Mesa’s Fiesta Village once was active day and night, attracting shoppers with a Bobby McGee’s nightclub, movie theaters, shops and restaurants.
Today, it’s encircled by a barbed-wire fence.
Its massive signs are busted and teetering.
Mesa had threatened to condemn it after a two-year standoff with its owner.
The west Mesa center stands as perhaps the East Valley’s most glaring example of how the region’s once thriving shopping centers have been battered by the recession.
The city is moving to force the owner to clean up the center or face penalties. This comes at a difficult time for shopping center owners, as a report released this week shows the Valley has 303 empty “big box” stores.
Mesa believes the center’s owner, Phoenix-based W.M. Grace Co., can do more with the site in spite of the recession.
Mesa has stepped up its efforts to see the Fiesta Village site cleaned up, sending an Oct. 8 letter to the owner that demands a clean-up while also offering to help redevelop the site.
Councilman Dennis Kavanaugh described the approach as syrup and sulfur. The city demands Grace address nine code violations, which includes removing the damaged signs, painting, landscaping, removing graffiti and repairing broken windows. The city gave Grace a Nov. 1 deadline. Each violation could result in a fine of up to $2,500 — but city officials emphasized their goal is to see the center improved without fines.
If Grace complies, the city will waive redevelopment fees, offer assistance with redevelopment plans and have adult probationers pull weeds and perform repairs.
“I think the city has taken a very forceful step, but in a positive way, to make sure this is on the radar screen of this company,” Kavanaugh said.
A Grace representative did not return a call for comment.
Mesa officials plan to meet with the company Wednesday to discuss the property. The city isn’t aware of any specific redevelopment plans, said Christine Zielonka, Mesa’s development and sustainability director.
Fiesta Village neighbor Jeff Geyser is skeptical Grace will improve the property, and that the city’s approach will work. Geyser is a partner in Lawrence & Geyser Development, which owns an outparcel along Southern Avenue that is home to a vitamin shop and mattress store. A chain-link fence sits behind his property and has made his building look blighted despite a $500,000 renovation, Geyser said.
Grace doesn’t seem interested in doing anything with the property, Geyser said — which surprises him because of the company’s success in other commercial development. Many retailers are looking for space in the Fiesta District, he said, but seem unable to lease in Fiesta Village. The area’s image has taken a hit because of that single center, he said. “People assume there’s something wrong with the area and that’s just not the case,” Geyser said. “This is just bleeding onto every property at the intersection.”
He fears bad blood between the city and Grace will continue and prolong the site’s eventual redevelopment.
Mesa officials acknowledge Fiesta Village likely can’t be filled up with stores again, and expect some or all of the center will need to be redeveloped with different uses.
Mesa is trying to jumpstart redevelopment in the Fiesta District with an upcoming $10 million streetscape project. Starting Wednesday, the city will install new signs in the area to bolster the district’s identity and try to rebrand it.
Finding new stores for west Mesa will prove challenging given the Valley’s retail vacancy rate. It has reached 12.3 percent, according to CB Richard Ellis. The Mesa/Chandler/Gilbert submarket is the Valley’s worst area, with 14.9 percent of retail space vacant.
More established parts of the Valley should see stores return to vacant space sooner than farther-out areas, said John Rehling, a senior vice president with CB Richard Ellis. The severity of the real estate crash will have an upside in attracting new stores, he said, because land prices have fallen so much that stores can afford to expand into places they that they couldn’t have just a few years ago.
Rehling couldn’t predict the pace of shops opening, but said shoppers should see some within a year.
“Real estate is clearly on sale and that does bring people out of the woodwork,” he said. “There are various tenant representatives driving all over the Valley, even as we speak, looking to secure space for their tenants.”