After years of planning by both the college and the location’s developer, Grand Canyon University President Brian Mueller announced the Christian university will build its new campus in one of Mesa’s newest, fastest growing areas.
At a press conference on July 30, Mueller announced the private university, founded in 1949 and privatized in 2004, will purchase 100 acres — and the potential to purchase 60 more — to build a campus that can house up to 10,000 students in the Eastmark development. The proposed plot is located between Warner Road and Point Twenty-two Boulevard.
“This has been in the works for so long,” he said.
Construction on the site is expected to begin in 2014, with classes scheduled to start in 2015. However, Grand Canyon is looking to lease space in the area so it can start offering classes in the fall of 2014, and those students would matriculate to the official campus when it opens.
Full build out of the 100 acres should finish in five years, although Mueller said the school isn’t sure how long it would take to incorporate dormitories onto the new site. Besides the potential lack of dorms and comparatively minimal athletic facilities —the new campus will offer intramural and club sports and will bus Division-I athletes to its main campus — the new site will mirror the original site located along Camelback Road in Phoenix.
Academically, Mueller said Grand Canyon’s Eastmark campus will offer the same courses as the Phoenix campus does, although it will start its existence as a commuter campus to cater to the university’s East Valley residents.
“More and more students are deciding they’re fine living at home,” he said.
He added the college could attract students from beyond the East Valley, including states like California, Texas, Colorado and New Mexico.
Mesa City Council member Scott Somers said the addition of Grand Canyon University to the Eastmark area continues the city’s transformation into a college town akin to cities like Boston and Boulder, Colo. Those cities, he said, are consistently ranked among the most attractive places for businesses because they currently offer what he said Mesa will in the future: a place where people can “live, work, play and learn.”
“Our prosperity is yours, and yours will help propel ours,” Somers said.
Mayor Scott Smith added Grand Canyon is the sixth college to set up a campus in Mesa, five of which he said have come in the past year alone.
“These are not storefront campuses, these are not fly-by-night. These, like Grand Canyon University, are legacies,” he said.
In a separate interview, DMB Associates President Charley Freericks said the presence of Grand Canyon University at Eastmark fits the original vision for the community.
“Education is a real fundamental need in any great community,” he said, noting it could come in the form of kindergarten through education — like the BASIS Mesa school opening in August — or a “college town.”
“If you looked at the very early planning in our 2006, 2007 zoning work we had a college district,” Freericks said. “The idea is we would make a real difference for Eastmark and the region if we could have a college. Education’s always been part of our plan. It is very important.”
DMB’s plan for the area is one of the reasons Mueller cited for Grand Canyon University’s willingness to invest in an area that has long-term promise but is still in the early stages of its development.
“There’s a little bit of a risk, but we’ve become partners with a very, very successful organization,” he said.
Not only will the site bring students, it will also add workers to Grand Canyon. Staff now situated at a Tempe office will move to Mesa when it opens in two years.
“They’re potentially looking at thousands of students on campus and a couple thousand workers and teachers on campus. That’s what we’ve been about at Eastmark is employment and we want high quality jobs … nothing’s better than a college to accomplish that,” he said.
The school will also train future employers for the area, Freericks pointed out, including needed healthcare professionals.
“The Southeast Valley is such a marketplace for high tech employers … it’s hungry for highly educated people and I think they see the potential there,” he said.
Though original plans called for a high profile hotel and entertainment district in Eastmark with the Gaylord project, the economy crashed that idea.
First Solar became the first resident at Eastmark when it opened its corporate centers there. Homebuilders moved in next, with the public grand opening in June.
“The traffic in the welcome center, even through the summer, is what we are expecting or even a little better,” Freericks said.
With Grand Canyon pinpointed to a location in Eastmark’s 5-square-mile area, DMB can work on what can move to surround it, Freericks said, from places for students to eat and drink to places for them to shop and find entertainment.
Grand Canyon University will open up an information office in “The Mark,” Eastmark’s visitors’ center, for potential students and employees.
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