East Mesa fire station

This is a rendering of the new East Mesa fire station that city officials hope to open next year. Construction should be getting underway soon, they said.

The generosity of Mesa voters in 2018 will start paying off soon in a series of quality-of-life-oriented civic improvements, including a desperately-needed fire station in southeast Mesa and a plaza near the ASU @Mesa City Center project.

Piece by piece, the wide-ranging $196-million bond issue is gradually being executed, with the first wave of improvements scheduled for completion next year. 

Southeast Mesa residents at the fringe of city services became the first beneficiaries when the Mesa City Council on Aug. 31 approved the construction of a $5.8 million fire station in Eastmark, near Ray and Ellsworth roads and northeast of Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport.

While Station 221 is expected to vastly improve response times to a rapidly growing part of Mesa, the plaza is billed as focal point for special events downtown that are centered around the new ASU campus.

But two expensive and significant project – a long-awaited northeast Mesa police and fire facility and a southeast Mesa library – are years away from opening and will not be built until the city can afford to staff them.

Mesa Fire Chief Mary Cameli said Station 221 could potentially save lives in southeast Mesa by improving response times to such medical emergencies as heart attacks and drownings.

She said response times in the area can run as long as eight to 10 minutes from the closest station at Signal Butte and Elliot roads, depending upon such circumstances as whether a unit is available or if one must be dispatched from another location.

The Mesa Fire Department’s goal is a four to six-minute response time, which is more typical in west or central Mesa.

“This is very exciting for us. It’s been a long-time coming,’’ Cameli said, noting response times in all of east  Mesa have been a historical problem.

“This is a long-time community need because of growth,’’ Cameli said. “It makes a big difference in the spread of fire.’’

Construction of station 221 is anticipated to start at the end of this month after the property is deeded to the city by the developer. Completion is anticipated next July or August.

City Engineer Beth Huning said that the $5.9 million downtown plaza is nearing design completion and a proposed construction contract will come before the council this fall.

She said construction on the plaza is anticipated to begin in January or February of 2021 and to be finished by the end of 2021.

No one has any allusions about the new temporary ice-skating rink getting confused with Rockefeller Center in New York City, but it should be ready for the 2021 Merry Main Street celebration, Downtown Transformation Manager Jeff McVay said.

“During Merry Main, you could have Christmas movies displayed on the screen and Christmas music,’’ he said, with the plaza wired for sound so that visitors can watch movies filmed at ASU in Mesa.

The plaza originally was planned in 2015 as a hub for special events, even before ASU’s financing was approved by the council in 2018. Now it will serve as an important link integrating a re-awakened downtown Mesa with ASU, McVay said.

Artist renderings for the plaza display an events lawn, a water feature, a temporary ice-skating rink and a shade canopy, along with paths leading to the primary ASU building and the renovated studios building.

On Monday, the council is expected to set the third and final component of ASU’s downtown vision into action by approving a $234,000 demolition contract, signaling the start of work on The Studios@ Mesa City Center.

Once Mesa’s first public library, the vacant Information Technology building will be gutted through “a complete interior demolition,’’ creating room for meeting space reserved for development of Mesa’s Innovation District.

“The intent is to program the space to be the front door of the Innovation District,’’ McVay said.

Although the Studios project is not financed through the bond issue, the historic building’s renovation is designed to work in concert with the new ASU building and the plaza as the centerpiece of Mesa’s downtown overhaul.

“The renovated building will have a complimentary aesthetic to the new ASU facility and will be designed to integrate into the overall Mesa City Center development,’’ according to a city council report.

While the demolition work is expected to take about two months, the renovation project, paid for in additional increments, is scheduled for completion in December 2021.

Scheduled to open in 2022, the ASU@ Mesa City Center project includes a 65-foot tall building with 110,000 square feet that is now under construction along Pepper Place and Center Street, between Mesa City Hall and the council’s chambers.

Billed as a unique facility combining a film school and a technical innovation center, the building includes three complete movie studios, an enhanced immersion art studio, a café and a large walk-through lobby.

Other parts of Mesa also stand to benefit from the bond issue, both long-term and short-term. Construction projects planned to improve the downtown and Dobson Ranch libraries, each costing about $2.3 million, have been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Huning said the early 2021 is the earliest those projects would begin, but everything depends upon budget considerations involved in re-opening and staffing the facilities.

Mesa’s libraries have been closed during the pandemic and residents are being encouraged to use a curbside checkout program.

The bond issue also is expected to eventually have a major impact on the availability of sports fields throughout the city as recreation gradually resumes. 

A major soccer complex in north Mesa, on Center Street north of the Loop 202, is scheduled to begin construction in spring or summer of 2021.

The new, $14.2 million complex would replace four fields lost at Riverview Park, when they were plowed under by construction of The Union office complex next to Sloan Park.

Marc Heirshberg, Mesa’s parks director, said he plans to build four to five soccer fields at the new complex.

“The City had a shortage of approximately 1,000 hours a week of unmet field needs prior to the Union project and the COVID-19 pandemic. While athletics is slowly returning to play this Fall, we are seeing a little less demand but are still unable to fulfill all field use requests,’’ Heirshberg wrote in an email.

He said the bond issue overall represents a major improvement in the number of fields that eventually will be available.

“The North Center Street Athletic Fields will commence construction next Spring/Summer of 2021 and will be available for play in Fall of 2022 once the turf grows in,” he wrote.

“Combined with the other park projects approved in the 2018 bond program, the City will add 40% more fields to the City’s sports field capacity, which will go a long way in responding to the unmet community’’ needs, he added.

While Mesa has made some progress on both the $34.3 million northeast Mesa police and fire facility and the $16.8 million southeast Mesa library, their openings may still be a few years away.

In both cases, the city has legally secured the land, obtaining the property from Eastmark’s developer for the library. 

The eight-acre site for the police and fire facility is much more complicated because the owner opposed the sale. 

The city obtained an order of immediate possession from a judge in November 2019 and transferred $2.1 million, the appraised value, to the Arizona State Treasurer’s Office. 

The exact purchase price, however, has not been determined.

The design on the police and fire facility is expected to be completed by the end of 2021. 

“At that point, the city will review the operating budgets and determine whether to proceed with construction,’’ Huning wrote.

The library is scheduled for design in 2021, construction in 2022 and completion in mid to late 2024.

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