To revive downtown in the last couple of decades, Mesa revamped Main Street, poured $100 million into the state's largest arts center and tried to lure countless developments.
Despite the intense focus, the city never put a single person in charge of its longtime downtown redevelopment push.
That's changed with the hiring of the city's first downtown projects manager who will promote the area to businesses, real estate agents and visitors.
Melissa Woodall took the helm Oct. 4. A top priority is getting the word out about existing museums, shops and other destinations that she said undeservedly have remained a secret with too many Valley residents. So she's working on a new marketing campaign and a bigger emphasis on events.
"We truly are trying to activate downtown so it's not just an 8 to 5 venue," Woodall said.
The city's economic development office had previously assigned specialists to specific projects downtown but never the entire area, said Jaye O'Donnell, the marketing and business development manager. The new downtown position eliminates duplication and gives merchants and developers a single contact they can turn to, she said.
Woodall has 23 years of economic development experience in Texas, including in Arlington and Mansfield. She moved to Mesa in 2009 with her husband Gary, who then became the chief meteorologist for the National Weather Service's Phoenix office.
Despite the newness of the position, Mesa has laid out plans for downtown to house higher educational and health care facilities. The city has been pursuing those efforts for years, which Woodall will continue to work on. Also, she'll work to keep existing businesses, expand what's here and attract projects to underdeveloped or vacant land. One good thing about current merchants, she said, is their dedication to the city core.
"They tend to be locally owned businesses, so they've made the conscious decision to choose not just Mesa, but downtown," she said.
Woodall has a foundation to build on as she peruses development, as the city completed studies this year evaluating the potential for medical and higher education facilities downtown.
One of Woodall's closest contacts is David Short, the executive director of the Downtown Mesa Association. Short, who began his job in November, said he and Woodall have worked closely already on events and business development. While he said he couldn't compare his organization's relationship with the city to the past because both he and Woodall are new, he said they've worked on common causes.
"We talk probably one or two times a day," Short said.
The city and the DMA are pushing events, following criticism from merchants that downtown wasn't lively enough. City permit fees and red tape discouraged events and threatened the popular Motorcycles on Main event this year, but Woodall said the city is now having her work on a streamlined event process to encourage more activity. While those involved with downtown sometimes have different visions, Woodall said her talks with most people show they have one thing in common that they want the city to do.
"Everybody wants to see events and promotions in the downtown area," she said.