So, it appears developers oriented toward building the kind of high-density development expected to appear alongside of the Valley’s Metro light-rail system are more interested in Tempe than Mesa. Surprise, surprise.
Tempe has what may be the country’s largest university campus, which has spun off a downtown densely packed with retailers and restaurants. It’s spent years building a core that, in every arena other than sports, surpasses Phoenix.
Tempe has also made a commitment to mass transit which includes extended hours and free “Dash” buses running up and down Mill Avenue.
So it made sense for that city to want the light rail line to span its northern end, and to view it as an economic development tool worthy of $20 million worth of improvements along Apache Boulevard.
Mesa, on the other hand, has no domineering core, though it’s spent $100 million and counting on an arts center in an effort to reinvigorate its historic downtown.
Because of this background, a generally weaker connection to the Valley Metro bus system, and generally more conservative constituents, Mesa officials naturally looked at light rail with more suspicion.
Having less faith in rail’s potential as an economic development tool, but not wanting to pass up its chance to have the initial line reach into the city in case the project did turn out to be a success, the Mesa City Council settled for spending $25 million on just under a mile of track and one stop at the end of the line, flanked by two supermarket-centered strip malls at Main Street and Dobson Road.
The strip mall next to the station still has several empty spaces, and the one across the street just lost an anchor — a perfect laboratory for Mesa to see if the coming Metro trains can attract a decent-sized retailer.
And Tempe, with all its advantages, is only just now on the cusp of securing its first purely light-rail inspired development, a 100-unit condo complex.
So we think Mesa has, and will need, some time to take full advantage of being at the end of the line.