Nearly a year ago, I hosted the first Downtown Development Summit at the Mesa Arts Center. We invited developers and financiers from Arizona and around the country to come see what downtown Mesa had to offer. We highlighted development opportunities and showcased available properties through downtown and along the light rail corridor.
From this summit, several opportunities were realized. One of the properties is now Encore on First, a five story residential building, which is walking distance to the Mesa Arts Center, downtown and a future light rail stop. Encore on First is the first private investment in downtown Mesa in more than 25 years.
Due to the success of the first summit and the activity in downtown since then, we are convening a second summit on December 9. This year, we have expanded the Mesa Urban Development Summit to include the Fiesta District and partnered with NEDCO (Neighborhood Economic Development Corporation), who received a grant from JP Morgan Chase & Co. to focus on creating and financing walkable, mixed-use urban development in the 21st Century. Our goal is to highlight opportunities in Mesa’s downtown and Fiesta Districts; examine innovative healthcare design; and network with local and national leaders in development and finance.
Experts from Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. and elsewhere are participating along with more than 100 attendees representing lenders, the healthcare industry and urban developers. In conjunction with the summit, the Congress for New Urbanism will host its first-ever local discussion on their Live/Work/Walk Finance Initiative.
These experts chose Mesa to present their national Live/Work/Walk Finance Initiative because our region has recently implemented creative financing strategies and developed dozens of mixed-income housing, healthcare facilities, job centers and commercial developments connected to the Valley’s light rail corridor.
Many of these urban developments were made possible because Arizona’s community banks and Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) stepped up to take a risk on urban development in Arizona by providing gap financing and creating innovative financing partnerships. And, these risks are paying off.
Traditional large lenders have been skeptical about lending for mixed-use urban developments in the Phoenix metropolitan area. The cities, developers, community groups, community banks and CDFIs didn’t wait around for the big banks to come around. Instead, they pulled their resources together and made it happen.
Right now, large lenders and federal agencies are focused on home ownership. It’s part of the American Dream. Mortgage programs, interest rates and tax deductions all help families get into their first homes. We see that times are changing and there is a growing market for a New American Dream that includes home ownership in communities that are more urban and walkable. Here in the Valley, we’ve already begun the work to meet the market demands for more mixed-use, urban development.
With this shift should come ways to finance Live/Work/Walk projects that complement the urban lifestyle our residents are searching for. This summit kicks off the next phase of Mesa’s urban renaissance.
By bringing the best minds in urban finance and development to our burgeoning urban core, we can overcome the national, regional and local challenges to financing, thereby facilitating the successful development of Live/Work/Walk communities.
•Scott Smith was first elected Mayor of Mesa, Arizona’s third largest city and and the 38th largest in America, in 2008. He was re-elected (unopposed) to a second term in 2012, and was sworn in as President of the United States Conference of Mayors in June 2013.