2013 in Mesa features Arias trial, economic development - East Valley Tribune: Mesa

2013 in Mesa features Arias trial, economic development

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Posted: Sunday, December 29, 2013 9:15 am

Of all the words to describe Mesa in 2013, inactive is the furthest one down the list. The city was bustling throughout the year with news that held the nation’s attention for months at a time and the announcement of several new projects that should make Mesa an attractive option for businesses in 2014 and beyond.

Here is a brief glimpse of the news that shaped Mesa over the last 12 months.

• The story that captured the attention of not just Mesa, but the entire country was the four-month trial of Jodi Arias, who was convicted of killing Travis Alexander in his home in Mesa back in 2008. Authorities believed she planned the attack in a jealous rage after she was rejected by Alexander, while Arias initially denied any involvement, then blamed the killing on masked intruders and finally claimed she acted in self defense after her arrest.

Testimony began in early January and quickly turned into tabloid fodder with daily coverage from cable news networks, and was a frequent topic of conversation on talk shows and for legal experts. The 32-year-old Arias even used her infamy to sell artwork she made while in jail.

The conviction on the first-degree murder charges came after the jury convened for two hours in May, but that didn’t put an end to the drama surrounding the case. In subsequence months, a jury deemed Arias eligible for the death penalty, but a deadlocked jury forced the judge to issue a mistrial in the penalty phase. The next hearing date to determine Arias’ fate is scheduled for January.

• Outside of Arias, one of the biggest stories in Mesa occurred close to the end of the year when Apple decided to build a plant in the city. In November, Gov. Jan Brewer’s office announced Apple would purchase the 1-million-square-foot First Solar facility located in Mesa’s Gateway region and use it to produce sapphire material for Apple products through an agreement with GT Advanced Technologies. The completion of the facility is expected to create at least 700 jobs in the first year alone and 1,300 temporary construction positions. After the announcement, Mayor Scott Smith said Apple’s arrival in Eastmark, which features Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport and the Eastmark community, will provide the area a “big shot in the arm.”

“It’s a culmination of all of our efforts in the last five years in Gateway,” he said.

• Adding to the continued construction of the Gateway region was the opening of the new Eastmark development located at the former GM Proving Desert Grounds. The 3,200-acre development features seven builders who have created their own neighborhoods within the area, as well as parks and other amenities. Eastmark held a grand-opening event at the end of May that drew approximately 5,000 people, and the first homeowners moved into the neighborhood within four months of its opening.

• Joining Apple and Eastmark in the Gateway region will be the newest Grand Canyon University campus. Announced at the end of July, Grand Canyon had whittled its choices to Mesa and Gilbert before opting to purchase 100-acres — the school could purchase 60 more in the future — to build a 10,000 student campus. Originally, the plan was to open the main campus and build residential units later, but Grand Canyon opted instead to develop a $35 million, 1,000-bed apartment style residence hall to open alongside the main campus.

Construction on the campus is scheduled to begin in 2014, with classes scheduled to start in 2015. Full build out of the 100 acres should take approximately five years.

• Gateway appeared to be the place to be for Mesa this year, but the region did take a ding when two airlines decided to pull out from Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport.

In June, Frontier Airlines discontinued its direct flight from Gateway to Colorado, a decision that came approximately a year after starting it in the first place. A month later, Spirit Airlines announced it would cease all operations at Gateway and move to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport effective Oct. 23 of this year. Both moves left Allegiant Air as the sole commercial air tenant at Gateway.

Airport officials, however, said the loss of both airlines was relative, as Allegiant has accounted for the heavy majority of the airport’s traffic for several years. Spirit’s daily flights from Mesa to Dallas accounted for 8 percent of Gateway’s total traffic, said Gateway Executive Director Jane Morris.

• Grand Canyon University’s Mesa announcement was one of several moves that sent the city back to school this summer. That’s because the city saw a total of four colleges open up shop over the course of August and September. Three universities — Upper Iowa, Wilkes and Westminster — opened in August alone, and they were joined by Benedictine University in September. Also opening this year was Albright College, giving Mesa five post-secondary school openings in 2013.

• Although 2013 wasn’t an election year, the Mesa City Council did see a departure of one of its members and the arrival of a replacement to serve in the interim.

Former District 5 Councilmember Dina Higgins resigned from her seat in August, citing work and travel issues related to her full-time job. Higgins’ term on the council, however, did not end until January 2015, which led the rest of the council to pick a replacement to serve the final year-plus of her term.

The original list of applicants consisted of 21 prospects that were then cut down to four finalists: Debra Duvall, Kathleen Rahn, Kevin Ruegg and David Luna. Following interviews of all four candidates, the council selected Luna, a former citizen of the year, in a unanimous vote. Luna was sworn into office on Sept. 23.

• Baseball, particularly Spring Training season, was on the minds of many Mesa residents due in large part to the activities of two Major League Baseball teams.

Progress on a new Spring Training site for the Chicago Cubs commenced to the point where Mayor Scott Smith said it’s “99.9 percent complete.” The facility located in Riverview includes a new ballpark, several training fields, athletic facility, batting cages and many other amenities. An opening event is scheduled for Jan. 25.

The Cubs former home, Hohokam Stadium, is set to undergo a revamp in order to host a brand new team after the Oakland A’s agreed to head to the city earlier this year. The team will start playing at the redone stadium during the 2015 Spring Training season.

•Residents of Mesa mourned the death of former mayor Wayne Brown, who died at the age of 76 in May. A graduate of Mesa High School, Brown served as the mayor between 1996 and 2000 and served on the Mesa City Council from 1968 to 1976. He is known for his passion for the arts — he led the effort to build the Mesa Arts Center — and, with his wife Kathye, helped raise approximately $4.5 million through private fundraising to contribute to the facility.

•The man who terrorized Mesa and the rest of the Valley for more than a year died in what an autopsy later revealed to be suicide in June.

Known as the “serial shooter,” 40-year-old Dale Hausner was discovered in his cell in Florence dead due to amitriptyline — a drug used to treat depressions and pain — intoxication. Before his death, Hausner was convicted in 2009 for his involvement in a series of random shootings that occurred from May 2005 through August 2006, when he was arrested in his apartment in Mesa. Hausner’s conviction covered 80 crimes in all, including six counts of first-degree murder, attempted murder, aggravated murder, cruelty to animals and additional charges for which he was given the death penalty.

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