Mesa Councilman Dennis Kavanaugh is putting more pressure on the owner of the vacant Fiesta Village center, calling for the city to crack down on code enforcement and to declare large signs a safety hazard.
A community group is also pressing the city to take a more aggressive stance on a complex that's been lifeless for three years and falling into ever-greater states of disrepair.
The push comes as Mesa is stepping up efforts to revitalize the Fiesta District and encourage redevelopment of the many struggling shopping centers. Kavanaugh wrote to owner W.M. Grace Development Co. of Phoenix, urging it to share its redevelopment plan quickly.
"Quite honestly, your company has a public relations nightmare on its hands with the current state of Fiesta Village and public patience is stretched to the very limit," Kavanaugh wrote.
The 17-acre site on the northwest corner of Alma School Road and Southern Avenue was once a thriving center of movie theaters, shops and restaurants. It's been in decline for years and lost its last shop, hip-hop clothing store K-Momo, in mid-2007. A chain-link fence surrounds the property now to deter vandals.
Grace has told the city it's working on redevelopment plans and plans to share them within weeks. But it could face a big headache if the city forces improvements, especially the removal of the large signs along the street.
Signs of that size are highly valued by stores and shopping center owners, especially since stricter regulations would not allow new developments to have signs as large as what was acceptable when Fiesta Village was developed several decades ago.
If the city determined the signs were unsafe and forced their removal, the owner would lose rights to the large signs, Kavanaugh said.
The West Mesa Community Development Corp. wrote to the city Tuesday to express concern the signs could fall and injure people. Holes in the fence indicate people are trespassing and could put themselves at risk, said Jo Ellen McNamara, the group's executive director. The property has gotten much worse in the last six months, she said.
"They're not attempting to keep the property in a state that isn't completely embarrassing," McNamara said.
This is at least the second time Kavanaugh has pressured Grace publicly. In May, he said the city should consider eminent domain to buy the property for a police station after growing frustrated that Grace had not been talking with the city for some time. The company responded after that, Kavanaugh said, but communication has tapered off again.
Grace did not return phone calls to the Tribune.
Grace responded to Kavanaugh's recent letter. The company will meet with Mesa within weeks to present a development agreement that would allow it to demolish some signs and structures, Grace Vice President Mike Pearlstein wrote to Kavanaugh.
Pearlstein objected to a cornerstone of the city's redevelopment plan, which would narrow Southern Avenue for nearly two miles in west Mesa. The city believes the smaller street would make room for inviting walkways and landscape to boost the area and shift it from a suburban setting to a more urban place.
Pearlstein wrote that would be a "tremendous mistake." Stores want wide streets and parking that faces the road, he wrote.
"I believe that development of buildings close to the street and facing inward to an internal parking field will not work at this site and make securing retailers very difficult," he wrote.
Kavanaugh acknowledged the site is difficult to redevelop but said Grace should sell it if it's unable to make a plan work. The property is a concern of the entire City Council, he said, and one of the more frequent complaints of voters in his district.
"I'm tired of defending it," Kavanaugh said.