The city of Mesa, Arizona, is said to be finding its soul, following the completion of a major downtown revitalization project, which The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints broke ground for in 2018.
“There was a time where the heartbeat was difficult to find in downtown Mesa,” said Mesa Mayor John Giles in a recent Newsroom summary and the Church’s October 2021 edition of the World Report.
Thanks in part to the Mesa Arizona Temple helping maintain a strong Latter-day Saint presence in the city, the Church redeveloped 4.5 acres of land along the Main Street light rail corridor just west of the temple.
“It was an eyesore,” recalled local restaurant manager Omar De La Cruz. “Now it’s looking beautiful.”
A new mixed-use community called The Grove on Main has replaced vacant lots and dilapidated buildings near the temple, which was dedicated in 1927. It has been recently renovated and will be rededicated and reopening in December 2021.
The primary purpose for the redevelopment was to protect and enhance the environment around the grounds of the Mesa temple, as the Church considers its temples to be the most sacred places on earth. A secondary but essential reason was to attract businesses and home buyers to infuse more economic life into the community.
The Church’s commitment is “huge,” said Mayor Giles, because “some legitimate organization that has resources has got to say, ‘You know what? We see the value in this location. We’re going to maybe take a risk. But we think it’s a great, well-calculated and intelligent risk because we see the potential, and we’re going to take advantage of the public infrastructure that’s in place.’ [The Church’s] decision to invest in our downtown sent a great signal to the rest of the smart investors that said, ‘Well, gee, that if they’re doing it, that’s a sign that it’s got potential [and] can be a reality.’”
The project includes 240 apartments, 12 townhomes, 70,000 square feet of landscaped open space, ground floor retail space and underground parking.
Regarding the development project, Bishop W. Christopher Waddell, first counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, cites a famous line from the movie “Field of Dreams” — “If you build it, they will come.”
“That’s actually what’s happened here,” Bishop Waddell said. “We’ve built this. The residents have come. In fact, leasing happened at a faster pace than anticipated. Occupancy is at 100 percent.”
Caliber Companies of Scottsdale, Arizona, is one of the businesses investing in several commercial properties in Mesa. John Hartman, the company’s chief investment officer, said they would not have done so without the Church’s leading commitment to the city and the project.
The Church’s example “led people to have the confidence to come down here and say, ‘OK, if a project like this can happen and get leased, then there’s other opportunity,’” Hartman said.
He added that “downtown [Mesa] in a couple of years is going to be the place to be.”
Said Vice Mayor Jenn Duff: “We have a lot of shovels in the ground right now. We have about 1,500 units [under construction]. We’re doubling our density in downtown.”
City Creek Reserve, Inc. (CCRI), the Church’s real estate arm, worked with Scottsdale-based Dale Gordon Design to plan the vibrant, transit-oriented neighborhood, which features diverse residential unit sizes, comfortably scaled buildings, Mesa-authentic architecture, and landscaped streets and gardens.
Newsroom reports that the new apartments include studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom floor plans.
Amenities include a business center and conference room, garden areas, outdoor cooking and firepits, an outdoor games area, a pool, property security, a package concierge and gated parking access. Retail tenants can be accommodated in up to 12,500 square feet of ground-floor space. An underground parking facility (the first such structure in Mesa) has 450 stalls that serve both residential and retail users.
An additional aspect of the project is the remodeling of several historic homes on First Avenue and esthetically enhancing the street that leads to the Mesa temple’s front entrance.
“There is still a rich history on First Avenue that is worth preserving,” Duke said. “While it may be more economical to knock down every structure, it was best to preserve the overall feel of the neighborhood. And that’s what we tried to accomplish. [The] street now looks very similar to what it would have looked like in the [1950s] or ’60s.”
The Church also contributed time and money to strengthen the city’s infrastructure, adding drainage systems, fixing electrical and mechanical problems, repairing several miles of streets and planting trees.
“It’s similar to what [Church] President [Russell M.] Nelson said when he was talking about vaccines with COVID-19,” Bishop Waddell said. “He invited people to be a good global citizen, to do our part. Because we have a significant footprint here in Mesa with the members of the Church and the temple, we felt that we needed to do our part. We’re excited to see the other projects that aren’t ours go up. And we’re excited to see what happens to the community. We’re just grateful that we’ve been able to be a part of it.”