East Mesa development plans back on track

December 05, 2012

After one of the worst recessions in history, it appears that development in Mesa is back on track. It’s been more than five years since the Valley heard of a plan to develop the vast tracks empty of land around the Phoenix–Mesa Gateway Airport. But in 2009 everything was put on hold. This is the first of two parts on the latest from the East Valley. 

NADINE ARROYO RODRIGUEZ: The sounds of construction are back in the City of Mesa. This is the San Tan Loop 202  freeway extension that will connect the Loop 202 to Ellsworth Road. And this new freeway will link connect motorist to one of the most talked about development in the area about a mile away. It’s the former General Motors proving grounds. A big chunk of which was just sold to developers planning an adult living community and upscale homes. Scot Rigby is with the City of Mesa. He’s been part of developing the proving ground and the land around it since 2008.

SCOT RIGBY: We’re trying to create areas that are focused on residences close to an urban, live-work-and-play. 

ARROYO RODRIGUEZ: All this kind-of sounds like a re-run from 2008. Not long after GM sold 3,200 acres to Scottsdale developer DMB for $265 million, big plans were hatched for a resort with hotels, a convention center, a golf course and new homes. With the city’s boosterism, voters approved a bond initiative that gave tax incentives to help foster tourism. Months later the economy collapsed.

KARRIN TAYLOR: Our timing probably could not have been worse.

ARROYO RODRIGUEZ: Karrin Taylor oversees the project now called Eastmark, for DMB.

Karrin Taylor of DMBDMB's Karrin Taylor points to model homes contruction area build on old GM proving grounds.(Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez - KJZZ)

TAYLOR: We paid cash for this property and so it was very, very difficult for us. We could’ve easily walked away from it, but our owners decided that this piece of property is too important.

ARROYO RODRIGUEZ: That’s because what surrounds the land are profitable business opportunities. The Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport is about a mile away from the development site. And plans to expand the airport are underway. Also in the works are commercial business towers strategically located near the airport. Again, Mesa’s Scot Rigby.

RIGBY:  I think the momentum will continue to pick-up here in the next couple of years.

ARROYO RODRIGUEZ: And DMB is banking on just that. As you pass the exterior of the old proving grounds on Ellsworth you’ll see piles of debris, things look rundown and abandoned. But DMB’s Kerrin Taylor took me deeper on to the property and passed all the pre-recession clutter where new model homes are under construction.

TAYLOR: Builder sales occurred this summer. We sold 11 parcels to seven different builders, and today we’re witnessing the development of those parcels. All of the horizontal development from the roads, water, and the sewer lines, the welcome center all that is underway today.

ARROYO RODRIGUEZ: So what does this all mean for the trajectory of development in the East Valley? This part of the city has long been used by dairy farmers and other agricultural businesses. Before the housing bust in 2008 these folks were tempted with the idea of selling out to developers. Now that the market is starting to recover people like Peter van Rijn are back in the same position.

Pieter and Jody van RijnDairy farm owners Pieter and Jody van Rijn. 202 extension construction is underway next to their property, shown behind them.(Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez - KJZZ)

PIETER VAN RIJN: When they realized the freeway we knew that our property value would increase.

ARROYO RODRIGUEZ: van Rijn and his wife Jody own the 90 acre dairy farm adjacent to the expanding 202. He says he had an offer on the table in 2008 to sell out. But the recession stopped the deal from happening. Vanrijn and other neighbors I spoke to say they’re waiting for another round of offers.  

VAN RIJN: We like all these people coming because at the end of the day all these people drink milk which is perfect for us. And we’ll leave when we think we’re ready. [So, you don’t mind it. You think this is a pretty good thing?] No, because we can build a new place too, and we don’t mind moving if the price is right.

ARROYO RODRIGUEZ: It could be decades before developers’ full vision for the area comes to maturity. But van Rijn says he’s willing to be patient.