When looking to transform a city or town, the goal is to attract people and businesses. One of the best ways to go about that is to start with the downtown. As the 35th largest city in the nation, Mesa, Ariz., had previously not put as much focus into its downtown. However, Jeffrey McVay, Mesa’s manager of downtown transformation, explained, “Downtowns are what define a city.”
In 2009 and 2010, the city began discussing a central main plan for the downtown area involving bringing in more residences and economic development. Plans were also discussed in preparation for the opening of the light rail expansion that would lead downtown in 2015. Since the city already has a beautiful historical and arts area downtown, the goal is to bring more residences and businesses to make the economy more successful.
Mesa is home to the first Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints temple outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. The temple has been known as a destination location for visitors, particularly around Easter and Christmas. As LDS is working on redeveloping the temple and its property, the church has also chosen to work with the city in The Grove on Main project. It will include almost 300 residential units along with some retail space and the LDS visitor center and family history center.
The Grove project is currently under construction. Construction began at the end of 2019. It is estimated, as of press time, that people should be able to begin moving in by this December.
While the city is not financing this development, McVay admitted, “It’s a significant redevelopment for downtown and it sets a bar for quality of architecture, quality of structure.”
On another downtown project for a City Center, Mesa teamed up with Arizona State University. In 2012, the park board approved the creation of a City Center plaza park. McVay mentioned partnerships with school institutions are good for economic redevelopment, and so the city wanted ASU to establish a presence downtown by building a campus.
In 2018, the construction of a single ASU building was approved. Plans and construction are underway. It will be home to ASU’s film school, which will help draw national recognition to take the film school to the next level. There are also plans for it to house a digital futures lab, which will focus on creating new technology for future programming. “We have a strong goal for creating an innovative downtown,” McVay described.
The Transform 17 project was once an old, rundown neighborhood that was purchased and cleared by the city in the 1980s. Since then the city has been making various efforts to decide on a redevelopment plan. For six months, the city brought its guiding principles to both the public and the development community to gather ideas for the property. Forums have also been held with master developers to see if ideas for a conceptual master plan were realistic.
The completed conceptual master plan was presented to the city council and the city is now in the process of selecting a partner or partners for development of the property. McVay noted all parties are currently in the last stages of getting a memorandum of understanding finalized.
There are currently 13 downtown development projects underway to boost economic redevelopment. Since the city is the largest landowner in the downtown area, it has worked to engage community members and businesses to see what other businesses and amenities they would like to see brought to the downtown area.
The Encore-Residences on First project is a two-phase apartment construction project. Phase one is currently completed with the second lot currently under construction.
Artspace Mesa consists of live-and-work apartments for artists, which are fully leased, and was completed in 2018. There are thoughts of building another Artspace for artists in the future.
The Grid is a combination of apartments and retail space that is currently under construction.
The Residences on Main will be a combination of apartments and retail space. Plans for permitting are currently underway and construction is likely to begin early next year.
Found(RE) Mesa currently has a memorandum of understanding with the city. Proposed plans for the property include a boutique hotel, luxury apartments, retail space and a restaurant.
ECO Mesa is a property for proposed apartments. A developer for the property was just approved by the city council on Aug. 31, and it is believed construction will start sometime in the spring 2021.
The Facade Improvement program includes a covered walkway, since shade is an important asset in Arizona. The first phase is completed, but McVay mentioned finding funding for this project continues to be a struggle. He plans to continue it long term as a way to provide design and construction services to downtown businesses.
Cardinal Capital Development is a plan for approximately 144 units in three stories. This project is undergoing zoning approvals and working on permitting.
CO+HOOTS at Benedictine University is a plan for a co-working space to help support academic entrepreneurship in partnership with the university.
Brown and Brown Development will be a multiphase development project with two sites for future buildings. Development is currently in the planning and zoning phase, awaiting final zoning approval.
Mesa is described by McVay as “the biggest suburb nobody knows about,” and he is intent to change that. After five years in his position, he is finally able to see how all the city’s plans and deals are manifesting. While growing the city, McVay also wants to ensure the local economy grows and is supported. He not only wants to grow residences and businesses, he is also focusing on the “connective tissue” that will connect the downtown. He believes in keeping a balance in order to attract all ages and generations to the city and create a downtown arts and innovation district.
McVay stresses this transformation and revitalization of downtown is no short-term plan. The city will continue to invest in attracting businesses and people with higher levels of amenities available downtown. If a person returns in five years, McVay noted, they’ll notice some changes. In 10 years, the city will have some big changes. If a visitor waits 15 years, they would likely hardly recognize the city. “We aren’t looking to just change a little bit,” he stressed. “We are looking to transform downtown.”