The first extension of metro Phoenix’s Valley Metro light rail system will arrive in downtown Mesa Aug. 22, six months ahead of schedule and setting a revitalization process in motion, spurring both residential and commercial development activity.
The 3.1-mile Central Mesa extension is expected to add 5,000 new light rail riders per day to the Valley’s light rail system, with current daily ridership averaging 44,000 people. It will run from the current end of the line at Sycamore Drive to Mesa Drive with four stops at major Mesa roadways including a commuter park-and-ride lot. Testing is already underway on the new route, which was funded by a combination of federal grants and regional sales-tax revenue.
With a light rail comes the opportunity for transit oriented development, such as projects offering a mix of uses including jobs, housing, shops, restaurants and entertainment. Mesa’s revitalization will also attract new businesses to locate downtown to take advantage of the accessibility and fresh new appeal of the area.
“Downtown Mesa boasts more than 300,000 square feet of office, retail and restaurant space, and a myriad cultural amenities, higher education institutions, convention and concert space, accommodations and residential options. The advent of light rail will transform Downtown Mesa into a more walkable and vibrant community for residents and visitors alike,” Bill Jabjiniak, City of Mesa Economic Development Director said.
Innovation and robust infrastructure are driving emerging business and helping to revive recovering sectors. Real estate near light rail stations has been changing hands throughout the Valley and prices are rising. In addition to the light rail, the rebounding housing market has been a catalyst for such new developments, with the residential market shifting toward infill housing as commuters rebel against long drives and development on the fringes remains pricey.
The City of Mesa owns more than 40 acres of land with high density zoning within a half-mile of the four light rail stops. Mesa Mayor John Giles recently announced the city is willing to leverage the land and create partnerships for premier projects that accomplish quality transit-oriented and strategic development, including the highly visible corner of Main and Center streets in the heart of downtown and within close proximity to the Mesa Arts Center.
Mesa is additionally seeking a redevelopment partner to transform the former Brown and Brown auto dealership site located on Main Street, to jumpstart development that can benefit from the extended service.
America’s large, midsize and small cities have seen a resurgence with employees and residents showing a growing preference to live and work in urban areas and as Millennials migrate to urban cores, the younger generation is discovering that they prefer mass transit to cars.
“The City of Mesa is first rate and a model for how to get things done,” said Roc Arnett, president of East Valley Partnership . “They have a new strategic plan for marketing and repositioning the city, aggressively planning for the future and staying ahead of the trend. Interest in rail-centric ventures is picking up and future investments promise to reshape key corners and neighborhoods with redevelopment positioned along the Mesa Light Rail route,” he said.
In Mesa, business parks are sprouting partly because corporate tenants see the light rail as a way to attract workers. The first building of the 250,000-square-foot Waypoint office complex located at Alma School Road and Bass Pro Drive, adjacent to Mesa Riverview, will complete later this year. The facility is 100 percent pre-leased and serving as the new corporate headquarters for 600 employees of America Traffic Solutions (ATS), a market leader in road safety camera installations in North America. The company plans to add up to several hundred more employees at the location by 2017.
The 52-acre Broadway 101 Commerce Park located at the northwest corner of Broadway and Dobson roads, features 11 buildings of office, showroom, manufacturing and warehouse/distribution space.
New investment and activity is on the rise in both the Fiesta District and Downtown Mesa. The Fiesta district has attracted more than $400 million in public and private investment over the last five years, including the new Centrica building, a $10 million adaptive reuse project of a vacant retail plaza into a 110,000-square-foot Class A office space, opening this summer.
Apple Computer recently announced its new 1.3 million square-foot facility near the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, the first building to be located in Mesa’s Elliot Road Technology Corridor, an area complete with foreign trade zone status. The corridor is robust with infrastructure, available and affordable land, and proximity to the PHX East Valley pool of high-tech talent.
The Mesa extension consists of 31,226 feet of track and 450,000 linear feet of electrical conduit. Light rail opened in the Valley in December 2008. Another 37 miles of light rail transit corridors have already been identified in the Valley, while PHX East Valley city governments are underway with talks for extending the Mesa line into Gilbert and progressing on schedule for 2018 service.