Mesa Mayor John Giles leaves no doubt that he supports the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ plans to renovate its historic 91-year-old Mesa Arizona Temple and revitalize the surrounding area.
When the church’s plans are combined with the city’s proposal for a downtown Arizona State University campus, Giles anticipates a dramatic transformation of downtown Mesa, with several other major projects getting built and light rail fulfilling its promise.
“I am excited about both projects for the same reason. We will look back at this someday as the new beginnings of downtown Mesa,’’ Giles said. “This is reinvigorating and reinvesting in a very strategic, historic neighborhood. I am not the first mayor of Mesa to go to Salt Lake City and urge them to reinvest.’’
The two separate redevelopment plans are anticipated to have a synergistic economic impact, with the scaled-back ASU campus proposal expected to generate $1 million a year, Giles said.
It features an academic building that would be owned by the city and leased long-term to ASU under the terms of a 99-year agreement, at Pepper Place and Centennial Way. It would be a five-story, 115,000-square-foot building housing an expanded film, gaming and design program.
The council, which has been divided on the issue, is scheduled to consider the financing the long-awaited building with utility revenues at a June meeting. A much larger proposal was previously approved by the council but later rejected by voters as part of a bond issue.
But Giles, a historic preservationist as well as an education advocate, wants to know more details about the LDS Church’s plans to demolish at least seven homes in the Temple Historic District before endorsing their project entirely. The LDS church also has notified 19 tenants of church-owned homes of plans to evict them at the end of June.
“I am looking forward to seeing and hearing the details,’’ Giles said. “I think they will be sensitive. I think the entire project is motivated with historic preservation in mind.’’
While the partially disclosed plans have given new hope for downtown redevelopment, they also have raised the specter of peril for a historic district at the heart of Mesa’s history.
No formal plan has been filed by the LDS church, leaving plenty of room for speculation.
Greg Marek, Mesa’s former historic preservation officer and downtown redevelopment director, is far less convinced than Giles about the church’s commitment to historic preservation after meeting with Carl Duke of City Creek Reserve, the LDS church’s property wing, about the plan.
Marek said he urged Duke to consider other options, including moving the homes to another location in the district and turning them into a boutique shopping and dining area.
“Three of the homes extend into the project area. They need to be demolished or moved,’’ Marek said. “The mentality is newer is better.’’
“The plans are locked in place,’’ Marek said, based upon his conversation with Duke.
Mesa officials blocked the demolition of these homes, on Udall and LeSueur streets west of the Temple, by rejecting the permits. That forces a meeting with the Mesa Historic Preservation Board on June 5 where additional details seem likely to surface. The rejection also started a six-month reprieve under city ordinances, during which other options can be considered.
“They are waiting out the six months,’’ Marek said, and plan to bulldoze the homes after the moratorium expires. Marek, a historic board member, said he plans to question church officials on whether they have considered options other than demolition when they appear before the board in early June.
He said he believes the district could survive even if the three homes were demolished, but he fears the district would lose its historic designation if Duke were to follow through with plans to demolish additional homes nearer to First Avenue, replacing them with new housing.
Duke said he could not comment on the LDS church’s plans for the properties, but he confirmed that a media briefing is being in the near future. He referred further questions to Dale Bills, a City Creek spokesman, who confirmed the evictions in an emailed statement.
“I can’t comment on plans for specific properties, but I can tell you that in preparation for redevelopment on the block west of the temple, City Creek Reserve (CCRI), a real estate investment affiliate of the church, has given notice to 19 renters that month-to-month leases will not be extended past mid-July,’’ Bills wrote.
“Because we understand that moving is never easy,’’ Bills wrote, City Creek is helping renters find new homes.