Mesa is probably most associated with its family orientation and the Mormon Temple, but not much else.
A year-long city initiative has found that's not enough for the city's residents.
The so-called "iMesa" effort to drum up bold projects has found that Mesans want a downtown with a microbrewery, nightlife and tall buildings. They also called for an entertainment complex, college campuses, more jobs and a spruced up area by Fiesta Mall.
More than 1,000 residents offered 250 ideas. Nobody seemed unhappy, yet people longed for more, said Mark Schofield, chairman of the iMesa steering committee.
"Many people came out and said they would like to see a trendsetting community," Schofield said. "When pressed on that, they really wanted to see that there would be a nightlife here in Mesa, that they wouldn't have to go to Tempe or to Scottsdale."
Schofield leads a city-appointed group of citizens that have held meetings across the city while collecting online suggestions. The group will prioritize ideas within six weeks and share them with the City Council, which will consider what projects are worthy of pursuing.
Residents can still vote for ideas on the initiative's website, www.mesaaz.gov/imesa. Three of the top five ideas involve revitalizing the struggling Fiesta District, perhaps with a better streetscape or entertainment complex.
The most popular idea is restoring the Buckhorn Baths, a hotel that used hot mineral springs to pamper Major League Baseball stars and tourists since the 1930s. The closed hotel was named one of the U.S.'s most endangered places by the Society for Commercial Archeology.
Other popular ideas involved business incubators and neighborhood park projects. Probably the most expensive ones involved light rail extensions or high speed rail from the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport to Phoenix Sky Harbor.
Smith said the citizen committee will need to refine the suggestions and draft specific proposals.
"Some of those examples are pretty ambitious," he said.
Councilman Alex Finter said he was impressed with how many people got involved and at the range of ideas.
"It's exciting to see that there's a format now for things that we as council members hear out in the field, and to be able to take that and look at how future planning goes," Finter said.
The ideas fell into seven areas: higher education, a vibrant downtown, transportation networks, arts/cultural vibrancy, a sustainable economy, livability and recreational access. Each theme included several specific projects.
Some ideas are already being studied or are under way. Mesa announced last week that Benedictine University is planning a downtown campus, and the city is exploring Fiesta District improvements.
Smith has called for ideas to flow in without limiting their scale or cost while acknowledging that costs will eventually have to come into account. The city will likely do that in the next several months and decide if it can pay for projects with current funds, federal money or by seeking voter-approved bonds.
The iMesa process is reviving a sense of community that Schofield said has diminished since he moved here in 1979.
"I can't tell you how many people said they were shocked the City Council wanted to hear from the community," Schofield said. "They said ‘We've never been asked before.'"
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