It's been around for 25 years, but the future role of the Downtown Mesa Association may well be pondered, if Mesa Mayor Scott Smith's questioning of the nonprofit Thursday is anything to go by.
The association presented a new plan to the council with the goal of developing a diversity-embracing, nightclub-loving, pedestrian-friendly downtown that doesn't pretty much wind down by 6 p.m.
The focus now is on how to make downtown "vibrant."
With a slew of streetscape and other improvement projects, the foundation is ready now to build on what's generally considered a good-looking, clean, safe downtown, said Tom Verploegen, President of the Downtown Mesa Association.
But as Verploegen described how the association "facilitates" 60 downtown events annually and helps merchants organize regular events, such as Friday Night Out or MACFest, the mayor seized upon that word to turn the focus on the association. Smith urged officials to look inward, to become a primary player in these activities rather than just playing a supporting role.
"If I'm a property owner down there, one of the ways I increase viability or visibility ... it would seem like one of the main functions of an association would be to create that kind of an atmosphere, and if we're just 'facilitating,' and leaving it up to them, seems like something's missing there," Smith said.
Verploegen and association chair Crystal Russell both pointed to a limited budget, which mainly goes toward maintaining the square-mile region surrounded by Country Club Drive, Mesa Drive, University Drive and Broadway Road. They said that as much as they'd like to, they don't have the money to have a dedicated person to organize events.
Smith suggested that there may be a need to have somebody donning that role, because it feels like "no one's in charge." Mesa owns about 55 percent of the total 640 acres of the downtown area, making it the largest landowner. The association's main source of revenue is collecting assessments on downtown properties.
To illustrate the point of lost opportunities, Smith talked of his recent experience of attending a spring training game at Hohokam Stadium, about a mile away from downtown.
"I went to a game the other day and walked out and was amazed that there's nothing in the proximity of Hohokam Park, either inside or outside, that would make people drive downtown," Smith said.
While praising the clean and orderly downtown, Smith said that that's not enough.
"Somehow we expect drive-by development to happen, and that's not life," Smith said. "That's just not reality. You're not going to have people come into a clean downtown and say, 'Oh, gee, I want to be there.' There's got to be this sense that this is a happening place, not just clean, orderly and attractive."
"The No. 1 comment I get is that people don't get that buzz," the mayor added.
A variety of community outreach efforts are planned between now and November, before a final plan is presented to the council.