Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Expert Advice for the Fiesta District

This is something we mentioned during Twitter Friday, but it's worthy of a full post:

At a recent conference of Mayors from across the country, Mayor Scott Smith was given the chance to bring one of Mesa's biggest problems, the Fiesta District, to a panel of 10 planning and urban design experts. Too bad this opportunity wasn't available a year ago before dropping hundreds of thousands of dollars on a plan and a very creatively named "Fiesta District."

The planners were able to come up with a flurry of ideas, which of course, all cost money. In all likelihood, a complete transformation of the area will require some public dollars to go along with a large investment of private dollars. However, with two access points to the freeway, a hospital, the largest community college in the system, a regional mall and a lot of space, the place clearly has a lot of potential.

The solution is not going to be done through forcing others to act or the city wielding the power of eminent domain. It's going to be done through collaboration and a commitment to the best possible product to attract people not only from throughout Mesa, but throughout the region. A unique "sense of place" is going to be important, but it can't be something else we have in town. The Fiesta District can't strive to be like Scottsdale or downtown Phoenix. Uniqueness is a plus.

People know the Mall of America and the San Antionio Riverwalk because they are unique. As a result, they have national recognition. In time, the Fiesta District and Mesa in general could achieve this same goal.

ETA: The long-term future of the District will not longer include Aquaterra. The condo/hotel plan has tanked as the developer has filed for bankruptcy. What started with a bang, has left with a wimper and in its place, the new plan calls for "luxury" apartments for Seniors. The Mimi's cafe must be excited, but the rest of the district should be feeling let down. More apartments is not what this area needs at the moment.

1 comment:

Heath Reed said...

Very long post. Sorry, but could not say it in a few sentences.

The first bad move the city made on this in my opinion (IMO) was allowing the Econ Dev department head this up. Nothing against them and I have met some wonderful people in the department that I respect. Some are now gone. Second was doing this on a low budget that had too many restrictions from city leaders (ie, past council and mayor) on the Econ Department and the private firm.

Next, the city should not have moved forward and do a RFP after not doing some leg work and seeking out free work from ASU and getting the planning department and econ department to work together and gather info and ideas about the area.

Next is they picked a firm (by the most part, I liked) that did not have their team based here locally, but in California and was only in Mesa maximum of 2 weeks total. You can’t do a great plan by being away so much. if you do not live and breathe the area that you are trying to create a vision for, the document in my opinion is going to be lackluster and just sit there. They had the tools and talent to get it done, but seemed that location and the restrictions limited what they could have done.

I volunteered in assisting the city and private firm in the whole naming of the area. Actually, almost every name on the survey came from yours truly. I was not in favor of the Fiesta District at all.

Most of the stakeholders in the area are on board of reinvestment into the area. Many are looking at others to see what they do, how far and aggressive they are. So far, Westcor has continued the status quo of auto oriented development and ugly design with the new wing on the mall. They could have done something spectacular and failed. I know that is harsh, but is true compared to what they sister company is doing to reinvigorate malls across the country.

However, this area needs an innovative vision and plan. It can incorporate what the previous plan encompassed, but has to be bold and aggressive. Not by eniment domain like good ol Dennis likes to talk about, but by a zoning change. Throw out the old code because this area will never be what is vision with these Euclidean sprawling codes. This district has to have a hybrid of codes, mostly a Form Based Code. There is no silver bullet in creating a great area where people will want to go. It is a mesh of things, that fiesta has some nice bones, but is far from creating a place that people want to go to. We need to forget about the conventional thought and for once, step out and really think outside the box.

However, with Fiesta, we can learn a lot and look at what has happened with Gateway area. These areas are different, but need to look at the innovation of the gateway area plan. Now with downtown, I think the city might be on the same track as making the same mistake and allowing DMA to do a vision plan for the downtown area. But I do have hope that this mayor is skeptical about their vision and if they can get a good one done, but is not letting it

Few, now I am done.