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Mesa works to create, grow successful innovation district in downtown

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Downtown Mesa. (File photo)

As Mesa grows, city leaders continue to plan for its future. One such plan is to designate downtown as an innovation district, a place where businesses, learning institutions and public services all come together with the help of retail and transit to create a successful environment.

While at a U.S. conference for mayors, Mesa Mayor John Giles was struck by a presentation from the Brookings Institute about a model they were researching for rebuilding and revitalizing the urban core of a city. The Washington D.C.-based research institute refers to this model as an “innovation district.”

Giles was impressed by the similarities between the model and the current situation in downtown.

“I looked at it and the diagrams and the assets that were necessary to pursue this model, my reaction was that they were describing downtown Mesa as we were physically and in other ways a good fit for what they were talking about,” he said.

Mesa leaders and planners have been working towards creating the assets and features of an innovation district without realizing it.

“We’ve been working on this for a long time without really knowing that this was what we were doing in creating the infrastructure by bringing in 5 miles of light rail, building a performing arts center and inviting universities to come to downtown,” Giles said.

Mesa lends itself well towards an innovation district.

“An innovation district is basically an enclave within a city, or sometimes suburbs, where anchor institutions, incubators, startups and other economic assets cluster and connect in areas that tend to be walkable, connected by transit and have retail and other amenities within them,” said Jennifer Vey, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institute.

Vey, along with other associates within the Brooking Institute’s Metropolitan Policy Program were able to come to Mesa at the request of city leaders. While here, they talked with private and public leaders about what is needed to create and grow a successful innovation district.

“I got a chance to listen and learn about some of their ambitions and bring some of our knowledge about what’s happening in other places,” Vey said. At the end of the meetings, Vey gave a broad-based presentation about what the Brookings Institute was seeing in its studies and research regarding city growth and development. The innovation district model has been successful in more than 80 cities around the world.

Giles hopes the innovation district will bring big changes to Mesa.

“Mesa, in fact, is growing very fast. In fact, we are in the middle of a growth spurt right now. We are issuing as many building permits in Mesa as they are in Phoenix. So, growth is not a challenge for us, growth is happening. We are more concerned about getting better and not bigger,” he said. “We are trying to focus on the right type of growth, growth that is going to improve our economy.”

John O’Brien is a Mesa Community College journalism intern for MyNewsMesa.com.

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