Downtown Mesa – Then, Now, and in the Future

Downtown Mesa – Then, Now, and in the Future

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This video was prepared as part of a presentation that NEDCO(Neighborhood Economic Development Corporation) made for the Downtown Mesa Visioning Committee in December 2014.

The history of downtown mesa starts with the founding of Mesa. The original square mile footprint is what we now call downtown. By the early 1880’s, nearly 300 people had settled in Mesa.

The first major population boom came in 1906 with the construction of the Roosevelt dam. With a high demand for supplies, the business district began to grow, as Mesa was the nearest population center to the construction site.

By the 20’s and 30’s, the business district was bustling, with a majority of the population still living in the square mile. You could find mercantile stores, lumber and building material, you could find banks, groceries, and saloons. It was even common to find apartments above businesses on Main street. Main street was one lane in each direction with angled parking along the sidewalks and in the middle of the road.

Mesa’s population doubled in the 40’s and again in the 50s. The city’s footprint expanded in those years but most of the population was still in the square mile, and Main street was the center of business.

In the 60’s and early 70s, downtown mesa was the place to be. Downtown Mesa was your typical mid-city thriving downtown. Sears was here. JC Penny was here, Pomeroys, LaSueurs. This is where people came. Not only from Mesa, but from Chandler, Gilbert, and Apache Junction.

But like most cities in the US, Downtown Mesa went through a transition. In Mesa, that transition started in 1978, that transition was called fiesta mall, then it was the superstition freeway. Downtown changed.
And for more than 3 decades, the city and the community struggled with what downtown should be. A lot of planning went into the 80’s and 90’s to try to bring people back to downtown. But places like downtowns can’t be forced.

By 1980, Mesa’s population was 161,000, by 1990 it was more than 300,000. Mesa’s footprint had grown to more than 122 square miles. Downtown seemed all but forgotten. Businesses and population sifted out of downtown and into the suburbs.

In the 2000’s, the pendulum has swung back. Downtowns are where Millennials and Boomers want to be. Where they want to live, work, learn and play.
Downtown Mesa has been prepared for this. Through the 70’s, 80’ s and 90’s the streets were widened, in the late 90’s they were narrowed and then narrowed again in 2014. Sidewalks have been widened and streetscapes installed; the downtown core has been made more walkable.
The community has been brought together to help create planning documents for a more urban downtown experience. Codes have been changed to allow for more urban style development. All in preparation for the city’s largest single investment and construction project. Light Rail!