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Light Rail Brings High Hopes for Downtown Mesa

Light-rail construction is in progress on Main Street in downtown Mesa. Photo credit: Parker Leavitt/The Arizona Republic

By Parker Leavitt for The Arizona Republic

When construction began on Mesa’s $99M arts complex in 2002, a seed of belief was planted deep in the heart of the city’s historical downtown – a belief that the quiet district could eventually grow into something greater.

Now 10 years after the Mesa Arts Center opened at the corner of Main and Center streets, that idea is firmly rooted among the many downtown residents, business owners and activists who have fallen in love with the area.

Downtown Mesa now has more restaurants that stay open later, along with an eclectic mix of shops that appeal to a younger crowd. The performing-arts theater draws celebrities like actor William Shatner. Groups of Millennials stroll down Main Street to take “selfies” with the public art sculptures that have become a staple.

With light-rail service set to begin this fall, some feel downtown Mesa is finally on the cusp of its big moment, about ready to burst onto the scene. The sleek Valley Metro trains will link historical Mesa with Arizona State University, Tempe’s Mill Avenue and the skyscrapers of central Phoenix.

Though Mesa’s population tops bigger-name cities like Atlanta and Miami, its sprawling, suburban approach to development has never really centered on a downtown hub that generates a significant sense of community pride.

Some business owners said they enjoy the tight-knit community that downtown offers, while others found the inexpensive lease rates attractive. Just about everyone could see an enormous potential.

By the time the first light-rail passengers arrive at central Mesa’s new stations, there will likely be at least a few new businesses that have opened downtown, with two new announcements – an ice cream shop and an artisan bakery – likely coming soon.

“Five years from now, we’re going to be able to say that downtown Mesa was a 20-year ‘overnight’ success story,” Crummey said. “We’re here, and we’re so much more than you think.”

Read more at The Arizona Republic