Loop 101 is fast becoming a golden highway of high technology and financial services companies with well-paying jobs that stretch from Chandler and Tempe to the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community and north Scottsdale.
Economic development officials are salivating over the freeway’s future and they recently agreed to jointly market the corridor as a high-tech ribbon of opportunity. Chandler, Scottsdale, Tempe and the Arizona State University Research Park are working together to land biotech and other coveted firms.
Mesa, hamstrung some by geography, has a strategy of its own to take advantage of the hot business corridor. The city is planning two large office parks to capitalize on its proximity to Loop 101, and the freeway has taken on a renewed interest at City Hall as Inter- net giant Google looks for a home in the Valley.
"We’re headed in the right direction," said Mesa City Councilwoman Claudia Walters of Mesa’s plans to use the freeway for quality jobs and growth.
She said the corridor will get more emphasis now that Chris Brady has been hired as city manager.
"That has been a real emphasis where he’s been," Walters said. "He’s really shepherded those things through in the community he’s in right now (San Antonio)."
Walters said development in Mesa has taken a back seat to budget issues.
"Because we have been so focused on trying to address the city’s financial issues, it has really sucked the oxygen out of the room," she said. "I am excited about putting that back in and talking about it."
When Google called last month, Walters, her assistant and the economic development heads met to brainstorm ways Mesa could compete with other East Valley cities tagged more desirable for Google’s trendy work force.
"We don’t want to be thought of as ‘less than’ and we are not less than," she said.
Clearly, the two cities that have taken the greatest advantage of Loop 101 are Chandler and Scottsdale. Chandler has industry heavyweight Intel and others, including Amkor, Motorola, Orbital Sciences, Boeing, Wells Fargo, Countrywide and Toyota Financial Services. Scottsdale’s crown jewel is its airpark and other large developments on the northern end of Loop 101, places that companies such as DHL, JDA software and Taser International call home.
Mesa’s biggest challenge is it doesn’t actually border the freeway, said Dick Mulligan, economic development director. Drivers exiting east are in Tempe for a short distance, he said.
"It’s not as clearly defined whereas when you get on the 101 and if you head further south, once you get past the ASU Research Park, you’ve got Chandler on both sides of that freeway," Mulligan said. "You get up in Scottsdale and Scottsdale is on one side, sometimes both sides. Other times you’ve got the Indian community. The geography is a little bit different."
Still, there are ways to make Mesa’s location work to take advantage of the hightech action, he said.
The city is the eastern terminus of the Valley’s planned light-rail line. The line will run from downtown Phoenix and a new ASU campus planned there through the main ASU campus and development surrounding Tempe Town Lake before continuing down Main Street and into west Mesa.
The line will run just south of the planned Broadway 101 Commerce Park
rising on a former Mesa Motorola site on the north side of Broadway Road west of Dobson Road. Mulligan figures the park’s proximity to light rail and the freeway will attract some bigname companies.
The first phase is under construction and will include 400,0000 square feet of office and light retail space along Broadway Road, with general industrial and distribution space in the buildings farther back. When fully occupied, it should house a work force of more than 1,000 employees. A second phase of equal size is planned for the acreage along Dobson.
"You think of the revitalization the city has ongoing in Mesa keyed on by the things we have going downtown, Mesa Riverview , the former Motorola site and projects we’ve got going in the Fiesta district, most recently Fiesta Towers, and I’m sure it’s going to captivate some folks," Mulligan said.
Although the stores planned for it received most of the attention, Mesa Riverview will feature 35 acres of office space in 240-acre development at Loops 101 and 202. Lowe Enterprises plans five office buildings in a campus setting north of the Tempe Canal in the southeastern portion of the development. Riverview is south of Loop 202 between Dobson and Alma School roads.
Plans call for 582,000 square feet of offices, and there is space for a cafe and fitness and data centers.
"If Google is interested, I know we would love to have them at Riverview," said Joanie Flatt, spokeswoman for the project. "I’m not a tech guru. I don’t know what they’re looking for and I think they’ve made it pretty clear ‘We’ll call you, don’t call us.’ But . . . you want to talk about amenities."
The development will feature up to 26 restaurants, the state’s only Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World, movie theaters, Wal-Mart Supercenter, Home Depot and a number of smaller shops, Flatt said.
"What we’ve learned is all these business parks want to be adjacent to retail, and that is the trend," she said, adding high-tech companies who locate there would be have easy access to two freeways and affordable housing, especially compared to California, where many of the firms are now. The light-rail line will run just south of the project and workers would be just minutes from Tempe, Scottsdale, downtown Phoenix and recreational amenities such as Saguaro Lake, Flatt said.