01 August 2015

Valley Metro Light Rail Transit > Driving Smart Growth + Re/Generating Business Development

Image from LISC
In three weeks - August 22 - downtown Mesa will be transformed forever with the Central Mesa 3.1 Mile LRT Extension going into service on a regular operating schedule en route to Tempe and Phoenix with a one-hour travel time from end-to-end.
As someone who's always lived with public transit in major East Coast cities for 40+ years, your MesaZona blogger can still get excited about that here . . . It's about time!
At  a milestone-event for the monumental art installation at the Mesa Drive/Center Street Station, the subject of an earlier post on this site, the mayor said the salvation of downtown Mesa is riding on this train using a phrase of biblical proportions . . . better "to under-promise and over-deliver" is one of the mayor's more congenial forms of speech.
Yes, light trail transit is a cost-effective people-mover with no toxic emissions using a quiet technology. Cars and highways and fast growth have emptied urban centers in the last five decades - downtown Mesa is a prime example - while at the same time creating opportunities to reinvent urban places and spaces, to re-imagine and to revitalize what we have in the process of creative placemaking  to be not only sustainable but to re-generate the blocks, neighborhoods, districts, zones, open spaces, parks, business districts, economic development and quality of life - that all gets generated by and comes from the community: it is not something that is done to the community.
MesaZona will be doing future posts on some of the actions of selected people who have chosen to invest their futures in the New Urban Downtown Mesa - in homes and businesses, expanding and embracing the community and in the inter-generational quality of life.
New concepts and new ways of thinking come into play to influence collaborative planning: smart growth, transit-oriented development, form-based zoning codes, low-impact development, green spaces, and renewable energy sources
Terry Benelli, Exec Director
Terry Benelli, who headed up NEDCO, the Neighborhood Economic Development Corporation here in Mesa for seven years and was appointed to be Executive Director of LISC Phoenix early this year has recently published a piece "Transit Means Smart Growth".
LISC Phoenix is using transit and transit-oriented development as a platform for community development in The Valley, the Phoenix Metropolitan Area.
The article referred to above uses examples of initiatives as well as planned and completed projects in Phoenix where the nonprofit headquarters is located.
However, Terry was back on her home turf on Tuesday, July 14, 2015, guiding a 3-hour site visit to look into the opportunities for Creative PlaceMaking here in downtown with John Williams, the head of The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco + 25 other people, including the mayor.

\IPhone group image/Site Visit 14 July 2015
We all got off the bus to stretch our legs and stand up for a foto pop" or "group selfie" on the side of what is no doubt the most visually-stunning piece of architecture on Main Street in the New Urban Downtown Mesa, apart from the $98 Million-Dollar Mesa Arts Center.
Some people might call it Pop Surrealism, rivaling the three-dimensional works by Gaudi in Barcelona, Spain, but no doubt it's an appropriate backdrop for the Creative PlaceMaking group focusing on exciting opportunities here.
Where's the mayor?
He's one in the collaborative group. John Williams is at center right in the jacket and sunglasses.

 Consumers of mainstream media may have only seen or heard snippets about a speech delivered by SF Fed Chief John Williams at a Mesa Chamber of Commerce luncheon or tweets from the mayor trying to focus attention on himself; but to be fair the bus tour was a very interactive, open and dynamic exchange and discussion among everyone in the group including your MesaZona blogger - we had a great time!

Speakers/Participants included [in order of schedule]
Terry Benelli, Executive Director LISC Phoenix
John Giles, Mesa Mayor
Michael Trailor, Director Arizona Department of Housing
Jeff McVay, Special Project Manager for City of Mesa Downtown Transformation
David Carrisosos, Owner Celulares Conexiones
Jaime Dempsey, Arizona Commission on the Arts

Amy del Castillo, owner Lulubell's Toy Bodega +arts/creative placemaking activist
Jen Disbrow, NEDCO, Ripple Grant Program + Creative PlaceMaking
Brian Marshall, owner Village Bloom + community organizing/events @ Sliver Lot

Augie Gastelum, NEDCO Economic Director/Fa├žade Improvement Grant, ArtEntrepeneur Programs + Business Lending/Technical Assistance
David Crummey, NEDCO, RAIL + Mesa Urban Garden
Liz Morales, Director of Housing & Community Development for City of Mesa
Marco Meraz. owner of Republica Empanada
Eric Paine, President of Community Development Partners, El Rancho del Arte
Pat McNamara, LISC Phoenix Senior Program
Ian Linnsmen, Chief of Staff to Mayor Giles
Members of LISC Phoenix Local Advisory Board [3]
Tim McElligott, Founder Curator Engine
Tyler Boone, LISC Staff Financial Opportunity Center
Joselyn Cousins, Fed Reserve Regional Manager Community Development
Jennifer Does, LISC writer/founder JDD Specialties LLC

