As growth farther east, the 2001 opening of Chandler Fashion Center and rising e-commerce pushed Fiesta Mall to closing in 2018, surrounding West Mesa shopping centers also suffered.

Fiesta Village, the north of the mall, experienced an especially rapid fall and became the district’s most visible sign of blight.

Today, Fiesta Village is showing new signs of life, both onsite and behind-the-scenes.

And while Fiesta Village was once a canary in the coal mine for distressed commercial property, it could be foreshadowing a larger transformation of the area.

The first of four new commercial buildings that will eventually line the northwest corner of Southern Avenue and Alma School Road recently passed the Design Review Board and now heads to the Zoning Board and City Council. 

A Chick-Fil-A drive thru with a large outdoor eating area will fill this first building.

City staff also held pre-application conferences for a new location of the Mexican coffee franchise Caffenio, a bank and an unnamed drive-thru business.

Future customers for those shops may come from The Landing at Fiesta Village, a 220-unit apartment complex that completed construction in December.

Cattycorner to Fiesta Village, south of the 12-story Financial Plaza building, a 550-unit apartment complex is planned, potentially bringing even more people to the area.

And Fiesta Mall itself appears on the brink of finally coming under single ownership by Verde Investments, owned by billionaire Carvana founder Ernie Garcia, which could significantly ease redevelopment of the indoor shopping center.

Former District 3 Council member Dennis Kavanaugh, who served from 1996 to 2004 and again from 2008-17, is glad to see the changes coming – even if they have transpired at a glacial place.

Kavanaugh said a committee was formed to work on the revitalization of the Fiesta District in 2003.

He witnessed the good times of the area in the ‘80s and ‘90s, when shops and restaurants were bustling, and also the bad times.

The decline of the Fiesta Village site was a particular gut punch for locals in his district. He said the site’s decay was one of the things that spurred him to run for council again in 2007.

“Fiesta Village was the tumor at the heart of the Fiesta District,” Kavanaugh said.

But today, “I think it’s turning the corner.”

Kavanaugh and other city officials wrangled for years with Fiesta Village owner W.M. Grace Co. to redevelop or at least clean up the the site as roof tiles fell, signs fell into disrepair and exterior features withered on vacant restaurants and shops.

In 2009, Kavanaugh asked the city attorney to explore condemning the site.

“The Grace companies, they had never done redevelopment,” Kavanaugh said. “I think they were making so much money at all their other places, this was kind of fenced off and ignored for a long time, which was a challenge.”

Grace did not respond to a Tribune request to discuss the site’s redevelopment.

In 2020, the developer finally razed the deteriorating buildings and began work on The Landing at Fiesta Village apartments on the northern half of the old shopping center.

The developer, Scottsdale-based P.B. Bell, said in a release the upscale community is “reimagining Mesa living.”

Rents for the one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments range from $1,625 to $2,400 per month, a spokesperson said.

Vice Mayor Francisco Heredia, who has been skeptical of the proliferation of drive-thrus in the city, said he was OK with a drive-thru eatery inaugurating commercial redevelopment at the once-blighted corner.

Residents at the apartments will be able to access the eatery on foot, and people like the food, he said.

Also, the city worked with the developer on the site plan to try to maintain the feel of an urban cityscape despite the auto-centric nature of the drive-thru. 

“We were clear we wanted to see different designs,” Heredia said. “If you want a drive thru on Southern, there needs to be better activation along the site. This is a compromise.”

A 2019 development agreement between Grace and the city requires pedestrian-friendly features throughout the commercial development in the revitalized Fiesta Village.

For the prominent corner lot behind the large “Fiesta” sign, Heredia said talks are still ongoing between the city and developer. The city wants to see something that contributes to the vibrancy of the area and “activates” the corner, he said.

The current proposal submitted to the city for the corner is a Chase bank.

Heredia believes Fiesta Village’s rebirth will get an assist from other new developments nearby.

Late last year California-based developer Anton DevCo submitted plans to the city for a 550-unit, five-story apartment complex to the south of the Financial Plaza office building, currently Mesa’s tallest building.

Heredia praised the size and density of the Anton Mesa apartments, which are planned to replace the former Mesa Fiesta Center.

“More density, as far as people, will make a difference” for the Fiesta District, he said.

The developer said it will relocate the sole remaining tenant of the existing commercial center, nonprofit Feed My Starving Children, to another building on the site next to the apartment complex.

All of this could be prologue to “the biggest nugget,” the redevelopment of Fiesta Mall, Heredia said.

Fiesta Mall’s anchor stores and interior are divided into separate parcels that at one time were owned by many different entities, complicating discussions about how to redevelop the mall.

“I think the lawyers in the 1980s must have made a lot of money creating confusing agreements that no one could understand – or use to redevelop a site,” Kavanaugh said.

In recent years Verde Investments bought up all the anchor store parcels, and the mall now has just two owners.

That could make it easier for the mall to finally begin redevelopment. Several shuttered Arizona malls are currently being redeveloped into mixed-use destinations that include multifamily housing, retail and entertainment.

Heredia said Verde Investments has reached terms with Diversified Partners to buy the interior of the mall and is just finalizing paperwork.

Diversified Partners did not respond to a request for information on the status of the deal.

If the sale is finalized, it will greatly aid talks between the city and the landowner on redevelopment plans for the mall, Heredia said.

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