When noted Valley restaurateur Sam Fox announced that he will be building his first luxury hotel project, there was no doubt who would be bringing his vision to life: Brian Frakes, founder and principal of Common Bond Development Group. Together, the pair have changed the way Phoenicians play and eat, and now they hope to generate that same magic within the lodging industry.
A fifth-generation Arizonan, born in Tucson and raised in Phoenix, Frakes didn’t set out to be in the commercial real estate business. He was a finance major at the University of Arizona and interned at an investment banking firm in New York City. When his then-girlfriend got accepted in the medical school in Tucson, he decided to stay in Arizona and began working at Westcor Partners, which developed shopping malls.
“It was an exciting time to be at Westcor because we got to work on a couple million square feet of major retail space, including SanTan Village in Gilbert and Chandler Fashion Center,” Frakes comments.
Following the purchase of Westcor by The Macerich Company in 2012, Frakes and a few other executives from the business formed WDP Partners, a real estate development company. “What started out as a leasing job in the development department quickly evolved into leading major projects on Scottsdale Road and Mayo in Phoenix and a Walmart-anchored shopping center in Queen Creek,” he says. The company also developed the Yuma Palms mall in Yuma.
It was during his time at WDP that he first collaborated with Fox, who was looking for a location along the Central Phoenix Corridor for a new dining venue. “I remember taking a photo of this old Ducati motorcycle dealership from the suicide lane on North 7th Street, sending it to Sam, and him saying, ‘That’s the one,’” Frakes recalls. “We had a vision that the canopy, under which they used to park the motorcycles, was there for us. I mean, show me another spot in town that has a 10,000-square-foot canopy over an outdoor patio. Sam said, ‘What if we had games, such as shuffleboard, ping pong and bag tossing?’ That was the evolution of The Yard concept.”
The success of The Yard encouraged Frakes to set out on his own and establish Common Bond. “I had always wanted to be an entrepreneur and start my own company,” he explains. “The natural progression of my career was to take the development knowledge I had acquired while working on complicated large-scale projects and applying it to that type of work with my own team.”
From Safeway- and Sprouts-anchored shopping centers to restaurants and adaptive reuse projects, Frakes prefers ventures that are both pleasing to the eye and beneficial to the community in which they’re located. “When I was at Westcor and working on these large projects, such as Scottsdale Fashion Square, I saw how they weren’t just malls but instead they were places that changed the community surrounding them. They increased sales tax revenue, which allowed the cities to fund police and fire departments as well as infrastructure,” he says.
“The thing that differentiates Common Bond is that we don’t just develop buildings, but we also spend a lot of time and money on the design,” Frakes continues. “We learned through the hospitality sector that the extra money you spend on design helps maximize the value of the asset and really creates a sense of place. The overall experience is more memorable than just a great cheeseburger. But, ultimately, we want all of our projects to really stand the test of time.”
Fox was one of Common Bond’s original investors. The duo has since developed additional Yard “eatertainment” projects, anchored by Fox’s Culinary Dropout restaurant, in Tempe, Scottsdale and Gilbert, as well as Tucson.
“I know my skill set, and I know Sam’s skill set. When I’m connected with an operator on that level, whether it’s a grocery store, a restaurant user or a retailer, I can really engage and help them in the real estate development business. Then they can do what they’re great at in terms of operating first-class facilities,” Frakes explains.
Adds Fox, “I trust Brian implicitly. We grew up learning about the business together, and I’ve seen him make genuine and fair decisions over and over again. He understands real estate, reuse of real estate and creating value where no one else sees an opportunity. He also understands what’s important to me. I’m lucky that he goes with my wild ideas.”
These days, Frakes and Fox are working together again — this time bringing one of the most anticipated projects in the Valley’s hospitality sector to a prime location in Arcadia. Part of a bigger 17-acre, $300 million mixed-use development on Camelback Road and 44th Street, adjacent to the Phoenix Suns practice facility, The Global Ambassador hotel will feature 141 luxury rooms, five original food and beverage offerings, and an 18,000-square-foot rooftop lounge, the largest in the state, with sweeping views of Camelback Mountain.
“It’s going to have a major impact on the Valley,” Frakes says. “Ultimately, locals and out-of-town visitors will be able to create lasting memories.
“Phoenix has changed dramatically in the last 10 years,” Frakes continues. “When I was growing up, this town was a boom-and-bust real estate camp. Now, we have a very diversified economy, and a lot of decision makers and operators are moving here from other markets and creating demand and opportunities. It’s truly fascinating what is happening, and I hope that The Global Ambassador will leave its mark and be a great legacy for me and Sam.”
He adds with a chuckle, “Plus, it’s good to be next to the Suns right now while they’re on a roll.”