It was touted as a panacea for bringing life to downtown Mesa. But college officials say rising construction costs and the chance to plan a new program at a single site pushed them to move expansion plans for Mesa Community College to its main Fiesta district campus instead.
It was touted as a panacea for bringing life to downtown Mesa.
But college officials say rising construction costs and the chance to plan a new program at a single site pushed them to move expansion plans for Mesa Community College to its main Fiesta district campus instead.
That recent decision is bittersweet for City Councilman Dennis Kavanaugh, whose own district could reap the benefits of the latest move, but he wonders what will become of planning efforts for the downtown area.
"A lot of us who understand successful downtowns almost always see a strong educational component there to help bring that critical mass of people," Kavanaugh said, adding that is why downtown Phoenix is pinning its hopes on the success of Arizona State University's presence.
The councilman's ties to MCC's plans for Mesa run deep.
About five years ago when he was vice mayor, Kavanaugh, along with former MCC president Larry Christiansen, helped sell the dream of a vibrant downtown by injecting a chunk of student population on the streets.
The sales pitch got the nod from the Maricopa County Community College District governing board and led to the project's inclusion in a successful 2004 bond package bid.
Now, Kavanaugh says he's relieved that a new program, called the P-20, aimed across the board from preschoolers to graduate students, is still on. But the shift may have deeper ramifications for the city.
"I understand that circumstances change," Kavanaugh said. "Unfortunately, in this case the city's planning was predicated on having a downtown campus."
Vice Mayor Kyle Jones said he too would have preferred a downtown campus, but he understood the college's need to not delay things.
MCC President Shouan Pan said the decision to expand near Longmore was made recently, cemented by their purchase of two new buildings - a Fuddruckers and a Harkins theater.
College officials say the P-20 program will take two years to design and build. It's a partnership between MCC, the Mesa Unified School District and Northern Arizona University. Of the $20million set aside for the program, MCC will spend $10million from bond money and $10 million will come from the Mesa school district. About $8 million more is expected to come through space leased by Northern Arizona University.
From the college and city officials' viewpoint, this shift will benefit the Fiesta district near the main campus on Dobson Road and Southern Avenue - another focus area in need of revitalization.
Mayor Scott Smith said he was excited about the college's plans. He didn't believe having an educational component downtown was more critical than the program itself.
"I would much rather have a program that succeeds than have it limited by real estate," Smith said.
Pan said the college is still committed to the downtown area.
No definite alternative plans for downtown aside, Kavanaugh also noted that one of the college's goals has been to better serve the Latino community, which they had hoped to do through the downtown campus.
The college is still in the early stages of identifying programs that would help the growing population's needs, Pan said. But he added that all future programs would be targeted for other ethnic groups too, not just one community.
Still, a registration and testing site for Latinos is being planned "to create a Latino entrance or portal," said Rodney Holmes, provost for the college's downtown center.
Phil Austin, former president of the Mesa Association of Hispanic Citizens, said the college's expansion in the Fiesta district would still serve the community, with its strong base in that area.
A recent ASU study shows that between 2000 and 2007, the Hispanic population in Mesa went up by 7 percent, comprising more than a quarter of the city's residents. That study, Austin said, which showed significant population growth among the youth, behooves the public-private partnership to educate that segment.
"They'll be the ones supporting our Social Security system and paying taxes," Austin said.
Some elementary and middle schools are as high as 90 percent Hispanic. Pan said the college will be looking closely at the demographic data of residents to see what's best to serve that community.
"We have an obligation to respond to their needs and we're talking to the community," Pan said.
Kavanaugh said he's "anxious" to see what the college proposes in the near future.
"They have to make personal connections."