By Recker McDowell —
Mesa has long looked for the secret sauce for its downtown. It is easy for Mesa to look to other downtowns as the template for its long-desired success for Main Street.
It is easy to look to Old Town Scottsdale, Tempe’s Mill Avenue and Gilbert Heritage District and try to aim for a restaurant, arts and cultural scene.
Mesa has done some of that with the Mesa Arts Center and festival events.
It is also very easy to look at what Arizona State University has done for downtown Phoenix and hope ASU’s planned new center in downtown Mesa will spark Main Street. ASU is locating 3-D printing and design programs at a planned Mesa center.
Bringing ASU and arts events and trying to get a few more restaurants and coffee shops are all good.
What Mesa really needs is to bring more residents to its downtown core. Places can only create so many destinations. And go-to destinations aren’t created overnight or out of thin air. Old Town Scottsdale benefits from resorts, international tourists, high-end shopping and big events including those at WestWorld to the north. ASU’s main campus has long spurred Mill Avenue and it took decades for downtown Phoenix to finally become a place to be.
For Mesa, Main Street needs more new housing and residents to spur on other businesses. That will mean restaurants and coffee shops will be open on Sundays. There will more native downtown residents instead of just East Valley suburbanites who drop in for an arts event or concert at the Mesa Arts Center every blue moon. Main Street needs a sustainable residential base. Then the restaurants, cafes and shops will come. It is not vice versa.
The restaurants that put Gilbert on the map do well because there was untapped restaurant demand in that growing upper middle class suburb.
Mesa can look at its municipal brethren to see what works best and what helped and didn’t help other downtowns.
But the recipe for success isn’t one-size fits all. And for Mesa increasing residential headcounts will help other downtown dominos fall into place.
The Main Street area is seeing some new residential developments. Mesa needs more of that and realize it is not on the same downtown journey as Scottsdale, Tempe, Gilbert or Phoenix.