Creating A New Old College Town

There has been a lot of talk lately about the new downtown Mesa college hub being created in an area many had written off as dead, boring or past its time. The successful marketing campaign by Mesa’s leadership to attract colleges to their downtown core has landed them commitments from four colleges ( so far ). These colleges present a unique opportunity to create a “new” downtown experience for potentially thousands of residents before the next decade begins.

Mesa is already scouting locations to expand when the colleges fill up the 53,000-square-foot education center.” –

These are the “old school” colleges coming to breathe new life into downtown Mesa and the years they were founded:

Benedictine University, founded 1887.

Westminster College, founded 1851.

Albright College, founded 1856.

Wilkes University, founded 1933.

For now, it sounds like Mesa is done trying to woo any more liberal arts institutions to the area and has decided to concentrate on how to best deal with the ones that have committed to the area. There has been talk however of a “higher education initiative” that could land a medical school or similar type of college. ( I don’t think Mesa is done with announcements. )

From Nearly Deserted To A College Town:

So, are they ready for this potentially game changing expansion? Are they ready to be a college town? Land is available near downtown, existing business owners are probably excited at the opportunity to have new students, professors, janitors, administrative professionals and their dollars descend upon the area. Housing is needed and has been discussed often.

A large tract on the southwestern corner of Mesa and University drives, which the city acquired and cleared more than a decade ago for an ill-fated resort project, is in play as the future home of academic and residence buildings for the colleges.” – AZCentral

During the past few years, we have been talking about how we feel downtown Mesa is a great fit for the light rail expansion. It looks like they have what it takes to make Transit Oriented Development ( TOD ) thrive. Some awesome buildings, street facing shops, an arts community that seems ready to thrive, city services, a few cool neighborhoods, etc. While many signs point forward, challenges remain. Will there be enough funding and investment interest? Are there areas that might need more than just a little bit of help? Can the area become cool after so many years of people not giving it the time of day?

Can transit help?

The light rail line should be operational in late 2015 in downtown Mesa, a couple of years after college students begin their descent upon the area. Will this matter much? After all, if there is a highly concentrated area of students downtown, do they need a transit system to take them in and out of Mesa? Probably.

Think about it. These college kids like to have fun. They like to go to sporting events, try new places, go to concerts, etc. What an easy way to head to Mill Avenue, to downtown Phoenix, Chase Field, etc. Developers understand this, too. With fixed transit, there seems to be more interest in an area. Heck, we know Mesa understands this, they have seen study after study about the economic impacts along the line.

In case anyone wasn’t sure, Mesa just coughed up a half million dollars to study another expansion to take the light rail line to Gilbert Road. Shockingly, METRO was able to give some very valuable feedback for their $500k. Interestingly enough, they think it makes $ense to build more light rail!

The study said: "Significant opportunities for economic development are possible within the projected study area." – Amazing assessment from METRO! Hell, I could have told them that for $50.00. Nevertheless, it sounds like there will be a continued push to extend the line along Main Street to Gilbert Road.

I think it is going to be fun to watch the transformation of this area over the next 5-10 years. Old becoming new.

Plusses and Minuses:

In the minuses category, one would think they face challenges from growing pains, lack of infrastructure, a possible housing shortage, a few less-than-desirable areas, etc.

On the plus side, you obviously have some renewed interest, development opportunity, a city seemingly willing to help with a multi-million dollar budget, some great existing facilities and buildings, renovation potential, etc.

Hopefully, these new / old colleges will bring with them a sense of community, a willingness to succeed, a can-do attitude and a desire to entrench themselves into the community. I have a feeling they will be welcomed with open arms.

Father time will tell if this was a good move…


  1. says

    What an opportunity!

    I was raised literally across the street from Mesa and now attend the downtown Phoenix ASU campus. I’ve seen Phoenix transformed in the past couple years because of the accessibility of the light rail and suspect Mesa might be next on the list.

    While Mesa still has a ways to go before it achieves the “college town” distinction of Tempe, the light rail will go a long way in keeping students excited and involved in their community, as well as getting them to Arizona hot-spots like Mill Avenue and the downtown sports scene.

    I’ll keep my fingers ’til 2015!

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