Planes not the only thing soaring at Gateway Airport The Mesa Tribune | The Hometown Newspaper for the city of Mesa, AZ

Planes not the only thing soaring at Gateway Airport

December 7th, 2020 Mesa Tribune Staff
Planes not the only thing soaring at Gateway Airport

Tribune Contributor


en years ago, with the East Valley all but paralyzed by the Great Recession, Mesa officials sank ceremonial shovels into some dirt just north of Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport.

They were breaking ground for a new stretch of a city street. 

Ordinarily, a new stretch of city street doesn’t bring out the mayor, City Council members, top bureaucrats and the press. We get new streets around these parts all the time – big whoop.

But this was Ray Road and the work beginning that morning would – in the rosy estimation of those pols and bureaucrats – open the floodgates for a 21st century gold rush. With Loop 202 just to the north and the airport next door, how could they miss?

Well, it took some time. But they nailed it.

The south side of Ray east of Sossaman now presents a phalanx of large industrial buildings on what was open land as little as two years ago. 

More are on the way, with the prospect of turning Ray Road’s intersection with Hawes Road into one of southeast Mesa’s busiest business hubs.

Within these buildings is a dizzying array of enterprises, ranging from cabinetry to swimming pool supplies to the latest in high-tech aviation.

It has worked out so well for CAVU Aerospace Inc. that the 10-year-old Arkansas-based company is thinking about moving its national headquarters to Gateway.

Ken Kocialski, one of CAVU’s founding partners, said the rapidly growing company opened its 80,000-square-foot Gateway facility in the fall of 2019 because of a combination of private and public cooperation.

Originally, he said, the company had wanted to lease a building in Chandler. 

“We thought it would be a perfect fit for us. After about four to six weeks of the most excruciating lease negotiation … finally we just gave up on this group,” he said.

Meanwhile, Kocialski’s wife, Tarasa Haase, a real estate agent, came across the Landing, then under development on the south side of Ray Road by Scottsdale-based Marwest Enterprises LLC.

Within the space of a weekend, a lease was negotiated even before the building was finished. Two meetings with Mesa’s economic development staff cemented the deal.

CAVU’s Mesa shop refurbishes parts from dismantled aircraft and sells them with FAA certification for re-use in other planes. Kocialski is looking to add about 20 qualified mechanics to his existing Mesa staff of 25 by the end of the year.

Mesa’s economic development director, Bill Jabjiniak, doesn’t have an exact figure in terms of dollars flowing into the Gateway sector. 

But he said, “I will tell you that we are in the billions.”

Jabjiniak, who has been in his position with Mesa since 2007, seems personally awestruck at the transformation. 

“Southeast Mesa on all sides of the airport has become a significant draw,” he said. “We’re seeing things I never thought we would see.”

Mesa has long touted the economic potential of land near the airport, which until 1993 was a U.S. Air Force base. In 2006, a study by the Urban Land Institute predicted that the Gateway area could someday support 100,000 well-paying jobs.

Fruition of that employment forecast is still years in the future. But recent growth suggests it is not necessarily a pipe dream.

EuroContempo Cabinetry LLC, which originated in Gilbert in 2017, kicked off the land rush with a 72,000-square-foot factory and showroom in 2018. Kevin Thompson, who represents southeast Mesa on the City Council, said that seems to have been the catalyst.

When he first joined the council in 2015, Thompson said, “We were just coming out of a recession and man, nobody was wanting to build anything.” 

In fact, he said, a proposed large mixed-use development at Ray and Hawes fizzled in 2015 for lack of funds.

But when EuroContempo broke ground, “Everybody kind of saw suddenly that there were cranes and there was dirt being moved and it generated some excitement,” Thompson said.

In short order, a Potato Barn furniture store opened on the north side of Ray, and the building boom was on. 

Several projects have come under the auspices of Marwest.

Just this year, Marwest built 605,000 square feet of Class-A industrial space on 45 acres on the north side of Ray. 

Jabjiniak said that project, called Landing 202, already is mostly leased. Another Marwest project is under construction on the east end of the existing industrial row – 525,000 square feet in seven Class A industrial buildings, scheduled for completion in April.

And, Jabjiniak said, there is far more
to come.

Projects in the pipeline, some not yet announced, will add 3.6 million square feet of space to the Ray Road corridor between Hawes and Power roads.

This all adds up to something Mesa has craved for decades: jobs. Mesa historically has been a bedroom community for other nearby cities with more employment opportunities.

Citywide, Jabjiniak said, Mesa has added more than 12,000 jobs in the past five years, with an average wage of $46,586. 

By far the majority of that activity has come in the city’s southeast corner, where already-established companies such as CMC Steel, Fuji Films and Able Engineering have announced expansions of their operations.

Thompson said those jobs were his priority from the moment he joined the City Council. 

“Our citizens leave our community to go to other communities to work, and I said we need to reverse the trend,” Thompson said.

“We’re meeting the demands of the market,” Jabjiniak said. “People wanted industrial buildings that had big floor plates and high ceilings. Mesa didn’t have those five years ago. We now do, and they’re being occupied right and left.”

These projects are coming to life outside the boundaries of what Mesa calls its Elliot Road Industrial Corridor, which Mesa laced with industrial-grade infrastructure and which already has attracted Apple Inc., Google and other firms. Google plans to build a data center on 187 acres at Elliot and Sossaman, with construction beginning in the first half of 2021.

The airport itself has developable land in what it calls SkyBridge. 

The 363-plus acres is expected to have nearly 4 million square feet of industrial and commercial space at buildout, supporting 6,400 jobs and 10,000 cargo flights per year by 2036.

In addition, southeast Mesa is poised to become a tourist and recreation destination.

Jabjiniak expects a development called Gallery Park to resume construction soon on the northeast corner of Ray and Power roads. 

“The COVID beast hit and put the brakes on a lot of stuff, but that’s one million square feet of mixed-use non-industrial development,” Jabjiniak said.

Less than a mile north, a large water park and mixed-use project called Cannon Beach is in the works. 

“That’s real. That’s gonna happen,” Jabjiniak said. Groundbreaking is on tap for early 2021.

And groundbreaking already occurred this fall for a $250 million recreation complex called Legacy Sports Park on 320 acres at Ellsworth and Pecos roads just south of the airport. Completion is expected in early 2022.

Jabjiniak said Mesa has worked hard to identify and preserve industrial and commercial areas even as residential growth explodes in southeast Mesa.

“We still have three eligible employees for every full-time job” in Mesa, he said. “We’re exporting talent to other communities. That’s a hard ratio to get to change with the amount of residential growth that we’ve seen.”

Kocialski, of CAVU Aerospace, can barely contain his enthusiasm over the welcome his company received.

“Mesa – they really are trying to create something different,” he said. “They really want to put together a community that benefits everybody.” ′

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