Same Project, New Name for Downtown Site

Article originally posted on HERE on May 10, 2022
Transform 17
City officials won’t call the long-empty 27 acres in the heart of downtown “Transform 17” as they work with a developer to finally make something of a site that’s been vacant for more than three decades. (Special to the Tribune)

 

The Transform 17 downtown revitalization project has transformed its name: The project will now be known as Nexus.

“We shall not use ‘Site 17’ again,” Downtown Transformation Manager Jeff McVay told Mesa’s Planning and Zoning Board at its April 27 discussion session, referring to the original name of the site that later gave way to “Transform 17.”

Choosing a better name was one of Mesa City Council’s requests following a March review of the plan for 27 acres of vacant city-owned land just north of Main Street near Phoenix Marriott Mesa.

Lindsay Schube, a representative for the city’s development partner Miravista Holdings, told the planning board that “Nexus” was chosen to reflect the fact that the site is “so important in terms of the connectivity” of downtown.

P&Z’s first look at the project was an important step because the board will be influential in shaping the final plan for Nexus in the coming months, before a possible development agreement is signed in late August. 

That’s because the city and Miravista decided that all the required zoning for the project should be in place before the two parties sign a development agreement.

The name appeared to be the biggest change in the plan since McVay and Schube presented it to council in March: it’s still a mixed-use development with ambitious goals for density, envisioning buildings as tall as six to eight stories.

The P&Z board’s feedback for Schube and McVay had two themes: reference the site’s history in the final design, and ensure that what is built doesn’t fall short of the plan presented.

On both points, McVay and Schube tried to reassure board members that they had the same goals. After the meeting, one board member, Tim Boyle, said he’ll be looking for more assurances when the project is considered this summer.

During the meeting, two of the board members emphasized that the city needed to be extra sensitive about listening to concerns of neighbors in the area due to the history of the site. In the 1990s, the city started buying up homes in the area, eventually resorting to eminent domain to acquire all the properties.

The plan was to revitalize downtown with a ballyhooed water park, but the developer failed to secure financing, so that and several subsequent plans fell through.

“There’s still a lot of hurt in some of our communities, particularly some of our communities of color, about how some of those properties were acquired,” Vice Chair Deanna Villanueva-Saucedo said, suggesting a reference to its history should be included in the final designs.

“As far as the acknowledgement, that is very important to us,” Schube said in response. “We have talked to the ASU film school about doing something … in terms of kind of documentation of what we’re doing and also the nod to the past and how we got here.”

Miravista’s plan for Nexus divides the parcel into separate development blocks, so the developer will only get a small portion of the property at a time.

That aspect of the plan appealed to the board as a hedge against the plan going bust due to economic conditions or other twists of fate

“The city will not sell a piece of land until the developer has permits in hand and shows us financial capacity to move forward,” McVay said. “We are very sensitive about protecting ourselves.”

This was not enough assurance for Boyle, who worried in the meeting that Nexus could end up like another recent downtown revitalization project, Sycamore Station, which was approved by council in August.

In that project, the city also worked with Miravista on a master plan for a group of parcels next to a light rail station with multiple owners.

Boyle was part of a neighborhood group that initially backed the Sycamore Station project, but pulled its support when developers altered the plan originally presented by Miravista.

He said he wanted guarantees the same wouldn’t happen to Nexus.

“A lot of these same promises were made about townhouses, for sale units, mixed use, shopping and grocery, and then in the end it was two 200-apartment buildings,” Boyle said, referencing Sycamore Station. “They were doing all these same sorts of things (as Nexus), and then what ended up happening are some low, cheap apartment buildings.

Boyle, an architect, told the Tribune after the meeting that there’s financial incentive for developers to build three-story walk-up apartments in Mesa, because they’re much cheaper to build than taller projects, but in his view “you wouldn’t end up with a revitalized downtown” with apartment buildings alone. 

“I think any sort of agreement that we have needs to have a minimum required height, so that we know that we’re getting buildings of a certain caliber,” Boyle suggested to the board.

McVay, who worked on the Sycamore Station project, said Sycamore Station and Nexus are apples to oranges, noting that the city did not own all of the parcels at Sycamore, and one of the owners decided not to sell.

“The city is not obligated to sell anything (at Nexus) unless the developer is performing,” McVay said. “There’s a significant different level of control that the city has” for Nexus.

“Board member Boyle, we are with you,” McVay continued, “and we are negotiating down those same paths so we do not have those same things happen, (and) we will get what you are seeing here.”

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