The west Mesa site that was slated to become the hip Aquaterra condos is now set to house a police substation.
The city is moving to buy a 4.9-acre parcel southeast of Alma School Road and Southern Avenue in what it considers a symbolic project to revitalize the struggling Fiesta District.
Mesa selected the site nearly a year after Councilman Alex Finter sharply questioned the city’s plans to buy a different property that would have cost taxpayers $5 million more.
The former Aquaterra site will cost about $2.4 million, rather than about $7.6 million for the shopping center that housed the Beth, Bath & Beyond on the northwest corner of Southern and Longmore.
Finter said that center’s owner likely kept the price high because it knew it was dealing with the city and how much Mesa had budgeted. This time when the city searched, it used a real estate broker who secured a price before identifying Mesa’s involvement.
“It seems the price goes up 30 percent when they know it’s the city of Mesa or any other government,” Finter said. “I think this is going to be the way we do business in the future.”
City Manager Chris Brady said land owners often know how much a city plans to spend because it’s a matter of public record and sometimes even reported in news stories. He’s noticed property owners stick to that price because they know the city has the money.
“We weren’t in a good negotiating position because our cards are on the table,” Brady said.
The city will use brokers in the future for most purchases, he said, unless it would be obvious Mesa is the interested buyer.
Municipal land acquisitions also came into question in Gilbert earlier this year, when the Town Council required third-party estimates before making most large property deals. The move came after published reports that the town bought a dairy for $42.7 million, or $300,000 per acre, at the same time similar parcels were selling for a fraction of that price.
Mayor Scott Smith made light of that during a Monday City Council meeting to review his city’s land deal.
“I just want to make sure there is no dairy on this and we are getting an appraisal, right?” Smith said, triggering laughter from other elected officials.
Mesa plans to open the new police substation in mid-2012. It could cost as much as $15 million for the building and property, which is at the northwest corner of Grove Avenue and Westwood.
The substation will replace a cramped facility on Dobson Road, midway between Baseline and Guadalupe roads. That substation isn’t very visible and offers no public access. The new one is designed to be welcoming with a community room and lobby that’s staffed 24 hours a day.
“The Dobson substation is kind of invisible to the community,” said Councilman Dennis Kavanaugh, whose district includes the planned station. “And we want to take the opposite approach.”
The substation would bring life to a dirt lot that was once envisioned for one of Mesa’s most ambitious projects. In 2005, a developer proposed Fiesta Towers, with two 19-story structures and two 10-story towers that were pitched as a home for young professionals. As the economy slowed, the project became the more modest Fiesta Lofts and then the six-story Aquaterra condominium project with a hotel. By 2009, the plan became apartments for seniors in a move that didn’t please many Mesa officials. The property had fallen into bank ownership by the time the city identified it for the substation.