Mesa successful in creating downtown energy - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Mesa successful in creating downtown energy

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Posted: Wednesday, September 16, 2009 5:43 pm | Updated: 12:58 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Friday night in Mesa was not like Friday night in Mesa. People were everywhere. They were at the Mesa Arts Center watching free performances inside and out. They were crowding into the restaurants. They were winding through the SunDust Gallery for its grand opening at 48 W. Main St.

Friday night in Mesa was not like Friday night in Mesa.

People were everywhere. They were at the Mesa Arts Center watching free performances inside and out. They were crowding into the restaurants. They were winding through the SunDust Gallery for its grand opening at 48 W. Main St.

They were walking up and down Main Street sizing up row after row of motorcycles whose riders had responded in droves to the invitation to bring their bikes downtown.

Rob Schultz, assistant director for art and education at the Mesa Arts Center, said as the evening wound down that he was so gratified by the size of the crowds that he had taken a short stroll from his home base at the MAC to find a place to sit down at Main and McDonald just to take it all in.

Mayor Scott Smith, seen with wife Kim at the SunDust Gallery, recalled that when he was elected mayor last year, downtown stakeholders were not only not working together, they were often working against each other.

He has since pushed hard to encourage an events-oriented downtown and a community-oriented Mesa Arts Center. He was smiling on Friday night.

A beaming Tom Verploegen, executive director of the Downtown Mesa Association, said he's now convinced that a lot of simultaneous small activities will make the downtown come alive as opposed to an occasional epic event that saps everybody's energy.

Who or what brought about critical mass?

The downtown merchants for one.

They've been organizing what they call 2nd Friday in Downtown Mesa events. Motorcycles on Main was their event, and it was a roaring success in more ways than one.

Downtown became noisy and not just with the roar of the bikes but with the music from bands stationed along Main where various businesses were open for action.

It will be noisy in October, too, when the 2nd Friday (Oct. 9 ) theme is Oktoberfest, with plans calling for five beer gardens and a polka line stretching along Main from Country Club Drive to Center Street and back again.

Congratulations to 2nd Friday chairwoman Suzanne Woodford of OneOhOne Gallery and her group.

Credit also goes to the Mesa Arts Center.

We caught some of the Sister Cities Concert inside the impressive Ikeda Theater. And we caught "Flam Chen's acrobatics and daring use of fire act" on what's called the shadow walk - the outdoors walkway between the theaters and the arts center at the MAC. The act is from another world and not to be missed if you get the chance.

And there was so much going on in the other theaters.

Congrats to Johann Zietsman, the city's arts and culture director, for making it the people's art center. I learned that night that the alliance between the MAC and the Mesa Sister Cities group was struck at a Super Bowl party hosted by Ron and Joanie Newth. (Joanie Newth was on the Mesa City Council several years ago.)

The eclectic SunDust Gallery created its own noise through e-mail invitations and is a classy addition to downtown. I wish owner Ron Floyd all the best.

It should be clear that the arts for the people hold the key to creating a vibrant downtown, but there is no single holder of the arts key.

The keys are held by the private galleries, in addition to the Mesa Arts Center and the MACFest, where artists and craftsmen line Main beginning at Center on Saturday mornings to display and sell their work. The MACFest season opens Oct. 3 and runs through April 24.

And even the churches, such as First United Methodist Church at Center and First Avenue, which is eager to show off its choir and music talent under the direction of Jeff Harris, Westwood High School's music director for 30 years and director of the Sonoran Desert Chorale. (Full disclosure: I'm a member at FUMC.)

The truth of the matter is we didn't get very far down Main on Friday night. There was just so much to take in that we couldn't take it all in.

But we left knowing another truth: On Friday night, Sept. 11, there was energy on Main Street in downtown Mesa. And the energy drew the people. And if the downtown businesses and the city put their backs into it, it will happen again and again.

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