Arizona State University broke ground on ASU at Mesa City Center on Jan. 10, marking the beginning of a new era for the city’s downtown.
Swarms of students, faculty members and city officials gathered at the northwest corner of Pepper Place and Centennial Way to kick off construction for the highly-anticipated three-story academic building.
The $73.5 million project will train students in high-tech media production, offering programs from the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts in digital and sensory technology, experiential design, gaming, media arts, film production and entrepreneurial development and support.
Mayor John Giles, ASU President Michael Crow, ASU Dean of Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts Steven Tepper and Councilwoman Jen Duff were among the guest speakers.
“ASU will be training the workforce of the future right here in Mesa,” the mayor said. “And the business world has its eyes on us.”
A unique partnership between ASU and the city, the center will host around 800 students and faculty.
Mesa plans to funnel $63.5 million toward the site, while the university will contribute $10 million.
ASU will also pay for all operations and maintenance costs, estimated at $1.3 million annually.
The campus will feature a large exhibition gallery, screening theaters, production studios, a fabrication lab and a public café.
Upper floors will include classrooms and spaces for collaborations with both the community and the industry, Crow said.
“It’s a public investment in the laying of an infrastructure allowing us to then start the process of building a new and expanding economy,” he said. “If we do it right . . . everyone will be able to use digital technologies to overcome any gap of distance.”
Tepper said the “state-of-the-art” building will set the tone for media-production facilities around the world.
The 3,000-square-foot enhanced immersion studio will allow users to create augmented realities and map virtual spaces onto physical environments. The idea behind the concept is to use the technology toward solving major global issues, such as climate change, he said.
“We can create environments,” said Tepper. “In this facility, you can explore worlds deep beneath the sea. You can explore caves in South Africa. You can walk through a refugee camp with the perspective of a 10-year-old Syrian girl.”
ASU’s Meteor Studio – an engineering research laboratory specializes in mobile software and hardware systems for sensing and actuation for computer vision and augmented reality – is already working to establish a presence at the new campus.
The lab works in conjunction with ASU Mars Research.
“One of the more practical uses [for this technology] is for training exercises, especially for situations where you couldn’t normally be there,” said research assistant Schuyler Schanberger.
“For example, people who are studying Mars can see what it actually looks like,” she continued. “They’re getting a kind of real-world experience.
By 2022, the global AR and VR market is estimated to grow to $209.2 billion, according to global business data platform Statista.
The high-tech campus is part of Mesa’s push to breathe life into its downtown.
Along with the ASU building, the City is designing the Mesa City Center as a booster to its already burgeoning innovation district – including The Plaza at Mesa City Center and The Studios.
Both The Plaza and The Studios will offer spaces for collaboration among industry leaders, students, entrepreneurs and the community.
“You’re going to see more retail, more offices and more entertainment,” Giles told the East Valley Tribune. “This is really a cluster of puzzle pieces and it’s coming together in the middle.”
“The pace and the scale of the redevelopment of downtown is really going to go up a notch,” he added.
As far as dorms, there are currently no formal plans for student housing, said Giles.
But it doesn’t mean it won’t change.
“One of the first things ASU said to us, frankly, was there will be tremendous demand for student housing,” he said. “And the city has to decide how we want to respond to that.”
Giles indicated 1,500 housing units are already in development and he has “no doubt” students will be in “lots of those units.”
The campus is slated to open by spring 2022.