Guest Editorial: Gilbert Looks to Move Heritage District Beyond Popular Restaurants

By Recker McDowell —

The town of Gilbert has issued a new request for qualifications (RFQ) for a potential new development to anchor the south end of its Heritage District.

The East Valley town is looking for development proposals for a mixed-use project on 2.18 acres at Gilbert and Elliot roads. Gilbert is looking for retail and office uses on the parcel to complement the Heritage areas restaurants and bars.

A new hotel, offices and apartments are slated at north end of Gilbert’s popular restaurant row.

The idea is to bring office workers, shoppers and creative small businesses to the area which has grown into one of the most popular culinary destinations in the state.

Gilbert is looking for a mix of commercial and residential uses at the ‘south anchor’ development that fits with the architectural and historical character of the area.

Gilbert’s approach to its Heritage area can serve as a blueprint for other cities looking to grow and energize their own ‘downtowns’.

The town has had the advantage of owning the land in the Heritage area. That has allowed for town officials to be selective in how the area between Juniper Avenue and Elliot Road has grown.

Gilbert has also found a niche in attracting residents and visitors to its core. The attraction and success of popular local and regional restaurants bars (including OHSO Brewery, Culinary Dropout, Barrio Queen and Oregano’s) helped organically brand Gilbert.

Now, the town is looking to evolve the restaurant area into more with new residential, higher education and office uses. That will bring more activity to the area beyond Happy Hours, weekend and nights out.

Other cities in Arizona and the Southwest (including the likes of Chandler, Mesa and Glendale) are watching Gilbert’s path to see how they can bring more economic development and residents to their cores.

The key is to find an attraction the brings people to an area. That can be restaurants or the arts or mixed-uses such as offices and residential.

For other more established downtowns such as Scottsdale and Tempe, Gilbert shows those cities they can’t rest on their laurels. Just like a brand or business, cities need to make sure they are evolving, maturing and keeping up with consumers and the marketplace.

Gilbert has carved a niche and wants to grow that niche beyond cool restaurants and bars. Other cities should keep tabs on that and see how they can follow suit for their own downtowns.