Downtown Mesa going back to its roots with innovative twist

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Big changes are on the horizon for downtown Mesa. (Source: City of Mesa) Big changes are on the horizon for downtown Mesa. (Source: City of Mesa)
Several new buildings are planned for the revamped downtown Mesa. (Source: City of Mesa) Several new buildings are planned for the revamped downtown Mesa. (Source: City of Mesa)
Neon signs could also be coming to downtown Mesa. (Source: City of Mesa) Neon signs could also be coming to downtown Mesa. (Source: City of Mesa)

By Erin Dragoo

MESA -- New developments and proposals for eclectic mixes of restaurants, office space, entertainment venues, higher education, housing, hotels and retail in downtown Mesa hope to transform the halcyon area into a bustling metropolitan destination.

Since the public’s investment in the light rail extension in 2015, plans for economic development in downtown Mesa have been created by members of the community and council, and February was a big month for development. Although no physical buildings were constructed, 100,000 square feet of property was purchased by developers Caliber: The Wealth Development Company and Habitat Metro, a lease agreement was accepted with developer 3W Management, and ASU’s downtown Mesa expansion was approved by the Mesa city council on a 5-2 vote.

These developments are all projected to be key pieces in turning the area into City leaders’ desired “Innovation District,” a term coined by the Brookings Institution. The institution describes these districts as “dense enclaves that merge the innovation and employment potential of research-oriented anchor institutions, high-growth firms, and tech and creative start-ups in well-designed, amenity-rich residential and commercial environments.”

[RELATED: SLIDESHOW: Downtown Mesa's murals]

Caliber’s $7.625 million purchase comprises of eight buildings along Main Street, between Country Club Drive and Center Street. Each building purchased by the developer is historic, being built between 1910 and 1954. The company plans to fill the space with a mix of entertainment venues, office space and restaurants.

They have not released a list of any of the possible tenants, however, in a press release, they did hint at a rooftop restaurant on top of the J.J. Newberry Company Building, 114 W. Main St. Currently residing in the building is the Antique Plaza, which will have to vacate once renovations begin.

Greg Farr, the Antique Plaza owner, said that he didn’t think they would be moving anytime soon, although when the time comes, he said he believes they will stay in Mesa. Victor Linoff, president of the Mesa Preservation Foundation, met with one of the development principals from Caliber on Thursday to discuss their plans for preserving the history of the buildings, and said that he was assured that their sole interest was in preserving and adaptively reusing the buildings.

“You’ve got to work with these owners and help them understand the unique value and assets they own, and I believe that this group fully understands that, and I’m not worried anymore about losing these buildings. But we spent some sleepless nights over it,” Linoff said.

During Thursday’s meeting, Linoff also said that he and the developers discussed bringing neon signs back into downtown Mesa, recalling historic photographs that show dozens of neon signs buzzing all along Main Street.

“That would bring a new kind of life, vitality and color into kind of a tired-looking business district right now,” said Linoff.

Caliber is willing to spend several million dollars bringing neon back to downtown.

[RELATED: Mormon Temple unveils redevelopment plans near downtown Mesa]

Mesa City Council also approved a memorandum of understanding with Habitat Metro, the developer working alongside Caliber, for a mixed-use structure to be built at the current location of the city-owned Pepper Place Parking Lot, near the southeast corner of West Pepper Place and North Robson. The lot currently hosts 76 parking spaces.

Tim Sprague, principal of Habitat Metro, presented the proposal at a City Council study session on Feb. 15. The building would consist of between 70 and 100 luxury apartments, each unit measuring between 500 and 1,250 square feet, as well as 5,000 square feet of retail space at the ground level.

Sprague said that he would make sure that the 76 parking spaces would remain available for the public use, and would work with the City if they decide that they would like more put in.

The structure would also be equipped with solar panels, which would provide 85-95 percent of electricity, as well as a water catchment system and a natural swimming pool.

“We’ve designed this building, and this concept, from the inside out,” Sprague said, adding that each apartment unit would be provided with a smart TV. He also proposed an incentive program for residents, in which they could see their energy and water consumption on their televisions, and whoever had the lowest at the end of the month would win a free dinner.

The building potentially could be the tallest downtown, reaching 15 stories.

“My main concern would be with massing, so that they don’t overpower the buildings on Main Street,” Linoff said, concerning the construction, “but if you move back to First Avenue or further into that half of downtown, you certainly can put in some pretty large scale buildings and that won’t detract from the character of what’s along Main Street.”

During his State of the City address in February, Mesa Mayor John Giles revealed a lease agreement signed with developer 3W Management to construct a seven-story, $60 million mixed-use development at 233 E. Main St, which is currently a 3.3-acre parking structure. The Grid boasts ground floor restaurants and retail, as well as four levels of residential units, which will include 75 micro-units measuring 450 square feet, 15 rowhomes, each 3 levels, and 196 sky apartments.

As far as the restaurants that will occupy the ground floor, 3W Management president Tony Wall said that he has no signed leases yet, adding, “but we are in discussion with a number of high profile restaurant folks. There is a lot of interest in downtown Mesa.”

The second floor of the Grid will be occupied by its first partner, Co+Hoots, who joined them in February. Co+Hoots is a co-work company providing business services and ongoing learning to entrepreneurs, growing companies and professionals. Wall said that signed with them in hopes that they would bring the attraction of a current approach to business operations. In choosing downtown Mesa, the 3W president indicated that there was a lot of thought that went into the decision, however, he ultimately chose the location because “the demographics are really smart. The city is very wise in the way they have allowed development to move forward in downtown. We have built a partnership with downtown and the businesses that is very special, and the people that we have come in contact with are so pro-development.”

The Grid is anticipated to break ground in August, and the north building, with the retail, office and micro units, is set to open in 2019. The south buildings will open in the following six months.

Suggested as the anchor of the Innovation District by Giles, a five-story ASU building proposal was given the green light at a City Council meeting in February– the first step in bringing the campus downtown.

However, this isn’t the first time that council has approved the university’s proposal. Mesa voters who didn’t want a sales tax increase shot down the idea in 2016.

Officials say that this time, the ASU Project will cost considerably less than the originally proposed $102 million, and the funding will not come from a new tax.

The controversial downtown Mesa ASU campus would provide programs such as advanced visualization, rapid prototyping, and virtual and blended realities.

“I think in the next few years, you’re going to see [downtown Mesa] transformed into a real vibrant, dynamic space punctuated by several blocks of historic buildings that will give it a really unique character, and if the neon goes in, there won’t be anything else like that in the valley,” Linoff said.

[PDF: Central Main Street Area Plan, Chapter V: Planning for Neighborhood Change]

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