Gilbert spent at least $25 million including state and federal funds over the last decade in upgrading and dressing up its Heritage District downtown, an amount officials and business owners say was necessary to attract visitors and development to the area.
The money paid for items including the new $6 million Western Powerline Trail and the $3.5 million Water Tower Plaza park, both near Page Avenue and Gilbert Road.
Other costs included painting the Water Tower, which cost $247,000, installing classic streetlights and furnishings including trash cans and planters, which cost $2.3 million.
“I don’t know if there’s one (improvement) that’s more pivotal than others,” said Greg Tilque, Gilbert development services director. “We couldn’t do it without any of those.”
Tilque said the money was well spent, adding it helped attract popular downtown mainstays like Oregano’s Pizza Bistro and Hale Centre Theatre.
Brian Bergeson, co-owner of Bergie’s Coffee Roast House near Page Avenue and Gilbert Road, said the trail and water tower were key in bringing new people to the area.
“(They) have definitely increased the traffic down here and brought a little bit more beauty to the downtown area,” he said.
He said the benefits that have come from the millions of dollars invested in the area are hard to measure, “but as a business owner down here, I like what I see right now.”
The Heritage District that residents and visitors see today is largely a result of 18 years of work set in motion by a development plan approved in 1991. The district is the area roughly bordered by Juniper Avenue and Elliot Road to the north and south, and Ash and Palm streets to the west and east.
The tally of expenditures in the area will reach a little more than $34 million — counting about $10 million in state and federal funds and grants — when the town completes two other key capital improvements. On the drawing boards are $1.4 million in pedestrian access upgrades like sidewalks and a $7.9 million public parking garage planned west of Gilbert Road on Ash Street.
“That’s the next big one,” Tilque said, referring to the parking garage.
He said the 350 parking spots will make room for an increasing numbers of visitors as future development comes to the immediate area. It will be especially helpful for those who will patronize the $10 million mixed-use Heritage Marketplace planned between Gilbert Road and Ash Street on Vaughn Avenue.
Gilbert officials still expect Heritage Marketplace to materialize despite a long delay. The project was scheduled to break ground in 2007 but was derailed as the economy went south and capital dried up.