City OKs $8.6M project to complement ASU campus The Mesa Tribune | The Hometown Newspaper for the city of Mesa, AZ

City OKs $8.6M project to complement ASU campus

January 4th, 2021 Mesa Tribune Staff
City OKs $8.6M project to complement ASU campus

By Jim Walsh
Tribune Staff Writer

A New Year full of change is expected for downtown Mesa in 2021, leaving Mayor John Giles and City Council excited about the traditionally sleepy area’s long-promised reawakening.

ASU@ Mesa City Center is at the forefront of the revival of the city’s core though the massive construction project will be the last of three pieces to open. City Council last month approved one of the contracts for another piece  – The Studio @ Mesa Center, an $8.6 million project.

The new municipal plaza is planned for a Thanksgiving opening, followed by The Studios@ Mesa City Center in December or early 2022. The ASU@ Mesa City Center is anticipated to debut during the summer or fall of 2022.

The city’s cost for the The Studio is in addition to the $63.5 million it is spending on ASU@ City Center.

“We will have quite the run of groundbreakings and ribbon-cuttings in the new year,’’ said Jeff McVay, manager of downtown transformation.

He said the city anticipates handing over the completed academic building to ASU by the end of 2021, but it will take the university several months to outfit the interior. The building includes film production studios and other unique features.

The Studios project is billed as a hub for activating Mesa’s concept of an Innovation District that will give birth to new businesses. That project features the evolution of Mesa’s first library into a different sort of educational concept.

Built in 1959, the library impressed Giles and council members Mark Freeman and Jen Duff when they were kids, but it became a mundane Information Technology building after the new library was built across First Street in 1981.

“I thought it was the coolest thing ever built,’’ Freeman said, adding that he remembers visiting the library as a boy. “The library is spectacular. I’m excited to see the renovation of this building.’’

Giles also has fond memories of the library but said he is excited to see it turn into the lynchpin of the Innovation District and a community asset.

That building’s transformation isn’t coming cheap for taxpayers.

As part of the $8.6 million renovation,  Council approved a contract for $3.5 million on Dec. 1. The final contract is scheduled for review this month.

The city’s motivation in undertaking the project is less about nostalgia and more about economic development, Giles said.

“This is a very loved building. This was one of the best places in the City of Mesa when we were growing up,’’ he said, adding that he has been heartbroken that the public has been unable to see its interior for years.

“It’s such a great gift for us to have a beautiful building in a strategic location,’’ Giles said.

Once considered obsolete after the city decided it was cheaper to contract for data services, the 61-year-old building will be managed by ASU and feature flexible meeting space for anything from coaching by mentors of would-be entrepreneurs to corporate-sponsored community events to meetings for Mesa organizations.

A new enclosed lobby “really gives an ability to do some striking lighting and create a beacon for the people driving by,’’ McVay said.

“I think it’s important to talk about not only what we intended to do with this space, but what it isn’t,’’ he said. “We want to make it clear this is not an extension of the academic programming happening at the ASU Futures Laboratory.

“This is stand alone innovation and entrepreneurship studios that benefit from the relationship with ASU, but not an extension of the ASU academic program.’’

The city will renovate 7,000 square feet of the first-floor of the former library, complying with the terms of a lease agreement with ASU signed in 2018 that requires the renovation of 6,000 to 12,000 square feet.

McVay outlined plans for renovating the second floor and the basement level if more funding should become available in the future. At some point, the city is hoping that corporate sponsors step forward.

He said historic touches will be added that will harken back to the library’s heyday, including a wavy canopy over the rear door that resembles the original awning that was removed to create space for the ASU building. An entry monument including pieces from the original canopy will be added near the front door.

Ji Mi Choi, founding executive director of the ASU Entrepreneurship Institute, said the university has about 60 mentors available to coach would-be entrepreneurs at The Studios, whether they are Mesa residents or ASU students.

“This space is really about the community. It’s for the innovators of Mesa,’’ Choi said.

ASU will manage the building, with the manager acting as a concierge for the Studios, the ASU academic building and the downtown innovation district as a whole, she said.

The public will be welcome, whether it’s for a community meeting or to discuss and develop a prototype for a business or a product, Choi said. She also is hoping that corporate sponsors host public outreach events, with Boeing one possibility.

“It’s a place that will act as a gateway for people to access everything that the Innovation District has to offer,’’ Choi said.

In return for the city building the academic building, ASU is required to manage and program the Studios, City Manager Chris Brady said.

The minimum requirements are for ASU to offer 45 events per year either in The Studios, at the plaza or in the academic building, plus 25 film events, McVay said.

“We see this as an investment already made by the city to build it, and by ASU to program it,’’ Choi said. “We would really like to see some outputs from the ASU facility turn into imputes into the Studios,’’ where entrepreneurs would be discussing concepts for launching new businesses. “That means some of the student talent and faculty expertise.’’

Theoretically, the innovators would take their concepts eventually to nearby co-working spaces, such as Co+Hoots and start developing their businesses, Choi said.

“Our expectation is that we would like to get programming started as soon as possible,’’ she said. “We don’t see it as necessary to time it with the academic building.’’

Council member Jen Duff, who represents downtown, said the Studios are likely to play a pivotal role in the success of the Innovation District.

“It’s not designed for ASU. ASU is coming there to help our community,’’ Duff said.

“It’s bringing all aspects of our downtown together,’’ Duff said, creating a synergy. “It’s going to generate a lot of energy around the downtown area.’’

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