Sen. John McCain was a trailblazer in many ways, including where he lived in metro Phoenix and his vision for the Valley’s growth.

The six-term U.S. senator and longtime Arizona leader moved from the suburbs to central Phoenix in the 1980s, opposite what most other Valley residents were doing then.

Then, during the housing boom, he and wife Cindy downsized to a new condominium in a tower near the Arizona Biltmore before that trend for empty nesters took off in Phoenix.

And right after he was diagnosed with brain cancer last summer, McCain put his efforts into an ambitious plan to turn the dry Salt River bed that crisscrosses the Valley into something like San Antonio’s Riverwalk.

From Tempe to Phoenix

In the early 1980s, McCain needed an East Valley address to run for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives being vacated by Rep. John Rhodes. The couple bought a home in south Tempe’s Lakes community, a development built around a man-made lake in the 1970s.

When McCain ran for the Senate, he no longer needed to be in the Tempe district. Instead of moving to Paradise Valley or Scottsdale, the McCains opted to move into Cindy’s family home in north-central Phoenix.

As urban flight to the suburbs was well underway in the Valley, the McCains made central Phoenix their home. Their house, situated right on Central Avenue, didn’t have high fences and was easily visible and inviting from the street.

The McCains raised their family in the heart of Phoenix, and the couple opened their north-central Phoenix home to many for charity and community events.

“The McCains definitely drew people to north-central Phoenix and helped the area during a time when many folks were moving away from it,” said Bobby Lieb, a veteran real-estate agent with HomeSmart Elite and longtime resident of north-central Phoenix. “They held many fundraisers for groups there, too.”


In 2007, right before McCain made his second presidential run, the couple listed their north-central home for sale and moved into a new condo at 24th Street and Camelback Road.

The couple downsized while many others were still opting for bigger homes. The McCains’ 14,500-square-foot north-central Phoenix home drew a lot of attention, not surprisingly. As the economy was crashing, it sold for $3.2 million.

The home has been expanded, renovated and resold a couple of times since then.

The McCains were also a draw for other homebuyers in their Biltmore-area condo tower, said real-estate agents.

Besides the McCains’ Creekside ranch in Cornville, Arizona, the couple had condos in La Jolla, California, Coronado, California and Arlington, Virginia, according to his campaign disclosures during the 2008 presidential race. 


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Real-estate legacy

One of McCain’s most lasting mark on the Valley’s growth will be his efforts to develop the Rio Salado.

After decades of efforts to transform 45 miles of the riverbed from Mesa to Buckeye, McCain ramped up the movement last year.

“Frankly, after a while, you start thinking about your legacy. It (the Rio Salado) may not be completed in my time, but I believe that someday it will be,” McCain told Arizona State University students in August 2017, shortly after he was diagnosed with brain cancer.

He said the Rio Salado development could rival or even surpass the famous San Antonio Riverwalk and could be one of the most significant environmental and economic additions in Phoenix history.

It may take decades, but if the project comes to fruition, McCain’s impact on Arizona real estate could continue for generations to come. 



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