Mesa quickly rebuffs online ‘boring’ image. Growing up in western Pennsylvania, our little town of Aliquippa, a one-steel-mill town that went 7 miles down the Ohio River, employed over 80 percent of all workers. Even in the late 1970s and ’80s, our downtown was more vibrant than Mesa’s. In the heat of the summer, when business was traditionally slow, the merchants came up with a three-day event called ”Rodeo Days.” Everybody dressed in cowboy outfits and all the merchants had special offers, free bus rides, music and lots of free food and beverages. It was a family affair and everyone had fun. Next to the Christmas holiday season, Rodeo Days was a crowd pleaser, brought fun traffic to downtown and increased sales tax revenues. It went on for over 20 years. We had restaurants, stores, movie theaters, nightclubs and taverns when the steel mill workers got off their shifts. There were great clothing stores and home furnishing stores, or anything you needed. Pittsburgh’s downtown had the largest department stores like Gimbels, great night life, professional sports and entertainment.
We can do the same for our city, the third largest in Arizona, by making downtown rents affordable for ASU or MCC graduates, who are high in sphere of influence but short on cash to start their own businesses like hip clothing stores, home furnishing stores, shoe stores, and fun restaurants, dance halls, and dare I say, bars. You simply offer the young startups very reasonable rents for three years, then kick in higher and fairer ones after they are in the black and making a profit. It is all about their friends spending money and telling their friends. We need more positive communication with ASU because many students feel they are not welcome in our downtown and there is nothing to do to keep them coming to Main Street. We now have a state-of-the-art Mesa Arts Center and entertainment building, but nowhere for performers who play there to get a meal or a drink after they perform. They are told ,with a laugh ,”go to Tempe or Scottsdale.” We could have a Rodeo Days in Mesa downtown, cruising, and free bus rides to downtown or Riverview Center after ASU or Cubs games. Tempe Marketplace got most of the Cubs’ business after games doing this, which Mesa did not. When I drive to downtown Mesa, I want to see real people walking and shopping, not statues. Let’s change our image of Mayberry and progress with the rapid growth of the city. It can’t hurt if colleges want to build near downtown. Every large city has a vibrant core, and we can do better by making it fun, don’t you think?
Dr. Jeff Eger