Mesa Mayor John Giles (center), along with other officials from Benedict University, cut the ribbon on the school's new dormitory

A college dormitory has opened for Benedictine University students in downtown Mesa.

School officials were joined by the project developers, city and community leaders, nearby business owners and curious passers-by for a Feb. 7 ribbon cutting and dedication of the college’s dormitory on Macdonald Street.

Rico the Redhawk, Benedictine’s mascot, hopped and danced around and Benedictine students led tours through the historic building.

The dorm is in the former Alhambra Hotel, a 123-year-old building that opened as the Pioneer Hotel in 1984. Most recently, it was a transitional housing facility.

That pioneer heritage was touched on by Mesa City Manager Chris Brady.

“It was the Pioneer Hotel when it first opened and it has taken many pioneers to get us here,” Brady said. “As we begin this new generation of development in downtown Mesa we appreciate the pioneers who have chosen this location.”

Benedictine University President Michael Brophy celebrated the “coming together of our two communities – Benedictine University and the city of Mesa,” as he spoke.

“Four very short years ago, these two communities met,” Brophy said. The Benedictine Mesa campus is half-way through its fourth year of operation. Enrollment has grown from 78 students the first year to 508 this semester. The main Benedictine campus of the Catholic college that adheres to the Benedictine tradition is in Lisle, Illinois.

“A year ago, we started talking residences,” Brophy said. “And six or eight months ago, we made a huge commitment to build this facility.”

Those conversations and commitments led to the creation of “a beautiful Benedictine community in downtown Mesa,” Brophy said.

Venue Projects and Community Development Partners of Newport Beach, California, own the building and renovated it specifically to serve as a dorm for Benedictine. The remodeling effort had a $3.3 million price tag. The dorm currently has space for 31 students and the second phase buildout will accommodate another 25.

Lorenzo Perez, one of the owners of Venue Projects of Phoenix, recalled the 13-month effort that led to students moving in last month.

“What an amazing experience,” he said. In January 2016, Perez first pitched the idea of the Alhambra as a dorm to Jo Wilson, an administrator at Benedictine.

The culmination of that lunch, conversation, the vision of Perez and his business partner Jon Kitchell, and “an intense schedule,” is the dorm, Perez said.

As Perez scouts for projects for his company, he keeps three things in mind: finding a good opportunity, looking for holes in the community, and preserving old and historic structures.

“We want to give new life in creative ways and tell old Arizona stories,” he said of Venue Projects.

“We’re committed to the notion of community building and placemaking,” Perez said. “There’s nothing better than giving life to these old buildings.”

Charlie Gregory, Benedictine Mesa campus executive officer, said college leaders want the building and its residents to contribute to downtown Mesa.

His thoughts were echoed by Mesa Mayor John Giles.

“We celebrate the arrival of student housing in downtown Mesa,” Giles said. “What a great addition to have students here 24/7 who will support businesses and attract more to downtown Mesa.”

– Contact reporter Shelley Ridenour at 480-898-6533 or sridenour@timespublications.com.

– Comment on this story and like the East Valley Tribune on Facebook and follow @EVTNow on Twitter.

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