This week’s news that a Chicago-area developer wants to build high-rise condos near Fiesta Mall could give a shot in the arm to an area already on the rebound.
For years, Mesa has been studying how to bolster the shopping centers and neighborhoods around Southern Avenue and Alma School Road as the mall fights to bring shoppers back from malls in Chandler, Scottsdale, and Tempe.
In the past year, the Valley’s largest retail developer bought Fiesta Mall, and is expected to unveil its strategy for revamping it early next year. The nearby Hilton hotel is being renovated, and Mesa Community College and Banner Desert Medical Center are planning expansions.
Now — as first reported in the Tribune — condo developer Roszak/ADC, which has built $750 million worth of projects in the Chicago area, wants to build four towers just east of the mall, with anywhere from nine to 24 floors of condos sitting atop groundlevel businesses and underground parking garages.
Roszak/ADC president Tom Roszak said Mesa is poised for the same kind of revival he’s seen in Evanston, Ill., which was driven by condo buyers priced out of the innercity market.
"It’s a huge renaissance. What’s happened to Evanston over the last eight or nine years is the classic example of what planners hope for," he said. The city now has one of the most popular movie theaters in the country and about 50 restaurants, he said.
The Fiesta Towers proposal is "a good sign for that area (around Fiesta
Mall)," said Jay Butler, director of the Arizona Real Estate Center at Arizona State University Polytechnic. "Now there is something positive to talk about, whether it happens or not."
Butler said it’s too early to know if such a project can succeed, and noted that most of the planned high-rise condos in Phoenix and Tempe are not yet built. Butler said these condos are popular with investors, seasonal residents, empty-nesters and young professionals.
Westcor assistant vice president of development Garrett Newland said the company continues to talk with Harkins Theatres about a Fiesta project and is evaluating whether to include residences as part of its redevelopment. Westcor recently had a high-rise condo building approved at the Biltmore Fashion Park in Phoenix.
"We get over 16,000 employees that come into the 2-square-mile area every day, and we’re trying to give them the option of living closer to work," said Teri Killgore, Mesa economic development program manager for the Fiesta District.
Two mortgage brokers who work in what is, for now, Mesa’s tallest building — the 16-story Bank of America Financial Plaza — said their experience with the housing market makes them think there would be plenty of condo buyers — though they’d never give up their own houses and yards.
"I’ve got a baby," Jon Peterson of Tempe said.
"I’ve got a dog," said Scott Cranston of Maricopa, who doesn’t mind the time and money involved in with his 60-mile daily commute.
Yet he’s convinced Fiesta Towers will appeal to others. "It’s a great location. I’m sure they’ll have no problem selling out," he said.
Tuesday, the developers will hold their first neighborhood meeting. Robin Tosline, board secretary for the Pace East II HOA less than half a mile east, said the board discussed the project this week. It wants to know more about the kind of residents and amount of traffic the towers might bring.
She could support the towers if they help revitalize her more than 30-year-old neighborhood, which she worries about even though she still feels safe there.
"I guess good new development is what’s needed to do something about the neighborhood," she said. "I’m beginning to think, if we stay here much longer, is this going to be the bad part of town?"
Fiesta Mall area’s revival
• Westcor, the Valley’s largest developer, bought Fiesta Mall last November and is expected to unveil a restoration project in early 2006.
• The nearby Hilton is under renovation.
• Mesa Community College and Banner Desert Medical Center are planning expansions.
• Stores and restaurants, such as Chipotle and Cold Stone Creamery, are opening in a strip mall just west of where the towers would be built.
• The City Council recently met in closed session to discuss a nearly vacant strip center on the north side of Southern Avenue and west of Alma School Road. The property owner has asked for incentives for a project.