With 140 square miles and over 500,000 residents and growing, Mesa is a giant stage for human drama and grand plans. And many will be playing out this year. Here are a few.
They’ve built it, but will they come?
Many ingredients for creating a cultural destination and Innovation District have been added to downtown Mesa and a question is, how many people avail themselves of these amenities – whether it’s moving to downtown, setting up a business or just grabbing a beer?
Many apartment units recently come online and more are opening soon, and downtown could see a surge of full-time residents in 2024.
One of the more highly anticipated mixed-use housing developments, The Grid, on Mesa Drive and Main Street, is opening in February, following the opening of two other apartment projects late last year.
Other ambitious mixed-use housing developments are planned for Country Club Drive and Main Street – downtown’s “Western Gateway” – and this corner could begin to transform in 2024.
City leaders will also take another swing at developing the long-vacant, 25-acre Site 17, an eyesore for decades.
In October, council gave support for moving forward with a transit-oriented mixed-use development pitched by Culdesac for the city-owned parcel.
Amid all that hope, a community survey conducted by Visit Mesa, locals rated downtown second-to-last among 14 attractions for being “ready to serve” visitors and locals. Visit Mesa’s Vice Chair Dennis Kavanaugh believes that was because many Mesa residents haven’t tried downtown for many years and just need to get reacquainted.
Sober living homes
Last year the state launched a major crackdown on fraudulent Medicaid billing by behavioral health clinics and the unlicensed sober living homes affiliated with them.
The rampant fraud affected Mesa in many ways: neighbors have seen housing in their neighborhoods converted to inadequately managed and unlicensed sober living homes. Legitimate clinics say reimbursement for services has become much more challenging. People who need addiction and recovery services are caught in the middle.
The Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System has suspended payment to hundreds of providers and the Arizona Attorney General began charging the most egregious offenders.
As a result, prosecutors have already seized one Mesa house associated with sober living fraud, and they are currently seeking the seizure of four others.
Mesa is also preparing a city-level response to the issue, planning to work this year on new zoning rules it believes will allow the city to regulate more unlicensed sober living homes.
The change is a double-edge sword: it would make it harder for individual homes to evade regulation, but it would establish districts where multiple sober living homes could be located close together.
The growth of data centers in Mesa was one of the top stories of 2023, and it’s going to continue into 2024. City leaders became alarmed last year by how much industrial land was being absorbed by data centers.
In the last three months of 2023 alone, applicants submitted data center proposals for 453 acres of land in southeast Mesa.
The city wants to keep its industrial land diversified and preserve some of it for advanced manufacturing. Former Economic Development Director Bill Jabjiniak asked business leaders to help the city devise a strategy for slowing down new data center starts.
But demand for new data center capacity appears strong, enhanced by artificial intelligence, cloud-based technologies and remote work.
In 2024, residents may get a clearer picture of what actions the city is willing to take to limit data centers – if anything.
Mayor John Giles has said one focus of his last year in office would be to advance Mesa’s Climate Action Plan goals.
The 2021 plan set many “aspirational” targets for mitigating the heat island effect, reducing air pollution and sending less material to the landfill, among other issues, but it didn’t create a clear roadmap for acheiving these goals.
Mesa has budgeted for a tree program manager, but so far it remains unfilled.
Mesa has big dreams of almost tripling its current tree canopy to cool the city, and a full-time tree specialist to quarterback the effort could help.
This year the city likely will dip a toe into fleet electrification, putting an electric fire truck into service and potentially Ford Lightning pickup trucks. Depending on how these experiments go, it could open the door to more city vehicles going electric.
Electric vehicles will be on the mayor’s mind: last year he was appointed to the U.S. Government’s Electric Vehicle Working Group. He’s the only elected official in the group.
The city is also hoping to take strides this year toward enhancing its recycling program. Due to limitations in the market for recycling service providers, a large share of material collected from Mesa’s recycling ends up in the landfill along with non-recyclable trash.
Mesa signed an agreement last year with Gilbert to begin designing a shared materials recovery facility in southeast Mesa, which could help the communities keep recyclables out of the dump.
This year, residents might find out whether the effort has any traction.
In terms of industrial development, Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport is one of the most dynamic places in the city and the next year has a number of notable developments on tap.
Business jet maker Gulfstream is slated to finish a $100 million maintenance and service facility on the southeast side of the airport that will add jobs and brand appeal to the airport.
Space tourism company Virgin Galactic plans to finish construction of its space ship manufacturing facility this year. The company is seeking to ramp up production of its space ships, and it picked Mesa to scale up production.
The finished spacecraft will be flown to the company’s New Mexico spaceport on the belly of Virgin’s large “motherships.”
In late February, the airport will open its $28 million expanded passenger terminal, designed to enhance the gate experience for travelers flying out of Phoenix-Mesa Gateway. The airport is eager to add new destinations and airlines to the facility, and an upgraded terminal might help the airport build its case to prospective operators.
The airport will also break ground on the first project of the 270-acre Gateway East business park. The inaugural project is a vaunted factory and headquarters for high-tech HVAC maker Xnrgy.
Retail and hospitality are also planned for Gateway East, which is close to the residential communities of Cadence and Eastmark. District 6 Councilman Scott Somers is hopeful that Gateway East’s development could help change the trajectory of southeast Mesa toward higher-quality hospitality.
Major local elections
City council and school board elections this year will offer voters the opportunity to stay the course or choose a new direction for Mesa.
Four seats on Mesa City Council – a majority – are up for election, including the mayor’s, which is being vacated by term-limited Mayor John Giles.
Also up for election are District 1 in northwest Mesa, District 2 in south central Mesa and District 3 in West Mesa.
Mesans interested in running have until April 8 to file paperwork to qualify for the primary ballot.
Ten people have filed statements of interest for mayor: Mark Freeman, Scott Smith, Carey Davis, Eddie Levins, Robert Adams, Andre Miller, David Luna, Ryan Winkle, Scott Neely and Nadeen Hathaway. They still must collect 1,000 signatures from registered voters to qualify for the ballot.
In District 1, statements of interest have been filed by Ron Williams, Tim Meyer, Richard Adams and Zachary Hichez; District 2 has statements from incumbent Julie Spilsbury and Melody Whetstone; in District 3, incumbent Francisco Heredia has filed.
Three seats, a majority, on the Mesa Public Schools Governing Board are also up for election in 2024. The terms of Joe O’Reilly, Kiana Sears and Courtney Davis expire Dec. 31, 2024.
Nine people have filed statements of interest for the board. Of those currently serving, only Courtney Davis has filed one so far.
The election could be consequential. The district’s dual language program is under siege by State Superintendent of Public Schools Tom Horne, who sued MPS and eight other districts. The district was also sued late last year by board member Rachel Walden over its transgender accommodations.
In 2023, voters rejected MPS’ request for $500 million in capital improvement bonds. Current school leaders have said funds are needed for maintenance and upgrades. The next governing board may have to decide whether to try again.
Scott Shumaker, Tribune Staff Writer www.eastvalleytribune.com
2024-01-07 07:00:00 , ""news"site:eastvalleytribune.com/" – Vivrr Local