Jonatan Sanchez with Downtown Phoenix Inc.’s Clean + Green Team carries a Red Push Pistache across Central Avenue on March 23 during a massive tree salvage project at Central Station. (Photo: Fara Illich)

It’s a known fact amongst desert dwellers: trees are precious. And the shade they provide? Priceless.

Because of this, 20 mature trees were carefully boxed up at the Central Station redevelopment site, and relocated across downtown via police escort.

Central Station, downtown’s major bus and light rail depot adjacent to Civic Space Park, is currently under construction, and a new mixed-use development is on its way. But prior to breaking ground April 13, everything on the 2.6-acre site needed to go, including the mature landscaping.

Prior to breaking ground April 13 on the Central Station redevelopment, everything on the 2.6-acre site needed to go, including the mature landscaping. (Photo: Fara Illich)

Downtown Phoenix Inc. (DPI) stepped in to lead the tree removal process as part of a larger salvage effort in conjunction with the City of Phoenix, Valley Metro and the developers behind the Central Station project.

DPI is caring for the trees in a temporary nursery location until they’re ready for transplant, eventually moving them into forever homes within the Downtown Core.

At approximately 25 years old, the mature trees are worth an estimated $100,000, according to Mark Hutflesz, streetscape director for DPI.

“To go out a buy a 24-inch boxed tree and wait for it to get that size would be 10 years or more,” he said. “So it’s kind of an instant gratification”

Moving 25-year-old trees from Central Station to a temporary nursery required strapping them to a lift and tilting them on their side, then slowly driving them under the light rail lines. (Photo: Fara Illich)

The city approved the lease and redevelopment of downtown’s transit depot in 2019. After years of pandemic-related delays, the reimagined Central Station broke ground Wednesday, with plans to incorporate a new public transportation hub, two fully-furnished residential towers, 30,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, 70,000 square feet of office space, and two levels of underground parking. It’s slated to open in 2024.

For the city, saving the trees was “the right thing to do,” according to Jeff Stapleton, project manager for transit oriented development with the city’s Community and Economic Development Department.

In addition to the trees, Downtown Phoenix Inc. salvaged a number of light poles, spotlights, signs and flagpoles, with an approximate value of $100,000. (Photo: Chuck Padilla)

“We wanted to do what we could to salvage and transport as many trees as possible,” he said. “Having the light rail wire overhead made that a big challenge, but working with the talented people at DPI and our streets department, we were able to transport a lot of the great shade trees offsite, get them replanted in a new location downtown, so that residents and visitors can enjoy their continued shade for many years to come.”

Moving trees of this size required strapping them to a lift and tilting them on their side, then slowly driving them under the light rail lines. Phoenix police helped escort each tree safely across downtown with the least amount of traffic impact — a process that took three weeks to complete.

This marks the third major tree salvage project by DPI, with past projects at the Phoenix Bioscience Core and Arizona State University Downtown Campus.

Downtown Phoenix Inc. worked in partnership with Phoenix police to move the salvaged trees safely across downtown with the least amount of traffic impact. (Photo: Fara Illich)

“It’s important for us, as an organization, to prioritize recycling and reclamation projects in order to contribute in a meaningful way to the sustainability efforts of the community,” said Devney Preuss, president and CEO of DPI.

In addition to the trees, DPI salvaged a number of light poles, spotlights, signs and flagpoles. These items will help brighten dark streets, illuminate murals, help with wayfinding and more, with an approximate value of $100,000. This brings the total in salvaged trees and materials to more than $200,000.

“It’s just a good collaborative effort,” Hutflesz said. “It not only keeps things out of the landfill, but it allows us to improve the infrastructure of downtown at significant cost savings — so we can do more with less.”