on so many aspects of our daily lives.
I’d like to see a major focus on the sharing economy… I think that micro-entrepreneurism is the future, and services like Uber, Lyft, AirBnB, VRBO, Homeaway, and Flipkey are essential. They help people become self-reliant, helps to reduce unemployment and foreclosures - and even though I’m in the hotel business, I’d rather see home sharing than over-building in the hotel industry, which only hurts everyone.
I think we’ll also soon see development along our extensive canal banks and more rehabilitation of the Salt River. One day - probably within 15 years - we’ll see the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station decommissioned now that solar power is finally coming around, and this will have a huge impact on water availability in the Valley, since the plant’s cooling towers use enough water each year to completely drain every lake/reservoir surrounding the Valley… I don’t think many people realize that.
We will have to place a lot of focus on California - with a population of 42 million people today, it’s not impossible that California will have a population of 100 million in 35 years… that will also push a lot of people out of California and into Arizona. We need to be prepared for this and we need to understand that a Phoenix with 20 million people in 35-50 years is a very real possibility. Again, we really need to be prepared for this, because when the growth starts happening, it’ll move quickly and we need to control the growth so that we don’t have another repeat of what we’ve seen every decade since the 1940s.
Overall, we have a very bright future with an amazing amount of opportunity, but we need to focus!
Subject: Ben Bethel Owner+General Manager
The Clarendon Hotel and Spa - where life just keeps getting better and better… www.goclarendon.com
America’s Most Innovative Hotelier - Hotel Business
One of “25 GMs to Watch” - Hotel Management, 2013
One of “10 to Watch” - International HotelWorld Conference, 2012
One of the Most Visionary Hotel Owners in the United States - greenlodgi
Location: The Clarendon Hotel
401 W. Clarendon Ave Phoenix, AZ 85013
Photographer: Brenda Davis