Rob and Rose Jamison run a Mail Boxes Etc. in Gold Canyon but prefer to live in northeast Gilbert to be closer to the far East Valley’s biggest retail destination: The Superstition Springs area of Power Road in Mesa.
While waiting for a table at the On the Border restaurant off Power Road one recent Friday night, Rose Jamison talked about how the stores, restaurants, theaters and other offerings attract residents from beyond the immediate area.
"All (our) customers come up here," she said, watching as her sons Scott, 8, and Travis, 5, ran around. "And it’s not just Gold Canyon. The people south of there, if they shop for anything, they come up here."
And they come by the thousands to Power Road, which has developed into the spine and a downtown of sorts for the far East Valley. On average, more than 40,000 cars travel daily on Power Road as it slices through the Superstition Springs area, a conglomeration of retail and restaurants that pulls in more sales tax dollars than any other section of Mesa. The Superstition Springs Center mall alone poured $5.8 million into the city’s coffers in the last fiscal year.
Five miles to the south, a mirror image appears to be developing around that section of Power Road. The Loop 202 interchange scheduled to open in two years offers a promise of doing what U.S. 60 did for the Superstition Springs area in the late 1980s.
Already, an 800,000-squarefoot regional shopping center and the Valley’s first emergency-only hospital are under construction, adding to visions of a major industrial center spurred by the presence of Williams Gateway Airport and Arizona State University East.
Residential growth also is shaping the area’s character. Power Ranch, just one of several developing housing projects along Power south of Rittenhouse Road, is projected to be home for some 20,000 people.
"Rather than thinking of it as the edge of the city, think of it as the middle of the new city," said Wayne Balmer, Mesa’s project manager for the Williams Gateway Airport area.
BEYOND LEISURE WORLD
Thirty years ago, Power Road offered a way for tractors to get from farm to farm and for motorists to access the now-defunct Williams Air Force Base.
Leisure World, on the west side of Power between Broadway and Southern roads, changed everything beginning in the 1970s. The retirement community, with more than 2,600 homes, spurred much of the nearby development, including the hospital which has grown into Banner Baywood Medical Center and Banner Baywood Heart Hospital.
Peter and Norma Kjelgaard moved into their Leisure World home 15 years ago, just as U.S. 60 opened to Power Road, with the mall’s opening piggybacked on top.
"It was a bare-bones mall," Kjelgaard recalled, but the marketing department appeared to be reaching as far as they could for customers. "They advertised it as, ‘Hey, this is the first mall you come to when you’re coming in out of Globe.’ "
Over the years, other retail establishments and a variety of businesses followed. And "all that restaurant junk, all that came in the last five or six years," Kjelgaard said.
That was around the same time he started noticing the overall crowds both growing and becoming younger, as more nonage-restricted housing was built southeast of Power Road and the freeway.
Those families, along with the horde of new residents continually pushing the limits on the far East Valley, have turned the Power Road into the backbone of the area. "It’s getting to be the central Valley," Rob Jamison said.
Just how much of an impact sales from businesses, including a Superstition Springs Auto Mall, have on Mesa’s coffers is difficult to track. The city only tracks sales tax generated by the mall itself and a few of its immediate neighbors.
But it’s clearly Mesa’s most important retail area, said Don Ayers, Mesa director of customer service for tax and licensing. If that money were to disappear, it would be like when the city lost taxes from the sale of food, he said. "That cost us about $8 million at the time it was done."
Five miles to the south, Power Ro ad forms the boundary between Mesa and Gilbert, and both municipalities have set aside generous amounts of land for industrial and employment uses in the hopes of attracting hightech, high-paid jobs, particularly when the Santan Freeway stretch of Loop 202 reaches the area.
Initially, it’s developing into a retail core that mirrors Superstition Springs.
Across from the entrance to Williams Gateway Airport, Gilbert Gateway Towne Center is taking shape, with SuperTarget the biggest of several big-box stores scheduled to open in March. Just to the south, Gilbert Emergency Hospital is under construction and scheduled to open early next year.
Mark Wallace, one of the first homeowners in Gilbert’s Power Ranch when he moved in 2 1/2 years ago, said housing and retail development — and traffic — are picking up.
"I’m waiting with bated breath because when they come they usually bring more restaurants and other stores," he said.
He does most of his shopping around Superstition Springs now, but expects to shift that once the new stores open nearby.
This is not what Mesa City Councilwoman Janie Thom wants to hear.
She represents southeast Mesa, including Superstition Springs, and worries about the ramifications the new retail area could have for her city’s retail core. "It’s a situation I’ve been viewing with some alarm," she said.
Howard Morrison, whose family still farms alfalfa and other grain on the Gilbert side of Power just north of Gilbert Gateway Towne Center, said he thinks Power Road can support two large retail areas.
"I think they’ll both be successful commercial centers," he said. "They have different elements. We may not have as much retail or medical stuff as Superstition Springs, but we have the airport and educational things they don’t have."
FILLING IN THE GAP
While there are grand development plans for the southern part of Power Road, what will come of the land between the Superstition Springs area and Gilbert Gateway Towne Center?
The Morrisons have already begun residential development on the eastern side of their Gilbert ranch, but are still farming 400 industrial-zoned acres fronting on Power Road.
Nearby, T.J. McCuin and his family recently took over a farmers market on Power Road south of Elliot Road. He knows the land is pegged for employment uses in Mesa’s general plan, but hopes the stand can somehow be incorporated as a culinary destination within an office or manufacturing park.
"We hope we can hang out and stay here forever, but we’ll have to see what happens and what the city plans for us," he said.
Charles Backus, the recently retired provost of ASU East, said there are two directions development could take north of the college he helped create: "Superstition Springs isn’t that far away, the whole area could be a long, five-mile band of development, hopefully with a lot of manufacturing jobs to go along with the retail."
The answer is in the hands of a handful of farmers, and "I know they’re getting a lot of pressure from developers to just do residential development," he said.
Another sector of Power Road, the northernmost area where the Red Mountain Freeway portion of Loop 202 will open in early 2005, also continues to evolve.
Power’s intersections with McDowell and McKellips roads have already filled with stores, and Ayers said it’s likely to become the fourth area the city specifically tracks for sales-tax receipts, after Superstition Springs, Fiesta Mall and Mesa Grand at Stapley Drive and U.S. 60.
There doesn’t appear any doubt that Power Road, which spans about 20 miles, will continue to grow as the far East Valley expands.
"It’s the city’s next grand boulevard," said former Mesa Councilman Dennis Kavanaugh. "It took a long time to develop."