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Mesa Mulls Impact of Grand Canyon University

By Gary Nelson for The Arizona Republic

A rendering of Grand Canyon University’s planned campus in Mesa.

A rendering of Grand Canyon University’s planned campus in Mesa.

Five years ago, news that Mesa would be the home of a new 10K-student college campus would have evoked unanimous cheers from City Hall.

But the reaction was a bit more reserved last week after Grand Canyon University, a for-profit company with a large existing school in Phoenix, announced a deal with DMB Associates to build the campus in DMB’s Eastmark development.

With that zoning in place, Mesa did not need to be consulted when Grand Canyon and DMB began negotiating the sale of at least 100 acres on the east side of the Ray-Ellsworth road intersection. Some City Council members said they first knew about the deal only when they got invitations to last week’s press conference.

Councilman Dennis Kavanaugh said when Mesa began recruiting colleges several years ago in an effort to flesh out its educational portfolio, schools like Grand Canyon weren’t on the wish list.

“My concern is our five schools,” he said, referring to the five not-for-profit Eastern and Midwestern colleges and universities that are setting up campuses as a result of Mesa’s recruitment drive.

“In terms of higher education needs in the city as we saw it, it wasn’t something we saw as a need because students in the region can be served by the great (GCU) campus in Phoenix,” Kavanaugh said. “We weren’t recruiting satellite campuses of institutions already here in the Valley.”

Councilman Scott Somers, who represents southeast Mesa, believes there’s room for GCU in the city’s educational mix.

High-quality education there, he said, “is important for the success of the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway area plan.” He added that Eastmark is an “essential driver to our goal of reaching 100K high-wage jobs” in southeast Mesa.

Mayor Scott Smith said he was aware that Grand Canyon was looking at Eastmark. “I encouraged DMB to work the deal,” Smith said. “We gave them some ideas on how to make it happen.”

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