Mesa initiative boldly calls for rail network, botanical garden, downtown nightlife - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Mesa initiative boldly calls for rail network, botanical garden, downtown nightlife

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Posted: Wednesday, March 7, 2012 8:40 am | Updated: 10:31 am, Sat Mar 10, 2012.

Mesa doesn’t have an impressive high-speed rail line to its airport, nor does it have venues that rival New York City’s Central Park or Times Square.

And that has some Mesa residents asking: Why not?

A citizen’s committee tasked with identifying big community projects has outlined bold plans for the city, some of which challenge the stereotype that Mesa is a boring place.

They include a botanical garden, rail lines to the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport and a flurry of projects downtown to kick-start nightlife.

The ideas came out of the iMesa initiative to gather residents’ proposals for projects that will transform the city. The effort has produced a torrent of ideas from residents eager for more in their city, said Mark Schofield, chairman of the iMesa steering committee.

“The community, for the first time in a long time, really does feel that they are being listened to,” Schofield said.

The City Council-appointed citizen’s group has recommended Mesa initially focus on three things: A vibrant downtown, a transportation network and recreational access.

For downtown, the group called for a microbrewery and a plaza that would be a gathering place. It also suggested a botanical garden just outside downtown at Pioneer Park, which Schofield described as a tired place that needs a metamorphosis.

Two Mesa men announced last week they plan to open Desert Eagle Brewing on Main Street this summer, and other microbreweries are possible.

Councilman Alex Finter welcomed the work to make downtown more lively, adding he’s frustrated with stereotypes about the area.

Transportation recommendations include extending Metro light rail to Gateway, and for high-speed rail from that airport to Phoenix’s Sky Harbor. The members also want to build one of the nation’s best networks of bicycle paths and lanes, and to provide more transit.

Recreational proposals include restoring the Buckhorn Baths, a hotel that used hot mineral springs to attract Major League Baseball players since the 1930s. The closed hotel was one of the most popular iMesa improvements. The group suggested reviving it as a youth sports complex.

The committee also looked at a regional park in southeast Mesa, working with schools to share some parks and improving the aquatics program. That would include a downtown aquatics complex, an idea Mesa voters approved in the 1990s. The city pulled the plug on the center in 2005, after cost estimates spiraled from more than $24 million to more than $41 million.

Finter said Mesans are attached to the city’s aquatics offerings. He said he didn’t fully realize that until the city proposed closing a pool. When he met with upset residents, “you could almost see pitchforks and flames coming at me,” Finter said.

“It is a deeply held cultural asset that we have here ,” Finter said. “We have an aquatics program that’s second to none in the state and looked at throughout the United States as a model.”

The iMesa committee has seven topics in total, but its members decided to wait on higher education, arts/culture, sustainable economy and livability until later.

The group wants to build momentum on some areas to avoid taking on too much at once, Schofield said.

Mesa Mayor Scott Smith said he likes that the range from projects range from things that can be accomplished in a few months, some that would take a handful of years and a few that could take decades.

The year-long iMesa discussion has so far left out one key element – how to fund any of the proposals. Mayor Scott Smith said money will have to be discussed, but that he thinks it’s important to remove any constraints to develop ideas. He said the city will eventually have to ask residents to fund the work.

The iMesa initiative will continue to collect ideas, Smith said.

“We get it that this is not all-inclusive, which is both pretty refreshing and also scary to think that there’s a lot of good ideas out there that I’d love to do them all,” Smith said. “We have constraints. We’ll talk about those later, cause people can always think of five reasons why we can’t do something. I like the fact that you have looked at things and said, ‘Why not do these?’”

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