Gilbert was abuzz in 2005 when crews were supposed to break ground on Main Street Commons, an upscale mix of retail, office and residential that would be the town’s answer to the similar Kierland Commons.

Seven years and one massive recession later, nearly all of the 45-acre development is still dirt.

But town officials are hopeful some things will finally spring to life on the site, with the announcement one parcel will be the home of new U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs clinic.

The 60,000-square foot clinic is the only VA facility serving the East Valley and will even draw from Pinal and Gila counties. That will create a destination attracting other businesses, Vice Mayor John Sentz said. He figures the clinic has the potential to bolster the area’s popularity as a health-care hub while also spurring service-oriented places like restaurants, hotels, a dry cleaner and flower shops.

“Once the clinic goes in, I see other professional businesses coming in around it,” Sentz said.

Main Street Commons has just three elements now: Mountainside Fitness, a Hyatt Place and a Hampton Inn & Suites.

Main Street Commons was initially planned as an urban hub for the East Valley, with a pedestrian-friendly mix of shops, a movie theater, offices, and upscale apartments or condos. But owner Woodbine Southwest Corp., decided in 2008 to slice up the land and sell it off as the economy headed south.

The town hasn’t seen proposals on the empty parcels other than the clinic and a recently-approved WinCo warehouse grocery store.

The clinic will help build momentum but it can’t revive the Main Street Commons idea, Sentz said.

“What’s happened out there right now is we’re starting to piecemeal things that aren’t really consistent with that Kierland Commons, or Main Street Commons, so I don’t think it’s going to happen.”

Sentz opposed the Idaho-based grocer from locating at the site despite promises it will deliver $1 million in annual sales tax revenue. He said the grocery store will only cannibalize a market shared by the adjacent Costco, Sam’s Club and Walmart stores. The massive store also doesn’t lead to a pedestrian-friendly experience, he said.

“It didn’t fit in with the character of what we’re trying to do with the area,” Sentz said.

But he’s happy to see the clinic. It’s location by the Loop 202 Santan Freeway and 20,000 clients will draw a lot of people to the area and create some energy there, he said.

“I think it will still be a quality project,” Sentz said. “It’s just going to be different than what we originally thought."

Contact writer: (480) 898-6548 or

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