Mesa’s flirtations with an auto mall developer looking to locate on city-owned softball fields on the west side have touched off a firestorm of controversy among residents who say that park land itself is a very valuable asset.
City leaders have been in discussions in recent weeks with an auto mall developer, which has expressed its intentions to build on 25 acres of Riverview Park that is now home to the city’s adult softball leagues. The proposal would complement the sprawling Mesa Riverview retail development that is under construction near loops 101 and 202 in Mesa.
Residents expressed concern Tuesday during a meeting of a neighborhood group in west Mesa that the auto mall would be just the beginning of the development in an area where city-owned land is becoming increasingly valuable.
“Twenty to 25 years ago, New York City was on the verge of bankruptcy . . . It would (have been) unconscionable to hear ‘We’ll sell half of Central Park,’ ” said Marilynn Wennerstrom, who has lived in the area for more than 40 years.
Mesa, which is cashstrapped and failed this spring to pass a property tax, is in discussions for the sale of a nine-hole golf course west of the Riverview ballfields, said Dave Richins, a member of the West Grande Community Alliance.
Developers are discussing with the city to build a 300-room resort hotel and an entertainment complex where the municipal golf course is located, Richins told a crowd of about 70 residents.
No one has discussed paving the way for development on a playground and a small lake stocked with largemouth bass and rainbow trout that are features of Riverview Park just south of the ballfields.
But Richins stressed that the property’s location near the freeways and Arizona State University assures pressure from developers.
But residents cautioned that the neighborhood should be assured that the city, as part of any development deal, constructs additional parks in the western part of the city, preferably before the land is bulldozed.
Just a year ago, the Mesa Riverview development east of the park was approved by voters with the caveat that the De Rito Partners/Kimco Developers project not touch the cityowned parkland proposed for development.
Dale Phipps, 59, said any agreement between the city and neighborhoods should be ironclad.
“I don’t trust the city and I don’t think they’ll build any land unless they’re forced to,” he said.