Mesa has proposed a $65 million bond package for voters to consider this November after residents spent the last year outlining improvements they’d like to the city’s aging park system.
The park bonds could prove controversial, as they’d appear at the same time the Mesa Unified School District is contemplating a $275 million bond package for the Nov. 6 ballot.
Mesa City Manager Chris Brady said the city kept the large size of the school bonds in mind as parks officials weighed priorities. The city’s initial list totaled $131 million, which Brady said was scaled back to only include the most popular improvements that residents identified at a series of community meetings. The projects were primarily identified by residents, Brady said.
“We tried very hard not to make this look like a City Hall-driven process,” he said.
The park bond would cost the owner of an average home, which has an assessed value of $122,000, about $23 a year.
The City Council took up the issue for the first time Thursday and plans to take a closer look at the projects in June. Mayor Scott Smith said he understands some residents will question spending money on parks given the state of the economy, but he said many businesses scrutinize a community’s quality of life when deciding where to locate or expand. Smith views recreational offerings as an economic development issue.
“Our purpose is to build a great community, and these are not frills,” Smith said.
The council must decide by July whether it will place the bonds on the Nov. 6 ballot. The package would lead to the first major upgrade to city parks since voters approved a bond package in 1996.
The lack of investment has been obvious to residents, Brady said. He noted nonprofit Trust for Public Land recently ranked Mesa 36th out of 40 large cities it surveyed for the quality of parks.
“We think this goes a long way to addressing that,” Brady said.
The bonds would help fund a signature project at Riverview Park, which is being rebuilt as part of the $99 million Chicago Cubs spring training complex. The city expects that will fund all the basics of the park, but Brady said some bond money may be needed for extra amenities like an extensive area of water features for children to play in.
The city would also revamp older parks in west Mesa, expand and open new parks in central and east Mesa and extend its network of trails. Funds would allow Mesa to buy the historic Buckhorn Baths, which was a top priority for residents who took part in the iMesa initiative to identify major community improvements.
The bonds include upgrading playgrounds, irrigation systems and adding shade structures at a number of unspecified parks. Smith said he wants to take a closer look at how many of the city’s neighborhood parks would get upgrades because they are often the most heavily used — and most in need of repair.
Mesa held several community meetings recently to help establish priorities. The feedback triggered the city to add amenities in some places but also to withdraw proposals for lighted ball fields in east Mesa because neighbors didn’t want such an intense use by their homes, Brady said.
Mesa anticipates the projects would take about four years to complete. The projects include:
• Expanding or building new parks in east Mesa, where park space has not kept pace with growth.
• Working with the Mesa school district to build a regional aquatic center at Mesa High School, and building ball fields at several west Mesa school sites.
• Developing a master plan for Pioneer Park and beginning some improvements that could include a botanical garden and a veterans memorial.
• Renovating the old Federal Building downtown, which could become the new home of the Mesa Historical Museum or the Play Ball spring training exhibit.
• Planning a downtown urban plaza around City Hall.
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