To revive the struggling Fiesta District, Mesa believes it’s time to bulldoze a half-mile stretch of dead and dying shopping centers.
And to lure new development, the city plans a massive streetscape project that would add trees, colorful asphalt murals at intersections and massive entry monuments that light up at night and define the area.
The city is moving forward on this drastic shift after a redevelopment consultant studied the area for a year. California-based Kreuzer Consulting Group told Mesa that the suburban-style area has to become an urban center.
“The days of this corridor being a big-box corridor are gone,” said Rick Kreuzer, the company’s president.
Mesa plans to begin with a $11.5 million streetscape project, mostly on Southern Avenue. Several monuments would define the district. They’d include lattice monuments filled with chipped glass that will light up at night and feature a massive “Fiesta” sign.
“At night it will be a really vibrant entry monument that will really let people know they’re entering something new and exciting,” Kreuzer said.
Mesa has talked with major property owners to develop the concept, City Manager Chris Brady said.
“We’re looking at a vision that’s going to be much more than what you have today,” he said. “It’s not just about taking the same think and trying to make it work. It’s really a whole new vision of the area.”
Mesa plans to narrow Southern from Alma School to Dobson Roads, from six lanes to four. That would create more room for grass and trees — and separate sidewalks from traffic. Traffic studies show only minor increases in congestion, as the city would keep existing lanes at intersections.
The project would begin in 2013 and take a year to complete. The city hopes the district will get property owners interested in redeveloping the shopping centers north of Southern, from Alma School to west of Longmore.
Mesa wants the entire stretch of centers to be linked by new roads that break the properties into smaller, more walkable blocks. A grassy “village green” would run north and south, linking Fiesta Mall with the new development to the north.
Kreuzer envisions three- to four-story buildings with a mix of office, retail and housing on upper floors.
Property owners have to buy into the plan for it to work. Kreuzer said the new streetscape is a start to that.
“Developers respond to those things,” he said. “When they see the city’s on board and they’ve got a willing partner, it’s much more inclined to take off.”
Kreuzer sees a captive audience for many of the projects. He said few of Mesa Community College’s 30,000 students live nearby, and that Banner Desert Medical Center’s 7,000 employees don’t stick around after work either. That creates a lot of opportunity for new housing and restaurants, he said.
Fiesta Mall manager Matt Rhorer said the new streetscape should eliminate some of the blighted surrounding properties.
“I’m glad to see the city focusing on this area,” he said. “It’s an outdated area. There’s just so much potential.”
Mesa Councilman Dennis Kavanaugh said the city is talking with 12 higher education organizations about locating in Mesa, whether downtown, along Power Road or in the Fiesta District. One developer recently bought the shopping center that was home to Best Buy and Borders, he said, and is considering an educational use.
“A lot of the higher educational institutions are looking at the Fiesta area because you can adapt a lot of those big-box buildings to education,” he said.
He figures it could take three to eight years for major redevelopment to happen.
Also, Mesa is planning a $9.4 million police substation at the northwest corner of Grove Avenue and Westwood. It would be the first building to feature new design guidelines for the district.
Mayor Scott Smith said he remembers going to the 1979 grand opening of Sears at Fiesta Mall. He said sheep grazed nearby as farmland was disappearing, and that it’s time for another major transformation.
“We recognize it’s more of an urban place now than a suburban place,” Smith said.
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