10 things that shaped E.V. in past decade - East Valley Tribune: News

10 things that shaped E.V. in past decade

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Posted: Tuesday, December 29, 2009 8:44 pm | Updated: 2:02 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

From the housing bubble to illegal immigration to light rail, it's been a wild and eventful past 10 years in the East Valley.

MORE LISTS: Prep sports highlights  |  Best athletes  |  Pop culture surprises

5 East Valley restaurant trends of 2009

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From the housing bubble to illegal immigration to light rail, it's been a wild and eventful past 10 years in the East Valley.

MORE LISTS: Prep sports highlights  |  Best athletes  |  Pop culture surprises  |  5 East Valley restaurant trends of 2009

Housing bubble

Nothing defined the decade more than the area's housing bubble.

The double-digit appreciation rates during the first half of the decade had real estate agents driving investors through neighborhoods while they snapped up houses in hours or days. It was said agents for buyers and sellers were so hot to move on deals they were filling out the paperwork using car trunks as desks. Buyers didn't think twice about the home's condition, and sellers did dances over the amount of money they were getting. The mantra was "drive until you qualify."

The market cooled with the weather in late 2005, early 2006. Then the crash came. And house prices slid for most of the rest of the decade. Foreclosures led to blight in many neighborhoods.

The latest Arizona State University-Repeat Sales Index shows the Valley's median existing home price increased for the seventh straight month, reaching $130,000 in September compared with $126,500 in August.

There are still about 50,000 homes on the market in the Valley.

Illegal immigration

The past decade saw a major change in the way illegal immigration, its impact and its enforcement are viewed in the East Valley and elsewhere in the Valley, especially in areas such as Mesa and Chandler, where shifting demographics and a proliferation of "day labor" workers took place. The state enacted law that aims to penalize companies that hire illegal residents. And Sheriff Joe Arpaio has been at the center of the issue with his controversial "crime suppression" sweeps. A 2008 East Valley Tribune investigation examined several problems with those sweeps. The newspaper's work earned it the Pulitzer Prize for local reporting, only the third time an Arizona publication has won journalism's top honor.

Getting around

Freeway loops and light rail changed the way we move in the East Valley.

The last stretch of Loop 101 opened in 2002, finishing what is a 60-mile lap around the Valley that connected the east with the west.

The Santan Freeway stretch of Loop 202 came later in the decade and gave motorists 23 miles across the southern portion of the East Valley, connecting Interstate 10 in the West with the Superstition Freeway (U.S. 60). Loop 202 is now 75 miles, with more than 30 percent of it in the Santan Corridor.

For those who wanted an alternative to driving, the first 20 miles of the Valley's light-rail transit opened last year. The trains connected downtown Phoenix and its sports venues and employment centers with Tempe and Mesa.

Sports and recreation

East Valley communities were on the losing end of protracted battles to win professional sports teams and their stadiums but scored a crown jewel that has proven to be a draw for casual and organized recreation.

After intense opposition to an Arizona Cardinals stadium plan in Mesa, voters in 2002 ultimately rejected it at the ballot box. A site in Tempe also was rejected because the building would have been too close to a flight path. And years of delays in Scottsdale spurred the Phoenix Coyotes hockey team to look elsewhere for its arena.

Once the East Valley's prize to lose, the Cardinals and Coyotes now call Glendale their home. And the lucrative Fiesta Bowl was replaced with the lesser Insight Bowl at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe.

But years before all of this philosophical head-butting over the value of professional sports, a plan to make a dry river bed one of the Valley's premiere recreation destinations was hatched.

Tempe Town Lake turned the usually dry Salt River into a mecca for water sports and outdoor recreation. The lake and beach park, which have helped spur nearby development, turned 10 years old this month.

Culture comes to town

This was a decade the arts came home in the East Valley. Massive works of art unto themselves, high-profile city venues arose in 2005 in Mesa ($98.2 million) and 2007 in Tempe ($65 million), while Chandler's facility, built in 1989, got a major $6.7 million face-lift that shuttered its main theater for most of this year.

Downtown Mesa's Nile Theater, a former historic movie theater, earned a reputation for raucous acts and criminal activity as a concert venue before it was shut down in the early part of the decade. The site later found religion as a church ministering to the homeless. Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre opened in 2001, bringing to east Mesa a wide variety of more wholesome performances that audiences could really sink their teeth into.

The Queen Creek Performing Arts Center followed in 2003, run by the Queen Creek Unified School District and supported by the town. In Gilbert, the Hale Centre Theatre, a $1.8 million, 380-seat performing arts hall, opened in July 2003. Higley Center for the Performing Arts was built by the Higley Unified School District, opening in 2006 with 37,500 square feet of performance space.

Phoenix-Mesa Gateway expansion

A decade ago, Williams Gateway Airport largely moved cargo in and out of the region. There was no passenger terminal, and commercial flights were, um, pie-in-the-sky dreams.

Today, the reliever to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport - now known as Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport - has seen close to 1 million arrivals and departures over the last two years.

Perhaps the most significant of those arrivals has been low-cost carrier Allegiant Air, which established regular commercial service in 2007.

Recession bites city, state budgets

Plenty can be said about the impact the late-decade recession has had on East Valley residents. The fallout for local cities, school districts and state government has been severe as well, as revenue from sales taxes and various revenue sources plummeted. Every city has been forced to find ways to make cuts while hoping to minimize impact on residents, but the task has been daunting. Meanwhile, the state still hasn't found a way to resolve a projected $2 billion deficit, even as it has made cuts that will impact a variety of services.

Hospital haven

The need for hospitals was so great in the last decade that new facilities and expansions popped up all over the East Valley.

The decade saw the rise of Banner Gateway Medical Center, Mercy Gilbert Medical Center, Mountain Vista Medical Center, Gilbert Hospital, Arizona Regional Medical Center and numerous, multimillion-dollar expansions of Banner facilities, including the seven-story Cardon Children's Hospital.

Apache Junction's first hospital, a branch of Arizona Regional Medical Center, is slated to open in a matter of days.

Higher education expands

A higher demand for higher education has boosted the East Valley's university and community college campuses this past decade. Opened in 1996 as ASU East, the campus now known as ASU Polytechnic has grown its enrollment, degree offerings and student-life options. In 2000, 1,939 students were on campus. Today, there are 9,146. The site - on the former Williams Air Force Base - houses additional programs for Chandler-Gilbert Community College, Mesa Community College and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. The community colleges also grew. Mesa Community College opened a northeast Mesa campus. Since 2000, Chandler-Gilbert Community College has added about 6,000 students to its three sites. Today, about 16,000 students take advantage of classes through CGCC.

Growth of retail

The decade saw malls for the first time in Chandler, Gilbert and Queen Creek. And Mesa saw its third mall in the slow-to-develop Mesa Riverview.

About a month after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Chandler Fashion Center screamed to life in turbulent economic and political times.

It was the long-awaited centerpiece of a 320-acre retail mecca at Chandler Boulevard and Loop 101, pegged to keep Chandler shoppers from spending their money - and sales tax - in other cities.

SanTan Village opened its doors in Gilbert in October 2007, the same time the real estate market was tanking. While there were some early struggles, Macy's came aboard there this year.

Queen Creek got in the mall action as well with the opening of Queen Creek Marketplace in March 2008, a huge addition to the town's downtown area.

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