A flurry of projects around Mesa’s Fiesta Mall are expected to begin within a year and have the potential to reverse the fortunes of an area that’s been stagnant or declining for years.
The improvements will update the hodgepodge of 1970-era buildings and draw more people to what was once the East Valley’s top shopping destination.
The developments include renovating a mostly vacant shopping center to lure tenants, new buildings at Mesa Community College that front busy roads, a private college and an overhaul of Southern Avenue.
One MCC project will help take some of the area’s excess retail space out of commission. By January, MCC will begin transforming the former Harkins Theater and Fuddruckers into a $14.9 million performing arts center. A $2 million fine arts gallery is also planned. Work will start this summer.
MCC also plans a new entry from Southern Avenue that will improve the campus’ appearance, said Jeffrey Darbut, vice president of administrative services.
“What we’re looking to do is create a dramatic entry way, or portal, into the campus for our students, and that’s missing at our campus today,” he said. “There’s a lot of driveways but you really don’t know what the entrance is. Students tend to get confused and lost and we really want to try to correct that.”
The Fiesta District will finally see some new life at one of the area’s struggling shopping centers. The Poca Fiesta Shopping Center at the northeast corner of Southern and Alma School Road has a new owner, Scottsdale-based Hinkson Company. It plans to give the 17-acre site a face-lift and recruit new tenants.
Mesa Councilman Dennis Kavanaugh said the previous owner had let leases expire because it planned to recruit other tenants, but those efforts fell through.
That center is just east of the long-vacant Fiesta Village center, which remains fenced off and inactive.
The Fiesta District will also be home to a branch of Albright College, based in Reading, Pa. The college recently announced plans for a downtown campus but will initially be in the Mesa Financial Plaza, better known as the Bank of America Tower. College officials will begin classes this fall and could keep the facility in use even when the downtown location opens.
Mesa expects to announce later this year that another college will take up space in a vacant shopping center, Kavanaugh said.
Also this year, Mesa will break ground on a new police substation and an $11.5 million project to improve the streetscape on Southern. Plans include removing a lane of traffic in places to create space for additional landscaping and shade trees.
The work will include bold monument signs that brand the area as the Fiesta District. The work will continue into 2013.
Kavanaugh said much of the remaining vacant retail space will have to be converted to other uses, such as office or residential. While there is still too much retail use, Kavanaugh said the coming projects will have a significant impact.
“These are transformative projects,” Kavanaugh said. “When you juxtapose this with what the city is doing along Southern and with the police station, this is going to be a big boost to changing the look of the Fiesta District.”
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