Downtown Mesa is a happening place. Well it will be, so if you want to be on the cutting edge, listen up. Downtown Mesa is here, and it is so much more than you think. Check it out and you will be amazed.
With rail service expected to begin this fall, the area is looking to change its image. Mesa has dreamed of transforming their quiet downtown area to a popular destination. That dream started over 10 years ago.
When construction began on Mesa’s $99 million arts complex in 2002, a seed of belief was planted deep in the heart of the city’s historical downtown — a belief that the quiet district could eventually grow into something greater.
Now 10 years after the Mesa Arts Center opened at the corner of Main and Center streets, that idea is firmly rooted among the many downtown residents, business owners and activists who have fallen in love with the area.
Downtown Mesa now has more restaurants that stay open later, along with an eclectic mix of shops that appeal to a younger crowd. The performing-arts theater draws celebrities like actor William Shatner. Groups of Millennials stroll down Main Street to take “selfies” with the public art sculptures that have become a staple. The arts scene is growing. Art lofts are being promoted.
With light-rail service set to begin this fall, some feel downtown Mesa is finally on the cusp of its big moment, about ready to burst onto the scene. The sleek Valley Metro trains will link historical Mesa with Arizona State University, Tempe’s Mill Avenue and the skyscrapers of central Phoenix.
Though Mesa’s population is greater than bigger-name cities like Atlanta and Miami, its sprawling, suburban approach to development has never really centered on a downtown hub that generates a significant sense of community pride. That is changing.
Mesa is a sprawling city. The edges span over 20 miles. For southeast Mesa residents who live a full 20 miles away from downtown, the area can seem distant and unfamiliar. Some others who live closer have written downtown off as boring or unsafe.
But that reputation is neither perfectly fair nor fully accurate, said downtown resident David Crummey, also of RAILmesa.
“There’s a misperception that the downtown is completely dead,” Crummey said. “It does get frustrating because the downtown we have now is really amazing, but people think it’s still the downtown of 1989.”
Central Mesa, with its broad sidewalks and relatively small, intimate buildings, was fortunate enough to miss the construction booms of the 1970s and 1980s, an era when older buildings were sometimes bulldozed to make way for giant monolithic structures, Crummey said. Downtown Phoenix’s Wells Fargo Plaza, concrete and imposing, is a prime example of what was constructed during that era.
“It’s this beautiful downtown that has incredible potential,” said Crummey, who moved to Mesa in 2005. “I fell in love with it. And there’s a lot of people who live and work downtown who are investing time and money here because they fell in love, too.”
Crummey’s group, RAILmesa, is one of several local organizations working to change downtown Mesa’s image through community meet-ups and a “walking audit,” when members stroll around the area to evaluate its pedestrian friendliness.
Another grassroots movement called Project Downtown Mesa is working to recruit popular restaurant brands to open in the neighborhood. City officials organized the Downtown Vision Committee last fall to build a shared vision and goals. The Mesa Chamber of Commerce last month assembled a group of its members to talk about how the area could improve.
Businesses are coming. Some business owners said they enjoy the tight-knit community that downtown offers, while others found the inexpensive lease rates attractive. Just about everyone could see an enormous potential.
Mesa has such a cool and unique downtown area,” Winkle ( founding member of RAILmesa) said. “It’s almost like that ‘Cheers’ feel. If you’re down there for awhile and make friends, you can be that person that everybody knows.”
Even outside of the city, word seems to be slowly spreading that downtown Mesa might be worth another look.
“If people stopped calling downtown Mesa boring, I would be super happy about it,” said Erica Snyder, Downtown Mesa Association spokeswoman.
Yet even downtown Mesa’s staunchest supporters will acknowledge its shortcomings, and the all-important task of luring more people to the area looms large.
Many people wish more of downtown Mesa’s shops would stay open later, rather than closing around 3 or 4 p.m.
Edge Boutique, for example, is closed Sundays and Mondays and shuts its doors at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday. Some of the area’s main antique stores close around 5 p.m.
“That’s one thing we hear a lot,” Snyder said. “Each business has their own reason, but the majority is because there’s not very much foot traffic at night downtown.”
And yet even that problem is slowly changing, with some of the newer arrivals opting to stay open until 9 p.m. or so. Gotham City Comics & Coffee is one example. Another, Asylum Records, stays open until 7 p.m.
By the time the first light-rail passengers arrive at central Mesa’s new stations, there will likely be at least a few new businesses that have opened downtown, with two new announcements — an ice cream shop and an artisan bakery — likely coming soon.
“Five nears from now, we’re going to be able to say that downtown Mesa was a 20-year ‘overnight’ success story,” Crummey said. “We’re here, and we’re so much more than you think.”
So what is in downtown Mesa?