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Mesa Hopes New ASU Campus Spurs Downtown Growth

Published: Thursday, June 9, 2016 - 4:25pm
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Lauren Gilger
Jeff McVay, manager of Downtown Transformation with the City of Mesa

Cities across the Valley are looking inward these days, refocusing resources and money on creating attractive downtowns. Now, Mesa city officials are hoping a deal with Arizona State University will jump start their downtown’s growth.

Voters will have their chance to approve the potentially $160 million dollar project to build a new ASU campus in downtown Mesa this fall and, if it passes, city officials there hope it will bring some new energy to its sleepy city center.

“Mesa’s got a reputation that we roll up the carpet at 5 o’clock and everything shuts down. It’s not true, but I would like for that perception to be gone in 10 years, that people choose downtown Mesa as a destination of their own” said Jeff McVay, manager of Downtown Transformation with the City of Mesa.

He said the city has been focused on revitalizing its downtown for quite some time, and then, when Mayor John Giles took office last year, downtown development was a major focus for him.

Mesa already has a really successful downtown, according to McVay, with attractions that import people into the area for events or venues. Now, they just need to re-focus on the residential front – getting people to live there – and activating their culture, restaurant and nightlife scenes.

“We have our Mesa Arts Center; it’s the largest arts center in the southwest,” he said. “We have the Arizona Museum of Natural History, we have the IDEA Museum, which used to be the Museum for Youth; we have the Mesa, Arizona Temple, the first temple built outside of Salt Lake City.”

And that’s to name a few, he said.

“You add in the amphitheater, we have a convention center, we have a great number of very successful – individually successful – features in downtown,
 McVay said. "What we’re hopeful is that, by building an ASU campus with a park that is tying it all together, that will be the connector with all these other amenities that are down here.”

Depending on what voters approve, the city has plans to eventually build four buildings near the existing Mesa City Plaza, as well as a 5-acre park, as part of the new ASU campus. The new buildings will house Digital and Sensory Technologies, Performance and Media Arts, Early Childhood Development and Entrepreneurial Support programs, and it could all bring up to 3,500 students there, according to McVay.

He said the light rail is the key to this development because, unlike ASU did in downtown Phoenix, the university won’t be bringing an entire school to downtown Mesa.

“We’ll be getting full programs of a school, but the connection to Tempe and downtown Phoenix is important and light rail is that connection,” McVay said.

Bringing young, creative people to this area will be key in activating their grassroots arts community and spurring restaurant growth in the area, he said. And, as Mesa continues to grow, having an active city center is important.

“For many years, Mesa was the fastest growing community in the nation, in the 80’s and 90’s,” he said.

“We’re still growing fairly fast, and at nearly half a million people now, we need a downtown that is reflective of a city that size.”

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