We loaded on the bus provided by Jet Limousine at City Hall and traveled in the center city from Country Club to Mesa Drive east-west and University to Broadway, looked at Mesa Arts Center, Encore Senior Housing, South Broadway, Mesa Arts Academy, On/Off Main Street + City-owned museums, facilities, parks/recreation, LuluBell Bodega, Queen's Pizzeria, The Sliver Lot, the future site of ArtSpace Mesa Lofts, Central Main Plan, Inside The Bungalow, Plans for Consulari/Lincoln Center West/Julliard School of Music, new transit-oriented, form-based zoning and affordable housing developments Escobedo @ Verde Vista with an on-site tour and stop at El Rancho del Arte -whew! - and wrapped up the session retreating to Mesa Urban Garden with lunch and un-winding from the fast-paced whirlwind of the site visit @ Republica Empanada.

Conversations and ideas were exchanged all around and back-and-forth with the big ideas in opportunities for Creative PlaceMaking in the New Urban Downtown Mesa, while also taking note of the fact that businesses like Pomeroy's Men's Store, Mesa Typewriter Exchange, Lamb's Shoe Repair, The Nile Theater and Pete's Fish & Chips have been in business through up-and-down cycles of the local economy for anywhere from 60-90 years.

All of us in the band on the bus were focused on Creative PlaceMaking opportunities, Arts/Culture, Biz/Economic Development and shelter with affordable housing, but what about one of the basic necessities of Life: Food?
John Williams [who lives in California] brought up the subject - since no one else in the group did - where do downtown residents shop for food [?].
The only "supermarket" on Main Street, thriving after the exodus of national big-box franchises years ago, is Los Altos Rancho Market on the SE corner of Horne Street in an area that might develop as a Latino Business District.
Other neighborhood "convenience stores" and/or bodegas were noted on Country Club Drive, Community Market on the NWC of Mesa Drive/First Avenue for 15 years, and El Rancho next to El Rancho del Arte. On MacDonald just south of Main is "The Inconvenience Store" operated by the Transitional Living Center.
A food-desert here downtown? What are we going to do about that??
The group was stunned when David Carrisosos mentioned that probably the most successful food establishment in downtown Mesa was not located on Main Street. It is on the south side of Broadway by Drew Street . . . Jeff McVay quickly interjected that people should be beating a path down Center or MacDonald to Mariscos de Sinaloa. If Spanish is not your second-language - go find out what is offered.
. . . the mayor brought up the availability of Site 17 for development - it's a bull-dozed empty city-owned 3+-acre prime space that's an example of bad urban planning for a time-share development that didn't happen with much of it the historic location for what was the focus of community life and recreation:  Rendezvous Park.

LISC Phoenix, Inc. Projects...Check out some examples of the "smart growth" work being done by LISC Phoenix.

Opened in December 2013 and located in the heart of The New Urban Downtown Mesa, Encore on First is a vibrant urban alternative living environment for the over-62s. The 81, mixed one and two bedroom, affordable apartments will cater to a growing demographic of independent seniors seeking a more convenient, stimulating, and sustainable lifestyle.
The project stands opposite the Mesa Arts Center which offers performance art, theater, classes and art shows – indoor and out. On-site amenities range from fully equipped fitness center, a second- floor community room with an open terrace is space for a crafts and events, lounge, library, coffee bar, to outdoor water garden with fountains in a pocket-park, a dog run with faux grass, energy-efficient appliances, extensive xerigraphic  landscaping, shade trees on wide sidewalks in the front of the building on First Avenue and solar panels on the roof that provide 50% of the energy used in public areas.
Encore on First West, with 44 more one and two-bedroom living units is under construction in an adjoining parcel at 47 W First Avenue.

The two other transit-oriented developments in affordable housing in downtown - Escobedo @ Verde Vista on University Drive and El Rancho del Arte on Main Street - first written about on March 2 in a post on this blogsite and mentioned on this post today, now have the first residents moving into new apartments in advance of Valley Metro Light Rail Trains going into operation on Main Street on August 22, 2015.

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