A controversial housing project for low-income seniors has won approval in downtown Mesa — but not at a high-profile Main Street location that had triggered criticism from elected officials and the business community.
The 81-unit building will instead move about two blocks southwest, replacing a city-owned parking lot with a five-story structure that features modern architecture.
The development is one of three urban infill projects that are moving forward in and around downtown, representing the first major privately-funded projects the area has seen in years. Combined, the residential properties will bring new residents to the area and take the place of vacant or underused land.
“They all kind of feed off of each other,” said Scot Rigby, Mesa’s economic development project manager. “It’s the bigger sense that Mesa is open for business, that we are open to creative projects.”
They’re also the first large downtown projects in years not completely funded by taxpayers. Mesa has poured millions into downtown in the last few decades, including a Main Street renovation in the late 1990s, the nearly $100 million Mesa Arts Center in 2005, a $37 million court building in 2010 and a $200 million light rail segment that just broke ground. None of that generated major private development — until now.
The new interest in downtown is part of what triggered opposition to the senior housing project on Main, just east of City Hall. The Mesa Chamber of Commerce and a narrow minority of the City Council said they believe the area is now ripe for redevelopment — and that a prime spot to the north of the Mesa Arts Center deserved a more lively development. Opponents only criticized the location, saying the senior housing concept was welcome at a different location.
Critics said the site needed to become a destination for visitors, whether in the form of a larger-scale private development or an urban plaza that’s being studied. Rigby said the senior housing project’s new location addresses those concerns.
“It preserves what people thought was a critical site on the light rail line,” he said.
The senior housing development is now slated for 25 W. First Ave., a half block west of the arts center. The $16.5 million project is being developed by Mesa Housing Associates and is scheduled to open in late 2013. It would receive some funding from the Arizona Department of Housing.
The state would also provide some funding for the other two projects approved this week.
Wisconsin-based Gorman and Company plans a $18.2 million mixed income development that will replace a dilapidated city-owned housing project that began as World War II military housing in the Escobedo neighborhood. Mesa shut down the 101-unit project in 2007 because it couldn’t afford the growing maintenance demands.
Gorman will demolish most of the buildings for a 124-unit project that is northeast of Center Street and University Drive.
Also, Mesa approved plans to replace an old motel at 2254 W. Main with an 80-unit complex for low-income housing and a 16-bed emergency homeless shelter. A New Leaf will redevelop the site of what is now the aging La Mesita Family Homeless Shelter.
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