In what could be one of his final addresses to Mesa, Mayor Scott Smith looked back at the accomplishments the city has made and provided a hint of optimism for the future during his annual State of the City speech on Feb. 4 at the Mesa Convention Center.
Hosted by the Mesa Chamber of Commerce, Smith’s speech in front of an audience of more than 600 people emphasized what the city has done in his time in office. After walking on stage to AC/DC’s “Back in Black,” Smith opened with a quote — one of several he used throughout his speech — outlining how the path to happiness lies in planting a tree the person will never sit under.
“Yes, it’s for today, but it’s for tomorrow and for future generations,” he said.
Smith’s focus fell within the confines of the city’s H.E.A.T. initiative, which stands for the four areas — health care, education, aerospace and technology — the Mesa City Council and city staff have committed to in the last half decade.
Smith went through each subject accompanied by occasional video snippets — one of them included a remix of groundbreakings and ribbon cuttings set to Jefferson Starship’s “We Built this City” — highlighting all four areas.
Included in Smith’s outline was the addition of five colleges to Mesa in 2013 alone, a feat that also came with the addition of a sixth in Grand Canyon University that will be built in the Gateway region this year.
While he emphasized the strong foundation set by the Mesa and Gilbert public school districts, and Arizona State University’s Polytechnic Center, he said the city decided there was room to grow in that area.
“We looked at what we had and said we have to do better,” he said.
Other projects he mentioned were the addition of several hospitals like Banner Children’s at Cardon Children’s Medical Center, the city’s ability to sway Able Engineering to move to Mesa instead of out of state, and the addition of technological-based projects like THINKspot and LaunchPoint.
But the two projects that received the most attention during his speech were the completion of Cubs Park and the Apple plant. Smith said the process leading up to the opening of the former this past January started the day after he got into office, when the Cubs said they were considering opting out of their contract with Mesa to move to Florida.
Five-plus years later, the Cubs not only had a new home to call their own, but the city also came to a deal to get the Oakland A’s to move into the Cubs’ former home at Hohokam Stadium.
“There are a lot of things out here that draw people here besides golf. We’ll take the golf, but nothing brings people out like spring training,” he said.
The latter of the two projects, which was announced in late 2013, had the large-scale technology company announcing its plan to build a facility in the Gateway region. GT Advanced Technologies will operate the facility to build sapphire material for Apple products, and the agreement is expected to bring 700 jobs to the region.
Smith said it took years to plant the proverbial seeds to bring Apple into the area, and the project is located at the former First Solar facility. The First Solar project fell apart, but he said the foundation was still set to ensure the investment in the area wasn’t a waste of taxpayer money.
“When First Solar didn’t work, the money you put into it didn’t flutter away,” he said.
Smith began to break down toward the end of his speech, which he attributed later to the bittersweet nature of his departure. He announced in January his intent to enter the gubernatorial race this season, and he intends to resign from office in April. He did, however, leave an opening for a return engagement by saying this might be his last State of the City address during his speech.
“Until I actually formally resign, you never know what will happen,” he said.
The presentation concluded with a few inspiring words about the future, with Smith saying projects like Cubs and Riverview parks and the continuation of the light rail should make Mesa a destination place for the Valley.
“This is our potential, these are the things we have to dream about,” he said.
After walking off the stage to a round of applause and Lady Gaga’s “Applause,” District 6 Councilmember Scott Somers said what hit him the most about Smith’s speech was what he called the “underlying theme of opportunity,” of how the city created jobs in the midst of a massive recession.
He also concurred with a comment Smith made about having an idea of what could be, but not imagining what actually would happen to Mesa from 2008 and on.
“(It) was a culmination of what this mayor and this council have accomplished in the last six years,” he said.
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