Victor Adcock isn’t living in Mesa — yet. But the city line is approaching and now stands about a half block away from his home near University Drive, east of Ellsworth Road. When Adcock moved into his home in 1987, he was the fourth house from the desert. Since then there’s been more development than he can keep track of, he said.
The retired Forest Service worker, now 76, chose to live in the unincorporated part of Maricopa County because the federal agency had planned to put an office near there. The office never materialized, but he has stayed for the past 16 years.
And he’s seen a lot of changes in that time — new houses, new shopping centers — and Mesa has annexed to within half a block.
“Now there's little reason to go to downtown Mesa,” he said. But despite the new conveniences nearby, he liked they way it was before. For example, 96th Street has become “an Indianapolis speedway,” he said.
Adcock’s comments reflect the changing |face |of |east |Mesa. |Twenty years ago it was largely an area of RV parks, retirement communities, farms and scattered houses for people who wanted to live a rural lifestyle away from the city. Today, it has become a major urban conglomeration filled with shopping centers, schools, major employers and upscale housing that resembles Scottsdale. The area is surprisingly youthful and has high-income demographics.
Symbolic of the changing demographics is the planned opening this fall of Mesa’s first Lexus dealership at the Superstition Springs Auto Center. Also sprouting up throughout the region are businesses like AJ’s Fine Foods, Barnes & Noble bookstore and Kohl’s department store, all firsts for Mesa.
“We’re moving from being a retirement village to a younger, upscale population,” said Rex Griswold, who represents northeast Mesa on the Mesa City Council. “We're picking up everything from Krispy Kreme to Kohl's.”
And with extensions of the Red Mountain Freeway stretch of the Loop 202 and the San Tan Freeway portion of the Loop 101 expected to be completed later this decade, completing a loop around the region, that development pattern is likely to continue.
East Mesa — the region east of Gilbert Road, including areas in Maricopa County that are part of Mesa’s planning area — had a population of 261,092, according to the 2000 census. That was more than the entire populations of Chandler or Glendale. The average age was 38, higher than the overall Mesa average of 32 but younger than Scottsdale's average.
The median household income was more than $46,000 in 2000, higher than the city average of about $43,000. And some areas have much higher incomes. The region north of Brown Road and east of Gilbert, which the city is promoting as the Red Mountain Vista Retail Market Area, has an average household income of more than $70,000, according to the city’s economic development office. It includes homes in the Las Sendas and Groves areas valued at more than $1 million.
Traffic volumes are reflecting the shift in activity toward the east. According to the latest figures, more than 41,000 vehicles operate daily on Power Road between Broadway Road and Southern Avenue. That’s heavier traffic than on either Dobson or Alma School roads between the same streets.
WORK UNDER WAY
New developments under construction in east Mesa promise to be among the most important in the city. They include:
• The Longbow Business Park and Golf Club, a 330-acre master-planned business park, the largest in the city, being developed by Daedalus Real Estate Advisors LLC at McDowell and Higley roads.
• The Arizona Health and Technology Park, an 89-acre specialized employment center at Recker and Baseline roads, which is home to the Arizona School of Health Sciences and the Arizona School of Dental and Oral Health, the state’s first dental school.
• UPS distribution center at Higley Road and U.S. 60, which will employ 300 people and handle 128 delivery trucks, reflecting the increased demand for package delivery services in the area. The first phase is scheduled to open in fall 2004.
• Dana Park, a 66-acre open-air retail center at Val Vista and Baseline roads being built by Triple Five Corp., developer of the Mall of America in Minnesota and West Edmonton Mall in Canada, which will include such stores are AJ's, Barnes & Noble and Baja Fresh Mexican Food.
But the biggest development area of them all is likely to be centered on the former Williams Air Force Base, which in the past 10 years has been converted into the commercial Williams Gateway Airport, the campus of Arizona State University East and campuses for Mesa Community College, Chandler-Gilbert Community College and Embry Riddle Aeronautical University.
More than $110 million in capital improvements have been injected into the former air base since 1993 and another $35 million in airport and eduction projects are under way, said Wayne Balmer, Williams Gateway project manager. ASU East expects to have 20,000 students by 2020, while the airport and surrounding area are projected to offer 100,000 jobs by 2035, he said.
FREEWAY MEANS GROWTH
Extending the San Tan Freeway stretch of Loop 101 to serve the airport will spark growth, Balmer predicted. “The simple fact is growth follows the freeways,” he said.
Bob McNichols, managing member of Daedalus Real Estate, the developer of the Longbow Business Park, said the availability of upscale housing in northeast Mesa is helping to recruit new job-creating businesses. “You can relocate a manager from L.A. to executive-type housing,” he said.
For longtime residents like Adcock, the changes have been wrenching. Some of the progress has been positive, such as new streetlights, he said.
"When I first moved out here there were no streetlights east of Power Road," he said. He had a friend who used to go to church with him at night close to downtown Mesa. She lived near Apache Trail and 94th Street and used to complain that "after Power it's out in the dark."
But Adcock didn’t mind. "I had my car lights."
And he worries about what may happen if Mesa annexes more territory. He figures city officials may outlaw septic systems and put in sidewalks. "I've never had a problem with the septic," he said. And sidewalks? "I don't need them."
Besides, he expects Mesa would find a way to tax him for city services such as firefighters and trash collection, which he currently pays as an individual at very reasonable rates.
For that and other reasons, he might move, he said, adding "times have changed."