The first evidence of an ambitious plan to revive the struggling Fiesta District will appear in less than two weeks, when Mesa will install dozens of bold and colorful signs at intersections.
The signs will remind those passing through they're in the Fiesta District, which Mesa wants to rebrand as it works to bring in new employers and shops. The signs will replace the green street signs that display street names at 16 intersections. In all, 51 signs will be in place by early November.
Mesa also hired a consultant to develop a $10 million streetscape improvement that would create a theme to an area that features a hodgepodge of 1970s-era shopping centers.
City leaders acknowledge some residents could be skeptical after six years of studies and consultants that haven't produced any noticeable change. Mayor Scott Smith said that places like San Diego's Gaslamp District also started with a small change that took time to reach critical mass.
"We don't have any illusions that just by putting up a few signs that the world is going to change," Smith said. "I hope that it begins a change."
The city has hired California-based Kreuzer Consulting Group to develop three potential streetscape plans for the district, which roughly runs along Southern Avenue from the Tempe city limits to Extension. The work includes developing a path to encourage people to walk through the district, along with improved landscaping and adding shade. The project likely would narrow Southern Avenue from six to four lanes - an idea that has generated some controversy.
Every consultant Mesa has spoken with recommended narrowing the road to increase the space devoted to landscaping, Mesa Councilman Dennis Kavanaugh said. The narrower road wouldn't choke traffic because the intersections would remain wide, he said. The city narrowed Main Street downtown in 1998 despite similar warnings, Kavanaugh said.
"Everybody said life as you know it will come to an end because you are narrowing Main Street," Kavanaugh said. "Traffic is moving just fine."
Kreuzer will offer three designs to Mesa in June or July of 2010, along with detailed traffic studies. Mesa has $10 million in unspent road bonds for the project.
Mesa has already developed Fiesta District guidelines for building design, signs and landscaping, but area shoppers have seen little of that because the recession stalled nearly all work in the area. But Kavanaugh said people can get a flavor of the district's future by looking at the addition to Banner Desert Medical Center. Also, Fiesta Mall's new buildings for Dicks' sporting goods, Best Buy and restaurants along Alma School Road show how new projects will be more colorful and have more landscaping to break up otherwise bleak parking lots.
"Changes have occurred that people haven't realized were part of the whole process," Kavanaugh said.