Special to the AZ Republic
Contributed by Jill Adair, a freelance journalist and an associate faculty member at Arizona State University’s Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
Now that the Light Rail extension is completed through downtown Mesa, local officials and business owners look forward to a rebirth of the area.
David Short, executive director of the nonprofit Downtown Mesa Association, leads the organization dedicated to promoting economic growth of the city’s central business district.
“We really work hard at making downtown and the businesses successful,” Short said while speaking to Mesa Leadership participants Nov. 6.
While it was indeed challenging for downtown businesses through the construction of the Light Rail, the worst part is behind them and they now look for the positive impact that increased access to downtown can bring.
Short said interest is increasing in downtown and the focus is on getting more restaurants, retail businesses and adding mixed-use buildings.
Also picking up is activity that brings visitors and shoppers downtown, Short said, noting how his organization’s promotional events have grown in a few years.
“We went from two event days to 60 events a year,” he said.
Short and other local leaders spoke about downtown development with a focus on arts and culture to the Mesa Leadership class at the Mesa Arts Center.
Class members toured MAC’s four performance venues, from the intimate 99-seat Farnsworth Studio Theater to the 1,600-seat Ikeda Theater; the art galleries of Mesa Contemporary Arts, a variety of art studios and classrooms; and indoor and outdoor multi-use areas that provide gathering and presentation spaces.
Cindy Ornstein, director or Arts and Culture for Mesa and executive director of MAC, said the center, at Main and Center streets, is celebrating its 10th year and continues to grow in numbers, making Mesa an increasingly popular arts destination and an anchor of activity for downtown.
“We’d like to put Mesa on the map where creative things happen,” she said.
An upcoming presentation of “Play Me, I’m Yours” begins in February and features dozens of painted and weatherized pianos located in public spaces around Mesa, available for the community to play and enjoy, she said.
These pianos – transformed into works of art – will be located in parks, public areas and at community events. They will invite the public to engage with each other.
A major project in the works along Mesa’s Light Rail line is Consolari, an idea born from grief and of recognition that music heals the soul.
Consolari, a Latin word meaning “to console, to reassure and to comfort,” would be a world-class concert hall similar to Carnegie Hall in New York and built on land that was formerly an auto dealership just east of the MAC, according to State Sen. Bob Worsley (R-Dist. 25) and his wife, Christi.
“Music heals and is transcendent,” Worsley said, explaining that his wife came up with the idea of expanding the arts in Mesa in a big way after the death of their grandson.
“Music actually heals emotionally and physically, and can bring peace and tranquility to our communities and to our children and to ourselves individually,” he said.
In consultation and in partnerships with the city of Mesa, New York City’s Lincoln Center and others, Consolari is projected to become one of the nation’s premier performing-arts destinations on a 15-acre site that has an existing 1,300 space parking garage.
The Mesa Arts Center was just the beginning and Consolari will complement and enlarge the music campus, Sen. Worsley said, adding that the adjacent land is in escrow and is expected to close before the end of the year. Worsley said money for the concert hall itself will be raised privately and not through taxpayer’s money.
“We don’t want it to be a burden on taxpayers,” Sen. Worsley said. “We want it to be a blessing to the community.”
The Worsleys’ vision, which they call Lincoln Center West, also includes a K-12 arts-based school, a place for Arizona State University’s music therapy classes, and a research facility delving into the ability of music to help people suffering from autism and dementia.
It also ties into the Light Rail expansion, with a section from the Phoenix Art Museum to Consolari being dubbed “Arts Line.”
Christi Worsley said the concert hall will be “perfect acoustic” with seating for 2,000, but can transform and enlarge to additional seating large enough for Broadway-touring shows.
“It will be the first music hall of its kind in the world,” she said.