Feds tout Opportunity Zone impact on Mesa The Mesa Tribune | The Hometown Newspaper for the city of Mesa, AZ

Feds tout Opportunity Zone impact on Mesa

Feds tout Opportunity Zone impact on Mesa

By Christopher Boan
Tribune Staff Writer

The neatly-rowed buildings on Main Street in downtown Mesa are undergoing a renaissance of sorts, thanks to private and public investment.

That success story was fed in part the area’s designation as an Opportunity Zone – a federally-classified region where private enterprise can invest in lower-income communities in exchange for tax incentives.

That provision, which was created in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, brought Small Business Association Regional Administrator Ashley Daniel Bell to Mesa recently for a tour of downtown along with members of Scottsdale-based wealth development company Caliber to see how a booming economy is taking the area by storm.

Rodney Riley, an Opportunity Zone expert for Caliber, called Bell’s visit a crowning achievement for the city.

“Anytime the White House comes to town, we’re really happy about it,” Riley said. “We’re super fortunate that we were one of the first organizations to invest in Opportunity Zones.

“And because downtown Mesa is a really great, fantastic opportunity zone that’s going to see a lot of growth in the future, we’ve been somewhat on their radar to come into town,” Riley said.

Riley said U.S. Housing and Urban Development Opportunity Zone Executive Director Scott Turner has cited downtown Mesa’s success several times in recent White House calls.

Such a feat is proof for Riley that the investments pumped into Mesa, both by Caliber and other companies, are paying off.

A big reason for that success, according to Riley, is light rail.

“The history of Mesa is significant, with the Mormon Church in town. So, obviously that’s been a driver here in town for a very long time,” Riley said.

“But then you couple that with a couple-hundred-million-dollar federal project that comes right through the heart of Mesa in the light rail system, that can bring people here very quickly from all over. There’s only two cities that have light rail going through it, Phoenix and Mesa.”

Bell touched on a similar topic during his comments, praising the roles that city government under Mayor John Giles’ leadership as well as private enterprise have played in regenerating downtown.

“I think that Mesa is a great model for what we’re promoting around the country,” Bell said, adding:

“I think it’s a great story of an investor that had a vision, that the community supported that vision, and the local city supported that vision and you have all the ingredients for revitalization here.

“And so, it was great to walk Downtown Mesa and understand that the investments that are being made here are part of a larger plan, and everybody agrees is the plan for the city.

“I think that’s what we want to see more around the country is people going into communities and having the same vision – investors having the same vision as the city and then using this tool called Opportunity Zones in order to actualize that vision.”

Bell is confident that the recent success downtown will become the new norm, given the fact that Opportunity Zone designations require a company to maintain its investment for at least a decade in order to reap the full tax benefits.

“Downtown Mesa is one of those areas that was designated by the state that they wanted revitalization to come,” he said.

He said that as a result of the Opportunity Zone designation, “now private capital can flow into here without paying taxes, federal taxes.”

“So, if you make $1 million on the stock market or selling a piece of property, you can invest that money in Downtown Mesa right now without paying any federal taxes initially on that investment,” Bell said, calling Opportunity Zone investments “a great tool to defer taxes and then eliminate taxes in 10 years.”

The road to last Tuesday’s meeting was long and winding for folks like Riley, given the multi-year construction of light rail that created a nightmare for visitors and locals alike.

Riley believes all the growing pains for such a massive infrastructure project were worthwhile.

“Everybody experiences that, when the light rail has come through,” he said. “But now that that’s behind us and we have these beautiful trains driving down the tracks behind us, you can see the progress that’s been made and the progress that’s available to us in the future.”

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