Fiesta Mall’s days are numbered, at least in its current form. A local development group purchased the property in late May for just $6.72 million with grand designs to redevelop the space into a higher-education campus, and that redevelopment plan also includes a new name: Campus at U.S. 60.
The current plan for the mall will not require rezoning of the property because the current zoning allows for redevelopment, said Lori Gray, senior project manager at Mesa Office of Economic Development.
New owner Dimension Financial & Realty Investments Inc. plans to hire an architect in the next 30 days and complete design in the next 120 days, said Ray Cashen, president and designated broker at Cashen Real Estate Advisors, which represented DFRI in the sale and will market the property.
Cashen estimated that construction will begin in the first quarter of 2018, though it could begin sooner based on tenant demand.
The redevelopment and renaming of the property would end Fiesta Mall’s nearly four-decade run in Mesa, during which time the city experienced explosive growth alongside the once-dominant mall.
Fiesta Mall was one of the first major growth centers for southwest Mesa outside of agriculture, and its creation contributed to significant employment growth in southwest Mesa along with a boom in residential construction. It also coincided with the U.S. 60 expansion in Mesa.
“(Fiesta Mall) was a catalyst for growth in southwest Mesa,” said Vic Linoff, president of Mesa Preservation Foundation.
However, as the southwest side of Mesa began to fill up and the population began to age, the city expanded east, taking shoppers with it. After opening in 1979, Fiesta Mall remained a featured retail attraction in Mesa before vacancy rates began to rise in the past 20 years as consumers opted for the newer Superstition Springs Center that opened in 1990.
The opening of Fiesta Mall – in a harbinger of things to come – contributed to the demise of Mesa’s Tri‑City Mall, which closed for good in 1998 after its tenants were siphoned off. Tri-City Mall was a working-class mall that reflected Mesa’s demographics at the time, Linoff said. Fiesta Mall, on the other hand, was a modern megamall similar to Phoenix’s Metrocenter and was a novelty in Mesa at the time. It was anchored by high-end tenants like The Broadway, Goldwaters and Sears.
In addition to Tri-City Mall, Mesa’s Main Street also was affected by the early success of Fiesta Mall, as tenants left the area in favor of the city’s new shopping center, Linoff said.
The Fiesta Mall site was a key component of the Fiesta District Redevelopment Plan, which the city initiated in 2009 and followed with an implementation plan in 2012. Some noticeable results of those plans are the narrowing of Southern Avenue and new streetscape features. The city’s plans also placed heavy emphasis on redeveloping “worn out” retail properties, Gray said.
The city has struggled to fully realize that goal as properties like the notorious former Bennigans restaurant location at the northwest corner of Alma School Road and Southern Avenue remain empty.
The successful redevelopment of Fiesta Mall would be a win for Mesa as it could potentially bring consumers back to the area and raise property values, Gray said.
“If this works, it could start another era that helps revitalize the area,” Linoff said.
Still, Linoff noted there is some risk in pursuing the higher-education route. For all the successes Mesa has had in bringing universities and colleges to the city in recent years, there are also some cautionary tales, such as the canceled Grand Canyon University campus in Eastmark.
The group plans to keep the community informed about the progress of the project.
“We’ve met with councilmen for the district and Lori Gray,” Cashen said. “We will probably reach out to the community when we have a clearer design direction to let people know what we are doing.”
DFRI is targeting large existing universities with focuses on health and education as potential tenants. There may also be space for colleges specializing in business, economics, engineering, global communications, law, nursing and liberal arts.
The group also plans to develop housing and entertainment products to support the campus along with offices and a health club. It is planning to keep the majority of the existing mall building intact while enlarging the walkways and introducing more natural light.
The sale did not include the Dillards or Sears locations within the mall because both companies own the space they occupy. It also did not include the two other anchor tenant spaces, formerly occupied by Macy’s and Best Buy/Dick’s Sporting Goods, which are owned by local developer Scott Jackson.
Cashen said DFRI has had positive conversations with Jackson and that both groups are “united trying to really help each other to make the whole thing come to fruition.”
City of Mesa officials have remained in contact with the various ownership groups and believe that they are all on board with the redevelopment plans for the former mall.
“It seems to me that the owners have always said that this is a key piece of property and that it’s in a good location and it can be the gem that it once was, just used for a different purpose,” Gray said.
DFRI also owns a roughly 200,000-square-foot building on the east side of Alma School Road, formerly occupied by Staples and Borders, that it plans to bridge to the mall property.
Overall, the new campus will comprise approximately 1.2 million square feet.
– Reach Wayne Schutsky at 480-898-6533 or email@example.com.