By Roland Murphy for Arizona Builder’s Exchange
Mesa, Gilbert, Chandler and Tempe downtowns are flourishing and leading the way in urban redevelopment efforts due to planning, innovation and cooperation, according to panel of leaders from each of those municipalities.
At a CoreNet Global Arizona Chapter event last Thursday, representatives from cities and development partners in the area updated attendees on their progress and plans.
Mesa: Becoming Place of Choice
Following kickoff comments by moderator Todd Sanders, Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, Mesa’s Manager of Downtown Development Jeff McVay discussed how accommodating cars had been the focus of the city’s development and growth for more than a century, and how that is no longer the case.
According to McVay, the city’s efforts now focus on making Mesa, “A place of choice.”
To reach that goal, the city has created incentives for downtown economic development, focused on attracting and servicing more people, invested in intermodal transport beyond the automobile, and focused on developing a walkable downtown environment that provides a mixed use of businesses, residences and activities.
To that end, he said, new development will focus on the creation of iconic buildings, landmarks and destinations based around flexibility and creativity with a focus on sustainability. He named light rail as a key component in the success of the city’s efforts to date and also lauded Mesa’s transition to a form based development code to expedite project planning and approval.
Gilbert: Aggressive Patience Pays Off
Next up was Gilbert’s Economic Development Marketing Administrator Amanda Elliot, who touted the extensive growth in the town’s 260-acre Heritage District over the past eight years. She credited the fact that projects in the area are overseen by a development commission that encourage new enterprises in the district, rather than a traditional design review board.
Gilbert’s success as an up and coming destination, she said, has been due to consistency in creating inviting but clear and uniform aesthetic guidelines for businesses in the district, including standard for floor space, windows, exposure and walkability.
She said Gilbert’s growth has been, “A 30-year overnight success,” that has been realized through, “Aggressive patience,” in its strategic planning and implementation.
Chandler: Success Through Partnership
Jeff Kulaga, executive director of the Downtown Chandler Community Partnership, the city’s Enhanced Municipal Services District, spoke of the importance of business owners, developers and local officials cooperating to realize mutually beneficial growth objectives.
District management and secondary property taxes, marketing and promotion, and safety and beautification area key stewardship components of DCCP’s role, he said. “It’s absolutely imperative that property owners, merchants and business owners are involved with the city and other entities. We’re a partnership. We’re in this together.”
Promoting downtown Chandler, which is being branded as “The DC,” is the partnership’s primary job, Kulaga said. To that end, DCCP assists with maintenance and municipal cleanup efforts, plans events, oversees the district’s directory kiosks, and manages public art projects. “We take care of the jewelry,” he said.
The organization also handles marketing and promotion for downtown, including its popular farmers market, concert program and art walk.
Tempe: Many Benefits and Successes, More to be Done
Last to speak in the main program was Kate Borders, Executive Director and President of the Downtown Tempe Authority, that city’s EMSD. In her presentation, she noted Tempe possesses several highly appealing elements – such as Mill Avenue, Tempe Town Lake, Arizona State University, an arts culture, light rail, and an inherent drive to expand within a city that is completely surrounded by others – which have contributed to its downtown revitalization success.
Despite the assets that have made Tempe a leading example of revitalization success both in the Valley and nationwide, Borders said the city still faces challenges.
These include what she referred to as, “Lots of concrete,” transients, and difficulties in developing nearby longstanding and legacy areas that don’t fit the vision held by officials and partners as to where the city should ultimately end up.
According to Borders, the city’s next steps will be to manage growth, confront homeless and transient issues, generate ongoing data to evaluate progress, create volunteer opportunities, continue to explore new events, and leverage and expand partnerships.
In a follow-up session following the presentation, Chandler’s Kulaga embraced the concept of aggressive patience and reminded attendees, “Nothing is instantaneous.”
Mesa’s McVay noted that every city represented on the panel has achieved its success through planning and partnership, shifting course as needed during setbacks without losing sight of their long-term objectives.