No doubt about it: Mesa scored much more than prestige when city officials announced plans for the Barry and Peggy Goldwater Library and Archives to be built downtown.
Barry Goldwater, U.S. senator and 1964 Republican presidential nominee, lived in Paradise Valley, where today his memorial is located. Goldwater Boulevard winds past Scottsdale Fashion Square, where a department store that bore his family’s name once stood. And the Goldwater Institute, the conservative think tank named for him, is in midtown Phoenix.
Yet the library, named for arguably the most revered Arizonan in state history and his wife, is not planned to be built in any of those cities. It represents the latest in downtown Mesa’s measured but consistent steps forward in recent years. As the Tribune reported last week, the city intends to donate land it owns for the 40,000 square-foot library, which is to be built with privately collected money and is expected to draw about 60,000 visitors annually.
From the Mesa Arts Center to the light rail extension, to the opening of branch campuses of no less than four universities and colleges, downtown Mesa has been growing out from more than 20 years of lacking a reputation as a place locals and visitors talk about actually setting foot.
Finally, it seems, with a clearly emerging downtown, Mesa might well shake off a reputation for being just about the nation’s largest bedroom community without a living room. Soon, Mesa could be known as a city with something other than an endless array of strip centers and subdivisions and a population that frequently travels outside the city limits to places like Chandler, Tempe and Scottsdale for night life, dining and entertainment. Those three cities have vibrant, varied downtowns. Mesa still doesn’t, but the library represents a movement that could change the deficiency at long last.
Let’s just hope that the proposed location of the Goldwater library isn’t jinxed.
The library site at the southeast corner of Macdonald and First Avenue still is owned by the city after Mesa officials decided in January 2005 to give up plans for an indoor aquatic center for the site, the Tribune reported nearly eight years ago.
As the Jan. 14, 2005, Tribune reported, the reason cited for abandoning the aquatic center was that cost estimates of $24.6 million had substantially grown to a $41.3 million figure city officials couldn’t justify.
The decision, while prudent, dealt a big blow to Mesa’s desires for a multi-faceted downtown, for a sense of synergy that attracts new development.
The Mesa Arts Center opened that same year but for most of the time since has been a shining island in a still-murky sea. The recent recession can be blamed for a good part of the stagnation, but the years of the arts center and the defunct aquatic center were in the last mid-decade, a time generally agreed to have been boom years in the East Valley.
But despite the recession, the recent strides forward in higher education and mass transit — two components of building a daily influx of people — plus the new library could be the necessary critical mass for downtown Mesa that urban planners talk about.
That is, downtowns are more than just a collection of a few big-name projects. The large landmarks are the catalyst for an equally vital component to a strong downtown: small business. This includes places to eat, to be entertained, to buy interesting products and services not usually found in a shopping mall.
From the description on the library’s website (https://barrygoldwaterlibrary.org), in addition to being a place for scholars and researchers, it will also hold a number of public events. Expect a number of major political figures to speak there as well as panel discussions on civic life in Arizona and the nation local residents can attend and learn from.
As the Tribune reported last week, officials expect to open the library in 2016, an indicator that this is indeed still a struggling economy we’re in. Neither the story nor anything I could find on the website quotes anyone estimating the library’s cost. That ought to be made public, even in general terms. Donors and taxpayers — the city is donating the land, after all — have a right to know what it is they’re paying for and whether three years is enough time to come up with it.
Avoid any jinx, Mesa and library officials: Whatever that estimate is, it should be one that you can expect to be relatively the same by 2016.
Next Wednesday is Halloween. Time and foot-dragging led to a near-doubling of the estimated cost of the aquatic center, dooming its ghost — and its one-time promise of a national reputation for downtown Mesa — to haunt the southeast corner of Macdonald and First Avenue.
• Read Tribune contributing columnist Mark J. Scarp’s opinions here on Sundays. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.