Mesa is going upscale.
The mostly middle-class city is getting its first AJ’s Fine Foods and first complex of Scottsdale-like shops to keep its well-heeled residents spending their cash and leaving their sales tax receipts in Mesa coffers.
The Dana Park retail project, which stretches along the west side of Val Vista Drive from U.S. 60 south to Baseline Road, near Gilbert, is under development by Triple Five Corp., creator of the Mall of America in Minnesota.
The Mesa shopping center, however, will look a lot more like Casa Paloma in Chandler, a collection of local and national shops, primarily focused on high fashion and elegant home furnishings, said Mike Clements, vice president of development for Triple Five Arizona.
It will be Mesa’s first lifestyle center — the buzzword for trendy new open-air-style retail complexes that cater to upscale shoppers and feature retailers such as Chico’s, Tommy Bahama, Williams-Sonoma or Restoration Hardware.
Clements would not say if any of those specific retailers are pegged for Dana Park since the shop spaces are still in negotiations.
The project will sprawl across 66 acres and cost an estimated $50 million to $60 million to build, excluding the cost of the land, Clements said.
Phase one, which is partially completed, are the shops and multishop buildings dotted around the perimeter of the project, protecting the lifestyle shops and their elegant surroundings from from the cars whizzing along Val Vista and Baseline.
Such retailers and restaurants as Baker Brothers Flooring, Buca Di Beppo and Baja Fresh restaurants, Euphoria Spa and several smaller shops and services have already opened for business in the street-side buildings. A couple more restaurants and another large size retailer are in negotiations for additional buildings, Clements said.
Mesa’s City Council approved plans for the project in late 1998. That was before the 2000 census revealed impressive statistics about Mesa, said Lori Quan, Mesa economic development marketing specialist. The census results may have put the project on a faster track, she said.
Dana Park’s second phase is the lifestyle center, scheduled to debut in early 2004. Two major tenants — AJ’s and Barnes & Noble — are already on board. So is Scottsdale-based Pei Wei Asian Diner, the faster-food version of PF Chang’s China Bistro.
On the line, but not yet signed, are four furniture or home furnishing stores, three high-end women’s fashion shops, a women’s shoe store and a gourmet kitchenware store, he said.
They will be housed in one-and-two-story building clusters to simulate a Main Street-like shopping scenario, similar to Kierland Commons on the north Phoenix-Scottsdale border.
Clements said the retailers negotiating for space and others being wooed for the project are the same or similar shops as those in Kierland Commons or Casa Paloma.
Befitting the select tenants, the shop faces will be finished with such features as domes, hammered copper roofs and about $2 million worth of marble, he said, and they will be surrounded by lush landscaping, a courtyard full of fountains and about 225 date palms.
"It will be an absolute oasis — the site will be covered in date palms," Clements said.
The company also plans to build a neighborhood park with a one-mile-long walking-fitness trail and plenty of water features along the western edge of the property to buffer homes from the shopping center.
Dana Park’s third phase, which is pegged to include a full-service hotel, multilevel parking garage and more retail, is probably a couple of years away, Clements said. The project is Triple Five’s first in Arizona, he said. The company targeted Mesa as perfect for a lifestyle center.
"Even though Mesa doesn’t have the perception of wealth that Scottsdale has, there is still a lot of money in Mesa, and Mesa people want to shop in Mesa." Clements said. "We identified that site years ago. We thought the southeast Valley was an under-served market. What attracts us to this market is that it’s a stable economy and a diverse economy."
Clements said Dana Park, when it is completed, will draw shoppers from six to 20 miles away, especially with the freeway access. Chandler-based Bashas’ feels the same about the need for a Mesa AJ’s, the company’s gourmet market chain, said spokeswoman Mimi Meredith.
"We do a great deal of research on the demographics of an area, and we know where an AJ’s succeeds well," Meredith said. "The AJ’s in Chandler (at Casa Paloma) is very successful. We look for that same kind of neighborhood mix."
The Chandler AJ’s was the first in the south East Valley, and Meredith said Dana Park is a similar location. Half of the eight AJ’s are in Scottsdale, two are in north Phoenix, and Glendale and Chandler each have one of the gourmet supermarkets.
Dana Park will be a big boost for Mesa not only by keeping the city’s bigspenders spending at home, but also by giving the city the prestige and respect it deserves, said Richard Mulligan, Mesa’s economic development director.
"It’s all in how retail developers look at you," Mulligan said. "When people see this type of retail thrive here, others will follow."
Mesa has plenty of stores, but they don’t necessarily reflect the variety of shopping needs for the hodgepodge of age, culture and income level among the city dwellers, he said.
"Mesa today has the second largest retail sales in the Valley," Mulligan said. "We’ve become so large that communitywide averages don’t tell the whole story of this city."
Some areas of the city have average household income levels above $70,000, Mulligan said. "That’s equivalent to the Kierland area," he said. "The Mesa-Gilbert business climate is the same as the Phoenix-Scottsdale (border area). And Dana Park is a reflection of that. We’re really excited about the work Triple Five is doing at that location."