Past Mesa resort plans ended in empty lots The Mesa Tribune | The Hometown Newspaper for the city of Mesa, AZ

Past Mesa resort plans ended in empty lots

Past Mesa resort plans ended in empty lots
City News
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BY GARY NELSON
Tribune Contributor

If Cannon Beach actually comes to fruition, the project will mark a turnaround in Mesa’s decades-long effort to attract high-end resort destinations.

Three particular cases come to mind – two of which required, and obtained, voter approval before vanishing in the whirlwind of the Great Recession.

The first, however, goes back even farther. And Mesa still bears the scar.

In the late 1990s, a Canadian developer came to town with a plan to turn the southwest corner of Mesa and University drives into a resort with a massive indoor water park.

The city swooned over the idea, and promptly assembled 25-plus acres for the project. Some residents were forced to move under the threat of, if not the actual use of, eminent domain.

The problem was, the developer never had the money. And with the economy staggering under the twin blows of the dot.com bust and the 2001 terror attacks, the project died.

Mesa was left with what it calls Site 17, a vast empty tract on the edge of downtown.

Several ideas have come and gone – a downtown campus of Mesa Community College was one of them – but now the city appears to be on the verge of a development agreement that could finally erase the physical evidence of the water-park blunder.

Burned by that experience, Mesa made sure to ensure no repeat in 2007 when Scottsdale developers wanted to buy Riverview Golf Course for what they said would be a world-class water-sports destination.

Voters approved the $250 million Waveyard project in a special election that fall. But before the developers could turn one shovelful of dirt, City Manager Chris Brady insisted that they put money on the table.

That never happened. Loan money dried up during the Great Recession, and despite repeated promises, Waveyard’s backers eventually had to walk away.

At least this time the city wasn’t left holding the bag. What would have been Waveyard is now the site of Sloan Park, the spring-training home of the Chicago Cubs and one of the most successful Cactus League venues. The golf course now also is the home of a large Sheraton hotel, and a large office complex is under construction just north of Riverview Park.

The most spectacular of the failed proposals was unveiled in a gala press conference at the Mesa Arts Center in early September 2008.

Developers, resort-industry tycoons and politicians assembled to announce that a huge Gaylord resort would be built on the north end of what was still the General Motors Desert Proving Ground in southeast Mesa.

The property had been purchased by DMB Associates of Scottsdale, which saw the land as a potential urban center in its own right. The Gaylord would be its centerpiece.

In addition to the 1,000-room Gaylord, there was to have been another upscale resort, fancy shopping venues and a championship-caliber golf course.

Within days of the announcement, the world economy all but collapsed. And despite overwhelming voter approval in 2009 for the tax breaks that Gaylord and the other resort would require, that project, too, withered on the vine.

The prospective Gaylord property remains vacant, although other portions of what DMB calls its Eastmark development have filled in rapidly. 

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