(Source: AZCentral): Jessica Boehm
One of the pioneers who helped reinvigorate downtown Phoenix nearly a decade ago with a risky condo project wants to take another risk — this time in downtown Mesa.
Habitat Metro — known for Portland Place Condominiums, Portland on the Park and the recently opened FOUND:RE boutique hotel — wants to bring a 14- or 15-story hotel and apartment complex across the street from the Mesa Arts Center.
“We think the time for Mesa to do something like this is right now. The ingredients are there: Light rail, education, the arts,” said Tim Sprague, Habitat Metro principal.
The Mesa City Council gave unanimous approval earlier this week to begin project negotiations with a subsidiary of Habitat Metro.
Tallest building in downtown Mesa
The land at the southwest corner of Main and Center streets is currently a city-owned parking lot. According to early plans for the development, Habitat Metro would build a multistory parking garage topped by at least 75 apartments and 75 hotel rooms.
It would be the tallest building in downtown Mesa — at least for now, according to the city’s Downtown Transformation Manager Jeff McVay.
The developers already own land next to the parking garage where they plan to build a 7,000-square-foot food hall, which would accommodate three or four trendy dining options. On top, they would build a 5,000-square-foot events center.
Currently, performance-goers find limited places to eat before a show or stay if they’re from out of town, he said.
“The people in Mesa have been looking for something like this for a long time,” Sprague said.
Arizona Sen. Bob Worsley and Kent Lyons are partners in the development. Sprague hopes his team can break ground this time next year, he said.
Is downtown Mesa where downtown Phoenix was 15 years ago?
Light rail construction began in 2005 in Phoenix and din’t open until 2008. It extended into downtown Mesa in 2015.
Sprague, who believes light rail is an asset to development, said it’s beneficial to not “have to wait for the disruption of having it built.”
In addition to light rail, downtown Mesa has a burgeoning college presence, much like downtown Phoenix in the early 2000s. Arizona State University’s downtown Phoenix campus is often cited as a metamorphic addition to downtown.
Additionally, Mesa Mayor John Giles remains eager to land an ASU campus in the area.
In November, the city asked Mesa voters to hike the sales tax rate to fund the campus, along with other items such as public safety. Mesa voters told the city, “no.” But Giles is still determined.
“We have not stopped talking with them — there are meetings happening right now,” Giles told The Arizona Republic earlier this year. “It’s still a really good idea.”
A ‘tipping point’ for downtown Mesa
The Mesa City Council offered a rousing endorsement for the project.
“I think we will look back on this project as a tipping point in downtown Mesa,” Giles said.
Giles, who served several stints on council dating back to the 1990’s, said he’s seen countless developers come in and try to sell glitzy projects that would revive downtown Mesa, but never came to fruition.
“I’m not skeptical when it comes to this development because this is not a guy with pretty pictures,” Giles said. “He’s talking about doing what he’s already done and doing it in downtown Mesa. This is not a snake oil salesman who’s coming in and saying give me some city property and I’ll make something. This is a guy who’s done it over and over and over again and this is going to be a transformative project for downtown.”
For the next year, the city will work out a development agreement, which is likely to include financial incentive for the developers, McVay said.
It’s possible the developer will ask for a popular incentive that abates taxes for eight years or for favorable lease provisions, he said.
Mesa will maintain ownership of the land. It was gifted to the city in the 1950s for public parking. The developers project will maintain at least 102 public parking spots to uphold the city’s obligation, McVay said.
The project and any incentives will come back before council for approval in the next year.The city would also need to change the zoning because a 14-story building is not currently allowed on the land, McVay said.
He said he’s energized to work with developers who’ve already accomplished impressive feats in neighboring cities.
“I think it’s going to set a really high bar for future developers,” he said.