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Mews Of West Mesa rebirth slowly begins with 2 relics razed

West Mesa rebirth slowly begins with 2 relics razed

With no fanfare, two decaying and troublesome relics from a long-gone past disappeared from west Mesa in recent months.

The demise of the boarded-up Fiesta Village shopping center at Southern Avenue and Alma School Road and the once fashionable Dobson Ranch Inn on Dobson Road near US 60 was much anticipated – and a long-time coming. 

But what might be considered West Mesa’s most prominent dinosaur – Fiesta Mall – remains in limbo.

Fiesta Village was among the city’s worst eyesores, and a source of years of fruitless negotiations and fights between the city and the owner.

Dobson Ranch Inn was only a shadow of itself, literally crumbling and attracting a shaky clientele to what was once Mesa’s premier motel, built nearly 50 years ago from one of the founding fathers of the Cactus League.

Both properties are going through a transition, with city officials and advocates hoping their demolition will serve to reinvigorate the area.

Councilman Francisco Heredia and former longtime council member Dennis Kavanaugh anticipate the most immediate changes will occur on the former Dobson Ranch Inn site.

During the next year or so, it will turn into Broadstone Dobson Ranch, a 288-unit apartment complex with a series of one- to four-story buildings whose heights will escalate nearest the freeway to avoid what Heredia calls “encroachment’’ on neighbors.

“We love the area and we are very excited about the project,’’ said Tom Lewis, managing director of Alliance Residential. “We’ve had a lot of support from the community and from the Dobson Ranch Association.’’

He said everyone seems to welcome the demolition of the Dobson Ranch Inn, which fell into decay the last four or five years.

“We recognize this as a very type-A project,’’ comparable to apartment developments built in Phoenix, Tempe and Chandler, with the market emanating from the close location to U.S. 60 and the two nearby hospitals, Banner Desert Medical Center and Banner Children’s at Desert, he said

“We think this is going to be a highly desirable area to live in,’’ Lewis said, expecting the development will attract hospital employees with a short drive or walk to work. “It will be affordable for the income and the jobs in the area.’’

He said construction is underway with the installation of underground utilities. 

He anticipates that in a year or so, the clubhouse, some housing units and a rental office will open, off Isabella and Dobson. The entire project is expected to be completed in the second quarter of 2022.

Brick and stone will be included in the project’s design, creating the contemporary look city officials sought, Lewis said.

“This will be nice, upscale residential units. We’re bringing in new housing options,’’ Kavanaugh said. “This is the first new housing in Dobson Ranch in 20 years.’’

He said low room rates and low occupancy had created an environment for criminal activity at the former Dobson Ranch Inn as maintenance declined to the point that parts of it were literally crumbling.

It was a sad, but necessary end for a property once owned by a partnership that included the late Dwight Patterson, a rancher, a hotelier and a stalwart civic leader credited with attracting the Chicago Cubs to Mesa for spring training, boosting the Cactus League.

In a time long gone, the Dobson Ranch Inn served as the home of the Chicago Cubs and the Milwaukee Brewers before that spring training tradition became obsolete when millionaire players bought or rented their own houses or condominiums.

“It adds to a good trend and provides a new housing option,’’ Kavanaugh said.

After years of frustration with the decaying Fiesta Village, Kavanaugh said, “I was thinking happy thoughts’’ when he drove by one day and realized it had been leveled.

In recent months, Fiesta Village had been surrounded by a sagging fence and was covered with graffiti. 

The city decided to focus on improving the area rather than years of disputes and approved tax incentives to help WM Grace Development Corp. redevelop the project. 

The Landing at Fiesta Village includes at least 220 apartment units in 21 buildings. The development also is expected to offer some restaurants and service businesses.

“The Dobson Ranch Inn looks to be on the fast-track. They hope to start building it later this year,’’ Heredia said.

But he said The Landing at Fiesta Village is a more complicated project.

“You have restaurants in the front, apartments in the back. We’re talking about some minor changes with the development,’’ Heredia said

The Dobson Ranch Inn and Fiesta Village both date back to the same year, 1979. 

Fiesta Mall and its environs were a shopping and entertainment mecca in those days but that era is hard to imagine today.

Although the improvements around the Fiesta District may act as “encouragement’’ to redevelop Fiesta Mall, Heredia and Kavanaugh said, they realize that the hulking, closed mall must be transformed if the area is to undergo a true overhaul.

Despite a series of frustrations over the past few years, where redevelopment plans have fizzled, Heredia, Kavanaugh and Mesa economic development director Bill Jabjiniak are optimistic about Fiesta Mall’s future.

A major obstacle has been multiple owners who have been unable to agree to plan but ownership has been winnowed to two major real estate players, Ernie Garcia and Wayne Howard.

Garcia, the CEO of Carvana, is a billionaire considered by Forbes magazine to be the richest man in Arizona while Howard was the owner of nearly 3,000 properties at one point, according to news reports.

Kavanaugh said that Garcia owns most if not all of the big boxes that once were the mall’s lifeblood, while Howard owns the concourse area where many smaller stores were located.

“There’s been tons of conversations,’’ Heredia said, but there are limitations on what the city can do to move the process forward.

“Really, one owner should be owning that. We’re down to two. I think there is new interest there,’’ he said.

Kavanaugh said Fiesta Mall is still an appealing property, despite the lack of progress.

“It gives you a big palette to paint on,’’ he said. “The location of the site is what’s so valuable.’’

He said Fiesta Mall is not far from either Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix or from Phoenix Mesa-Gateway Airport, because of access to the freeway system.

Jabjiniak also was hopeful, saying in an email, “the two remaining owners are at least talking! Looking forward to 2021!

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