The first residential phase of the long-awaited 3,200 acre Eastmark community in East Mesa will make its public debut Saturday.
Scattered between neighborhood parks with large ramadas and newly planted trees and desert plans, 14 model homes by seven different builders are nearly complete. Construction crews worked seven days a week in recent months to finish drywall, paint, lights and more.
When DMB purchased five-square miles of the former GM Proving ground in 2006, it was dubbed as the future center for economic development in Mesa, with jobs and homes to fuel growth in the surrounding area. Crews set to work designing what will eventually become home to thousands in one of the last large-scale residential-land developments for the East Valley.
But the recession hit and plans were put on hold. A few years went by as homebuilders and even potential employers — including a large hotel and convention center — hit the brakes to see when the recession end.
Until homebuilders arrived, First Solar was the only company open for business on the development.
That all started to change in late 2010, said DMB vice president and general manager for Eastmark Dea McDonald. DMB went to homebuilders and asked what could be done to attract them to the site.
Apparently, the timing was finally right. More than 30 different builders responded to the idea to build on 10 different subdivisions.
“It was late November 2010 when we realized there is a market out there and the market is starting to come back. We convinced our board to spend money on design and engineering plans,” McDonald said.
In April 2011, grading on the land began. In July 2012, DMB closed the deal with seven builders — Maracay, Mattamy, Meritage, Ryland Homes, Standard Pacific, Taylor Morrison and Woodside — with sights set on a summer 2013 opening.
“We were off to the races. This is what we can do in 11 months of time,” McDonald said.
Now, a large visitors’ center stands at Eastmark’s main opening. Outside it sits a children’s splash pad, water features and a parking area that doubles as basketball courts. A director of community life is hired to help create activities for new residents when they move in late fall. The first 10 acres of the “great park” are built.
Within sight of the visitors’ center, the community’s first school is under construction. BASIS Mesa, a highly acclaimed public charter school, is set to open in August for grades five through 10.
And then there are the 775 homes by the seven buyers. DMB wanted future residents to have a variety of options, so asked builders to differ — as much as they could — the size, architecture, floorplans and price of homes that will be available.
“The cool thing about my job is I get to see it from concept drawing to completion,” McDonald said.
Even as the home building gets underway, McDonald said DMB continues to work on putting the rest of Eastmark into place.
“Once you have rooftops, you can start attracting other uses,” he said.
In terms of retail and commercial use, McDonald said there has been a focus for the past year on the corner of Ray and Ellsworth road, the main entrance now to Eastmark. It could eventually be home to restaurants, a grocery store, bank, and more.
“We’ll take these traditional uses and then work on ‘placemaking,’” or the design and location, McDonald said.
The big impact Eastmark will make is in job creation, city leaders said.
“It’s going to be a major component of future economic development efforts in Mesa and the region for the foreseeable future,” Mesa Councilman Scott Somers said of Eastmark.
Nearby Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport is undergoing an expansion. State Route 24 is well underway. Bridgestone just broke ground on a biorubber process research facility. Fujifilm’s Mesa facility is nearby.
“In the future, we envision an urban area developing out along Elliot and Ellsworth. It’s going to be home we believe to a significant number of jobs that are the off shoot of all the exciting things at the airport, AZ labs and the Mesa Technology Accelerator,” Somers said. “Simply its (Eastmark) proximity to the airport will be an economic driver for the region. We think that’s going to be a focal point for job growth in the East Valley.
On Sunday, Eastmark has planned a celebration for the grand opening and the first phase of homes — complete with yoga, bands, face painting and snow for the kids. Trolleys will transport visitors to the model homes and buyers can ink deals to be the first residents of Eastmark.
Phase II will come when it appears the market is ready, McDonald said. The 300 acres will include 12 subdivisions and 963 lots. It could come as early as late 2014, he said. Higher-end executive homes and active adult pieces are also planned.
Homebuilders have been picking up activity in the last few months. Several have started new developments. Not only will Eastmark open this summer, but more homes will crop up at The Bridges of Gilbert.
“East Valley cities are beginning to see significant growth in new home construction. Eastmark’s opening really signals the start of one of Mesa’s largest remaining residential tracts. We are seeing movement in the economy. Home prices are on the rise and inventories are down. We are seeing companies considering expansion and relocation again,” said Bill Jabjiniak, Mesa’s director of economic development. “We think the timing and location are right for Eastmark given this movement in the economy and the proximity to the Gateway area, one of Mesa’s growing employment areas.”
Photo: Seven builders are constructing homes in the first phase of Eastmark in Mesa, Friday, May 17, 2013. [Tim Hacker/Tribune]