Gilbert Buys Land for $18M in its Downtown District

Article originally posted on AZ Central on September 20, 2023

Conceptual art of the Heritage District redevelopment plans for a future park and transit center.

Gilbert Town Council unanimously approved a purchase of 18 acres in its downtown district for $18.4 million on Tuesday.

The redevelopment of Gilbert’s Heritage District, or downtown, has been a pointed effort since the council adopted its redevelopment plan in 2018. Over the years, the town has purchased vacant parcels to encourage businesses to locate downtown.

Now Gilbert owns nearly 50 acres of land in the Heritage District. The once-quiet strip of land has turned into a bustling, go-to entertainment district.

The land along Neely Street just south of the Union Pacific Railroad line is slated for a park and transit center. Gilbert’s downtown has one way in and one way out, but plans are underway to extend Vaughn Avenue further west to create a new way to move around.

Because of the Vaughn Avenue roadwork, the town needs to update infrastructure including flooding protections that meet town standards.

“The potential acquisition is intended to provide sufficient land for Gilbert to meet the Town standard and best ensure protection from flooding as the district builds out,” a town spokesperson told the Arizona Republic in an email.

It’s anticipated the town will close on the property in May 2024. The land is currently used as a lumber store.

Here’s what’s planned

According to the town’s 2018 Heritage District Redevelopment Plan, this area is part of the long-range planning area in the master plan. The document lays out the vision for a larger 27.5-acre area. The land, currently zoned for light industrial, will need to be rezoned to fit the uses identified in Gilbert’s plans.

Water Retention: The town’s top priority with the land purchase is to update and expand storm water infrastructure. Staff plan to relocate the Vaughn Avenue retention basin and well site from the east to the west side of the rail lines in the Heritage District. The expansion accommodates the 50-year stormwater standard as opposed to the current 10-year storm.

Future Transit Center: The town’s transportation plan calls for two transit stations in Gilbert: one in the Cooley Station area and the second in the Heritage District to provide for a centralized location for buses, share-rides and a possible commuter rail station.

Commuter rail systems elsewhere around the country typically use freight railroad lines to move passengers across metro regions like the Valley. Gilbert identified this area as the prime location for a downtown station because of its access to the Union Pacific railroad line. The transit center would occupy over 4 acres of land.

Conceptual art of the Heritage District redevelopment plans for a future transit center.

The transit center would also function as a park-and-ride location. “In the event that rail transit is not realized in the Heritage District, these sites may be assigned as multi-family residential,” according to the redevelopment plan.

Funding and development for commuter rail stations have been a polarizing debate on Town Council. Earlier this year, the council attempted to block local funds to study further the feasibility of a commuter rail station in Gilbert.

Future Park: Plans for a future 6-acre park are mapped out for the area. Conceptual plans call for “Festival Park” as a public place for larger events like “carnivals, athletic tournaments or vendor festivals.”

The town also sees it as a potential wedding location for restaurants to host receptions in downtown.

Once the town closes the sale in 2024, construction on the Vaughn Avenue and basin expansion will begin. A timeline for the rest of the projects has not yet been identified.