Plans for a world-class concert hall and music-education campus in downtown Mesa have taken a major detour after a city panel cleared the way for commercial-residential project on the site.
The project originally had been proposed for 10 acres formerly occupied for decades by the Brown & Brown Chevrolet dealership, just east of the Mesa Arts Center.
But that site now is on track to become a development that could add as many as 350 units to the already booming downtown housing market.
The concert hall, named Consolari, was proposed in 2013 by Mesa resident Christi Worsley as not only a concert venue but also as a music-education center with ties to New York City’s Lincoln Center and local school systems.
There also were discussions of a research component in hopes of harnessing music to combat autism, dementia and other ailments.
Jeff McVay, Mesa’s manager of downtown transformation, said Opus Group, a Minneapolis-based development firm with a major branch office in Phoenix, submitted plans to Mesa to develop the property.
“What they have submitted to our planning department for review is a primarily residential mixed-use development that would have 300 to 350-ish residential units as well as 10,000 to 20,000 square feet of ground-floor commercial and retail along Main Street,” McVay said.
Mesa’s Board of Adjustment, a citizens advisory panel that considers requests for projects to deviate from certain development regulations, approved the Opus proposal on May 6.
The company had asked the board for adjustments in the building footprints and setbacks, with city staff agreeing with the requests.
To bring music project together behind a spectacular façade was going to cost at least $200 million, according to an estimate Worsley and her husband, Bob, provided the Tribune in 2016.
Bob Worsley, a former state senator, said fundraising has been a challenge.
“It’s been very difficult to raise the $200 million to build Consolari,” Worsley told the Tribune. “It will take a lot more time and effort.”
“There are several other locations we are considering as alternatives that would be wonderful in downtown Mesa for such a facility,” he added.
“We’re also working with ASU, with their new campus, and exploring what the future might hold for acoustic concert halls as the world changes and becomes more digital,” Worsley said, adding:
“It may become something different than what we had anticipated and what we would have built the last six or seven years, with new technology and virtual reality.”
Mesa and Arizona State University broke ground this year for a campus called ASU@MesaCityCenter.
It will offer programs related to digital and sensory technology, experiential design, gaming, media arts, film production and entrepreneurial development and support – some of which could relate to the Worsleys’ evolving plans for the music and education center.
McVay said, “The current owners of the Brown & Brown property … I think they were happy to work with the Worsleys on the concert hall but it was always with the understanding that it could only be for so long, and if there is an economically viable proposal for them to sell the property they would do so.”
City documents indicate only two persons have objected to the project.
One, the manager of a business on the northeast corner of First Avenue and Sirrine, said in an e-mail to the city that he fears that residents of the Opus complex will pester him with code-compliance complaints and that construction could impede his operations.
City staffers told the Board of Adjustment that Opus has agreed to build a screening wall around that property.
Another neighbor told the board it appears the project’s landscaping plan is inadequate, although he supports the proposal in general.
McVay said basic zoning is in place by way of Mesa’s “form-based” zoning code for downtown, which regulates the height and massing of buildings without specifying the uses to which they are put.
Mesa Planning Director Nana Appiah will have the final say on the project.
Although the Opus proposal is in its early stages, McVay said the company’s track record suggests the project will come to fruition.
“From what I have seen and the meetings I have had with them, I have confidence that they will develop a very nice project architecturally, quality-wise as well as just from an amenities perspective,” he said. “I think it will be a nice addition to downtown.”
Among Opus’ recent Valley projects is a 20-story, 407-unit mixed-used called Union Tempe at Mill Avenue and University Drive. The company also has built speculative industrial facilities near Falcon Field.
McVay said the Opus project will bring the number of housing units either planned or under construction in downtown Mesa to about 1,500.
That’s a dramatic reversal from a moribund market that saw no new housing built in downtown for about a 30-year period beginning in the mid-1980s.
The opening of the Mesa Arts Center in 2005, the arrival of light rail in 2015 and Mesa’s efforts to establish college campuses in the downtown core helped fuel the transformation.