Inspired by Kevin’s musings, I also want to consider the problem that is downtown Mesa. I am a resident of this, the 40th largest city in the U.S. and the third largest in the state. I even worked for the City about five years ago where I was given the task of marketing the place. I tried… lawdy, how I tried!
As the amazing Mesa Arts Center was under construction, I participated in several meetings concerning downtown redevelopment. Similar suburban renewal meetings had been going on ever since the US-60 bypassed downtown about 25 years prior. It’s always a tall order to revitalize an out-of-date, inconvenient area, but leaders of all cities must soldier on. Keeping the thinking conventional, Mesa tore up the streets, constructed matching facades for all the buildings, tore up the streets again, added old-timey lampposts and park benches, installed landscaping, then tore up the streets again.
One of their last gambits was to fill the sidewalks with statues of people. The City staff called them “human decoys” since they were intended to fool passers-by that it was somehow enjoyable to walk around the area. In all honesty, there were a few sites to see. The venerable old Milano’s Music store, a phenomenal Mexican restaurant called Mango’s, and a decent antique store or two. But ultimately, too few attractions to make a downtown trip worth the hassle.
During redevelopment meetings, nearly everyone agreed that downtown Mesa had to be more like Mill Avenue in neighboring Tempe. For those unfamiliar with the Valley of the Sun, Mill Ave. is an utterly generic college-town preppy strip. PF Chang’s, Urban Outfitters, Hooters, Borders, brewpubs, bleah, bleah, bleah. The same Starbucked stretch you find anywhere two or more students are lugging messenger bags. But to Mesa, America Generica was the Holy Grail. Let’s try to someday be more like our competition! But a decade late and in a less convenient location! Capital idea, gents!
After hours of paeans to the generic, I finally decided to offer a different vision. Politely, I beseeched the room which was filled with higher pay grades than myself:
The premise of effective branding and marketing is to differentiate oneself from the competition. There’s a lot of talk about Mill Ave. However, Mill Ave. already exists a few miles from here. We need to be the anti-Mill. No chain-owned businesses. Every restaurant, bookstore and shop would be independently owned and operated in this small half-mile strip of Main Street. Charge low rents to students or artists who want to live in the spaces above the shops. As we attract people to Main St. proper, the chains will follow, building around the perimeter of our ‘small-business enterprise zone.’ It’s time Mesa stopped copying our neighbors and got them to copy us for a change! It’s time for Mesa to LEAD.
Silence. Painful, utter, awkward silence.
After the glaring pause, one of the honchos said, “Okay. But wouldn’t it be cool to have a Ruby Tuesday’s on OUR gateway corner?!” Others joined in, “And a Barnes & Noble! My sister said her friend works for B&N. In Logistics or something. I just love that red brick on Mill, too!”
Where there is no vision, the people will perish. And Ruby Tuesday’s will inherit the earth.
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August 30th, 2006 by admindude