A site that usually hosts annual Christmas tree sales will soon be home to four-story office buildings and upscale apartments.
An effort to add high-density living to the retail-heavy Fiesta District got a boost Thursday with the approval of plans to build upscale apartments and offices in west Mesa.
The project is called Southern Plaza and California developer Ed Frankel is promising it will be “top-of-the-line stuff.”
Southern Plaza is adding to the buzz building on the corner of Southern Avenue and Alma School Road in Mesa, which also will house a boutique hotel and more than 300 condos in the next two years.
Although the area is showing signs of revitalization, the path may not be entirely smooth.
And some are critical of the idea to add more apartments to west Mesa, already known for its low-cost housing.
“The Fiesta quadrant epitomizes the reputation of the rest of Mesa, which is, ‘Welcome to Generica,’” said Planning and Zoning Board member Jared Langkilde. “Until we solve that problem of offering a unique shopping, living and working environment here, the problems will never go away.”
On Thursday, Mesa’s Planning and Zoning Board approved plans for Southern Plaza, located at the corner of Southern Avenue and Extension Road. The project will go on to the City Council.
Southern Plaza would include 500 apartment units ranging from 550 square feet to 1,400 square feet, and nearly 200,000 square feet of commercial and office space, adding to the “mixed use” flavor the city is hoping will grow there.
Amenities would be available to people who live and work at Southern Plaza and include an indoor basketball court, clubhouse with a game room, a business office and a fitness center — with a kick bag and a speed bag — “so people can practice punching,” Frankel said.
Though Mesa is generally known for low-cost apartments, Frankel said his would be upscale.
Mesa economic development specialist Cathy Ji said the city is comfortable with the idea of rental units as long as they are high quality.
“Their concern isn’t apartments or condos, but the fact of who is managing the properties,” she said. “If there is a good manager there’s no reason not to have apartments there.”
Pending City Council approval, Frankel estimates beginning construction in August, the same time a new brand of hotel is expected to break ground nearby.
Aloft Hotels are a new branch of Starwood Hotels and Resorts and are meant to have a modern design that mixes high ceilings and comfortable beds with high-tech gadgets and a social atmosphere.
The first Aloft Hotels will open this year, and Mesa’s is expected to have 128 rooms.
The hotel will be part of the AquaTerra project, a much-hyped plan to bring 332 condos offering a high-class design at more affordable prices.
AquaTerra’s amenities include a chef’s kitchen, where residents can attend cooking classes taught by professional chefs; a movie theater with a different feature every night; a community library; and a wine room for tastings or bottle storage.
Chicago area developer Tom Roszak said there are about 50 reservations for the condos, expected to break ground in the fall.
“There is a great amount of interest. A lot of local Mesa people, out-of-towners, people from Phoenix — a wide variety,” he said.
AquaTerra also is planned to have retail shops and restaurants on the ground floors, but Roszak said those tenants will be the last piece.
Though the plans seem to be moving on the condos and the apartments, Inland Real Estate Group is watching cautiously.
The company owns the corner that currently houses Best Buy, Staples and Borders Books and Music.
Best Buy has announced it will relocate to Fiesta Mall in about a year, so the owners are analyzing the entire corner, said Brad Wick, Inland assistant vice president for the western region.
“I think with the demographic thing, the jury may be out on that,” he said. “I’m not 100 percent certain on what that will end up looking like.”