3-pronged temple-area project rolls along

A huge portion of the downtown Mesa’s eastern end is undergoing a major change with the renovation of the Mesa Arizona Temple and construction of the new Visitors Center and the new Residences at Mesa and Main complex.

Mesa residents will soon get a glimpse into what the Residences at Mesa and Main project will look like, now that crews have completed the core structure of a massive parking garage.

The City Creek Reserve redevelopment project – timed to coincide with the massive renovation of the iconic Mesa Arizona Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – has been hidden for months behind a construction fence while workers dug a giant hole for the 450-space garage.

Now the garage construction is well underway, crews will start focusing on the rest of the mixed-use community of 240 apartments, 12 townhomes, 1.6 acres of open landscaped space and approximately 12,000 square feet of ground floor retail.

Crews are working on a third element in the overhaul of Mesa’s “temple block’’ – the restoration of First Avenue, which is lined by 1920s vintage bungalows, into the grand entrance of the temple. A project which was first envisioned when the temple opened in 1927.

The design for the First Avenue facelift is targeted for completion in October.

It includes lush landscaping, underground utilities, a raised median from Mesa Drive to Lesueur, a narrower roadway and parallel parking replacing the decades-old angled parking.

City officials said previous bond issues approved by voters for transportation, water and sewer is paying for basic improvements while City Creek Reserve will design and maintain a lusher level of landscaping.

Jeff McVay, Mesa’s director of downtown transformation, said the price for the facelift will not be determined until the design is completed. The project is anticipated to be finished by fall 2020.

Some residents support the redesign while others oppose it, he said. Opponents seem focused on present conditions which likely will be corrected by the renovations.

The council was briefed on the plan at a June study session and voted last week to hire Hayton Construction Co. for $1.1 million to manage the reconstruction project, ensuring that the work is done properly and any cost increases kept to a minimum.

“At the end of the day, I think this will be a great landscape design for the neighbors,’’ Vice Mayor Mark Freeman said in June.

Councilmember Jen Duff, who represents the district, said she is pleased there is no exchange of money between the city and City Creek and each party’s responsibilities are clear.

“They are going to take what we have and go over and above that,’’ Duff said.

Carl Duke, vice president of City Creek Reserve, said the enhanced view of the temple looking east from Mesa Drive will benefit both his company’s project and the temple renovation.

 “I think the view looking at the temple is extremely important to the success of the temple block,’’ Duke said. 

Duke said that City Creek Reserve’s excavation project for the underground garage was challenging, with crews plunging 22 feet below the surface and removing about 130,000 cubic yards of soil at the southeast corner of Main Street and Mesa Drive. 

“We are at a bit of a milestone,’’ Duke said. “I think anytime you go underground, there’s a lot of uncertainty. It actually went pretty smoothly.’’

City Creek chose a difficult and expensive option in building the one-story garage. 

The goal was to reduce the need for surface parking and to improve traffic flow.

But it also came with a controversial complication. The excavation required the destruction of 13 World War II-era homes owned by the church to create room. 

Historic preservationists mourned the loss of a piece of Mesa’s past, with the homes along Udall Street considered an early example of suburbanization beyond the city’s original town square.

In the end, however, there was nothing they could do to the stop the houses’ removal after a moratorium period expired.

With that chapter closed, a new one is about to start as workers begin framing the series of three- and four-story buildings that are part of the project. In recent weeks, some concrete block staircases and trash shuts have emerged above ground.

“That’s when you will get the most dramatic. The next couple of months will be fun to watch,’’ Duke said. “The framing is the part I am most excited about.’’

The Residences at Main also includes a Family Discovery Center linked to the renovated temple. 

This new facility along Main Street, near a Metro light rail station, replaces the old Visitor’s Center that was torn down because it blocked the view of the temple from Main Street.

“We would like to have much of our work done by the time the temple opens,’’ Duke said. He said the project is on time and should be completed in January 2021.

The Mesa temple, the cornerstone of church life in the East Valley for decades, is undergoing its most extensive renovations in more than 40 years as both the interior and the grounds are being overhauled. 

Porter Brothers Construction Co. of Gilbert posted some photos on Facebook of the project, including an aerial tour.

The photos and video show rows of palm trees being planted on the site and the construction of a reflecting pool. The photos do not depict the work inside the temple, which was closed in May 2018 for the project.

“The Mesa Arizona Temple renovation is progressing nicely. The landscape installation continues with walls, sidewalks, reflecting pools, and trees. We have refurbished the exterior terracotta and replaced the roof,’’ said church spokesman Daniel Woodruff.

“On the interior, we have installed new pipes, ducts, and electrical systems.  Many areas have been framed and drywalled and we are beginning finishes in some areas,” he said.

When plans for the renovations were announced in May 2018, a church press release said the renovations also include a new air conditioning system and that the renovations would focus on upgrading the physical plant while maintaining the 75,000 square foot building’s historic character.

The church said historic murals would be protected and would be complimented by new murals. It also added that the public would be invited to tour the historic building before its re-opens, a rarity usually reserved for when new temples open.

A church spokeswoman said a date for reopening the temple has not been determined. She said the popular Christmas lights display and Easter pageant would resume when the renovations are completed.

Last year church officials said they were hoping to have it reopened late in late 2020 – in time for the resumption of their popular Christmas lights display and caroling program.

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