07 January 2017

Questions Remain About $5Million Investment from 2012 Taxpayer-Approved Parks Bond Debt Issue

Food-for-Thought for New Year 2017:
Are we really seeing any of the so-called "downtown revitalization" that's the rallying cry for the success of the administration of John Giles and his Director of Downtown Transformation Jeff McVay?
A massive top-down mega-million-dollar proposal to radically transform The New Urban Downtown Mesa into a satellite ASU campus that devoured downtown Tempe - featured as the key cornerstone of Giles' plan for NextMesa - blew up big time, rejected by taxpayers.
Sure, Valley Metro Light Rail service started in August of last year after three years of construction along Main Street.
Yes, $100 Million was invested in the international design award winning Mesa Arts Center ten years ago to turn downtown into an Arts-and-Entertainment Mecca.
Mesa was hyped and touted as "a college town" back in 2012 when Scott Smith was mayor after luring out-of-state universities to occupy vacant under-used city-owned properties with lease incentives - three left town, with Benedictine University have some success this year to enroll about 500 students.
Apart from MAC, the world-famous Nile Theater built in 1924 has been a privately-owned mainstay for indoor entertainment for years attracting crowds just like the long-established financially solvent city-owned outdoor venue Mesa Amphitheater adjacent to the Mesa Convention Center. These - and Pop-Up events like MACFest [only operating 14 one-day arts-and-crafts market in 52 weeks], 1st, 2nd and 3rd Fridays every month, and live entertainment at Queens Pizzeria and Desert Eagle Brewery fill out what attracts people to downtown for entertainment. Mesa Musicfest is in year 2.
At least three retail establishments have closed their doors in 2016: Nebula Vaping, Lulubell's Toy Bodega, and Power Pill. A sandwich shop and another coffee house opened, with Jarrod's enlarging the coffeeshop concept with a gallery and lounge area.
Off to a start, but mebbe "sputtering"? Gotta wonder what is next for NextMesa Downtown.
It might be useful looking back in the rear-view mirror at what and how some monies from a 2012 taxpayer-approved Parks bond obligation debt issue got allocated, as well as seeing how one stalled project is getting along, or not, after getting a big focus back in March 2016.
Officials are saying one thing, while Arizona Republic reporter Maria Poletta covers a mixed-bag of interests.

Mesa Historical Museum Makeover:
Will $5M investment pay off?
Maria Polletta , The Republic
azcentral.com 11:13 a.m. MT March 28, 2016
"After nearly a decade of talks, plans to wholly reinvent the Mesa Historical Museum’s mission and image are finally taking off.
Demolition and other prep work is complete at what will be the museum’s new home — the former federal building at 26 N. Macdonald — and extensive renovations are expected to begin this summer. . . ."
Did that happen?
The article continues:
It’s the first step in a sweeping transformation officials say will leave the 50-year-old museum nearly unrecognizable. The institution’s focus, collections and even its name will likely have changed by the time it moves into the new facility, sometime in the next three years.
Although some City Council members have doubted whether the $5 million investment will pay off, given downward trends in museum attendance, voters’ support and museum officials’ persistence have convinced them to give the project a shot.
“As a Mesa native, it's of personal interest to me that a city of our size have a place where we preserve and present our history, both to those of us who have been here a long time and those who are new,” said Brian Allen, a member of the museum board.
“As we all drive by the federal building every day and think of what it could be, we are ready to deliver a world-class museum, a world-class facility … and create a new attraction.” 

‘New and different’??
For decades, the non-profit history museum operated out of Mesa’s 103-year-old Lehi School, on a historically significant but out-of-the-way corner. Its rarely rotating exhibits, peppered with old pictures and artifacts from the city’s pioneer families, gave first-time patrons little reason to return.
Much has changed since then, as Mesa’s population has become more diverse, regional-minded and tech-driven. The new museum wants to be all of those things, too.
“Our goal is to be a new and different organization, vibrant and vital to the life of the community we serve,” officials said in a conceptual plan submitted to the city.
The bond-funded move to the federal building will push the museum into the heart of a budding arts-and-cultural district downtown, within walking distance of the light rail, galleries and other museums.
“The overall objective of this project is accessibility for the community,” museum director Lisa Anderson said. “That's the endgame.” . . . Regional accessibility also is important, Anderson said. 
 
A viable plan?
Citizens voiced support for a downtown heritage museum leading up to the 2012 parks-bond election and again at the polls that year.
Some elected officials, though, have worried the museum’s new model might not be viable.
History museums aren’t meant to be money-makers. But given Mesa's burgeoning downtown renaissance, and the limited number of properties Mesa owns in the city’s core** [see footnote by blogger below], much is riding on the museum meeting attendance projections.
“I think we're all confident in our design and our ability to revitalize a really important part of downtown.” Mesa Historical Museum Director Lisa Anderson

Councilman Dave Richins said if it were up to him, he’d “probably build a new museum from scratch” rather than try to retrofit the federal building, but he understood the heritage element was “an important component of what we're trying to do downtown.”

Councilmen David Luna and Kevin Thompson both said they wanted to see the museum seek additional partnership and fundraising opportunities throughout the construction process, so that it wouldn’t rely so heavily on limited city funding.

City and museum officials clarified that the city's commitment to the museum involves revamping the building and that the museum would be responsible for any administrative costs after the move.
Anderson also stressed that the museum already has been innovating and revising its offerings in recent years, with positive results. For instance, the two exhibits on display at the museum’s temporary home on Main Street — one examining the roots of the Cactus League, and another about Arizona's beloved "Wallace and Ladmo Show" — have performed well.
The spring-training exhibit in particular, which is being shown at multiple sites in the region, has drawn thousands of visitors from the Valley and elsewhere, Anderson said.
“It was decided eight years ago that it would be our home. It just took several years to get the funding mechanism in place,” she said. “I think we're all confident in our design and our ability to revitalize a really important part of downtown."

Timeline: Downtown Mesa's evolution

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