Mesa did not have to wait long to see what the newly consolidated ownership of Fiesta Mall wants to do with the long-dormant mall.
Now that it is apparently down to just one owner, plans submitted earlier this month to the city show that Verde Investments propose to level the vacant and graffitied mall buildings and transform the area into a mixed use live-work-play development.
New roadways would be created through the 80-acre site to connect a complex of retail, entertainment, apartments and office space.
The design limits in Verde’s proposal speak to the potential intensity of the new development: A cap of 4,000 residential units on the site and a maximum building height of 120 feet, or about 12 stories.
The basic idea is not unlike what is underway for other mall redevelopment projects in Arizona, including at the former Paradise Valley Mall site, now a mixed-use development called “PV” currently under construction.
A website for PV describes the new development as a “mecca of dining, entertainment and retail experiences.”
The similarity between PV and the Fiesta Mall plan isn’t just coincidence: Verde Investments, led by Carvana founder Ernie Garcia, tapped the architecture firm behind the Paradise Valley Mall redevelopment, Nelsen Partners Architecture, to create the Fiesta Mall redevelopment concept submitted to Mesa
Other mixed-use projects that Nelsen Partners has designed in Arizona include Kierland Commons and Scottsdale Quarter.
Attorneys for Verde Investments submitted the Fiesta Mall project documents to the city ahead of a scheduled meeting with city staff this week to discuss the plans.
The documents and the meeting are just the opening gambit in what could be a long dialogue between city staff and the mall owner, but city leaders are excited and cautiously optimistic about the plans.
“The fact that it’s gotten to this point is very encouraging,” Mayor John Giles said. “I think we all know what a strategic location it is.”
The Fiesta Mall site comprises nine individual parcels. For years ownership of the once-bustling regional mall was split among different entities that owned the anchor stores, mall interior and other bits separately, complicating efforts to put a redevelopment plan in place.
But in 2022 the number of owners had dropped to just two, and earlier this month Vice Mayor Francisco Heredia told the Tribune that Verde Investments had reached a deal to buy out the only other remaining owner.
Verde has submitted a plan for the entire Fiesta Mall property, but it’s not clear whether a sale of the other half of Fiesta Mall to Verde is official or not, as sale documents have not been posted to the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office website yet.
However, documents recorded with the county in 2020 show Verde has an option agreement to buy the other owner’s property effective through March 31.
Verde’s redevelopment plan divides Fiesta Mall’s 80 acres into “character areas” for multifamily housing, commercial, flex-office and green space. In large swaths of the site, Verde wants to allow for a mix of two character areas.
Giles said he’s excited that the Fiesta Mall land is “going to come back online.”
“It’s so large you could do a lot of very interesting things,” he said.
Vice Mayor Francisco Heredia, who represents West Mesa where the mall is located, said that redevelopment of the Fiesta Mall could be one of the most transformative developments for the Fiesta District out of all the positive things currently happening in the adjacent commercial centers.
“We hope that the development that eventually goes there is a true destination location, with living, entertainment, and working components with the highest quality of design and options for our current and future residents,” Heredia said.
Giles agreed with those sentiments.
“I have high expectations for the property given how strategic it is,” he said. “It’s close to some pretty significant infrastructure. We have high hopes that it will return to being a very prominent location.”
Fiesta Mall opened in 1979 after nine years of development. It was built by Homart Development Company, the former shopping mall development division of Sears, which was the first anchor to open in the mall in 1977.
Back then, Homart envisioned one of the largest malls in the Valley with over a million square feet of air-conditioned retail and eating places on 120 acres of farmland that it estimated would cost anywhere from $35 million to $55 million.
Over 100 stores and restaurants made it a destination shopping site for East Valley and Phoenix residents for nearly two decades until new centers like Chandler Fashion Center opened and residential growth sprouted farther east.
Verde’s project narrative tries to assure the city that it is aiming for quality, stating “the site is located in the heart of the Fiesta District and will be treated as such.”
Before taking office in January, Councilman Scott Somers said one of the issues he was most eager to tackle was mall redevelopment.
He called Fiesta Mall “a phenomenal opportunity to reinvent a well-accessible portion of Mesa. You’ve got the college right there. Phoenix Sky Harbor, the 202, the 60. I expect great things out of that redevelopment.”
According to its submittal documents, Verde wants some help from the city of Mesa to make redevelopment happen, in addition to all the Fiesta District enhancements the city has put in over the years.
The city’s efforts include upgraded streetscapes in the Fiesta District and the designation of the area as a Opportunity Zone and blighted area to unlock incentives for developers from the state and federal government.
Verde is additionally asking the city to give the company flexibility and an expedited review process as it develops the site.
Verde proposes rezoning the entire mall site an Infill Development District with customized design standards. As long as new apartment building or office complex stays within the ID standards agreed to with Mesa, Verde’s projects could go through the shorter process.
Essentially Verde wants to go through the full zoning process with city council just one time, and after that, each individual component of the former Fiesta Mall property will only require the speedier site plan or administrative review.
The Infill Development zoning type is designed to “promote and facilitate the development and redevelopment of by-passed, underutilized or abandoned properties,” the city zoning ordinance states.
The developer said the ID zoning would give Verde maximum flexibility “to best meet ever-changing market demands.”
Verde also wants to discuss “expedited plan reviews and reduction in fees.”
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