A 35-square-mile section of northeast Mesa that surrounds Falcon Field Airport has the potential to be an aerospace, aviation and defense hub and a sports-tourism center, the city’s planning and zoning board was told at a study session last month.
“In terms of target audience, we’re focused on obviously aerospace, aviation, defense – those are our established industries for the area – but really looking out more along the lines of advanced business services, commercial and figuring out from a sports-tourism perspective,” Jaye O’Donnell, deputy director of economic development for the city of Mesa, said to the board at a study session Nov. 18.
It could include a multi-use, 20- to 25-field sports complex, she said.
“So you’re looking at youth sports and tournaments not only at the elementary-education level, but at collegiate-level as well, which generates thousands of room-nights annually,” she said.
The airport is generally between McDowell, McKellips, Greenfield and Higley roads. The larger Falcon Field Economic Activity Area is bordered on the north by the Salt River and state, tribal and federal lands; on the south by Brown Road; on the west by Gilbert Road; and on the east by Ellsworth Road, according to a 2014 Falcon Strategic Vision Commission report given to the Mesa Planning and Zoning Board and available online.
“The airport alone is home to approximately 100 businesses that focus primarily on business activities related to aviation,” Ms. O’Donnell said to the board. “So the area, we feel, is one of Mesa’s most dynamic high-value and dense zones of employment and economic opportunity. More than 600 businesses in the FFEAA create nearly 19,000 jobs and they generate more than $2.3 billion in economic impact annually to the city, region and to the state. So with the vibrant general-aviation airport at its core, we think the area offers numerous opportunities for enhancing the employment centers and developing sports tourism and creating new jobs through organic growth,” Ms. O’Donnell said.
“The strategic vision for the area is to be recognized as a vibrant aerospace, aviation and defense hub; a premiere location for companies seeking a highly attractive, competitive operating environment; and obviously the area is anchored by a general-aviation airport and boasts a high-tech workforce and companies will regard the Falcon Field economic area as a thriving destination to grow their business,” she said.
According to the report at the city’s website, because of Mesa’s proximity to lakes, rivers and parks, outfitters, sporting-equipment manufacturers and retailers could be attracted. Also, the city could promote sport tourism by utilizing existing parks such as Quail Run, Gene Autry and Red Mountain, according to the report.
The report was the product of a Falcon Strategic Vision Commission that was established by then-Mayor Alex Finter and the city council to make sure the priority for Falcon Field and the area continued to be on accelerated growth and economic progress, Ms. O’Donnell said.
“The commission, working with city staff, prepared a strategic-action plan that we believe will – if funded and implemented – result in dynamic change within the Falcon Field economic-activity area,” she said.
“The purpose the commission was charged with was really to focus on establishing a strategic economic direction for the Falcon Field economic-activity area – not just on the airport itself, but on the entire area,” Ms. O’Donnell said. “And making sure the surrounding nonresidential areas in northeast Mesa was protected and also that we’re guiding future development.”
The presentation was made for Mesa Planning and Zoning Board Chairman Vince DiBella, Vice Chairwoman Suzanne Johnson and board members Lisa Hudson, Michael Clement, Shelly Allen, Michelle Dahlke and Steve Ikeda. It was part of an ongoing series of presentations suggested by Chairman DiBella for the board to become acquainted with projects in the city of Mesa.
Brand needed for area
Part of the report calls for finding a brand for the area, Ms. O’Donnell said to the board.
“In terms of the branding and marketing piece or component of this, we do feel that it’s critical to develop an actual brand for the Falcon Field Economic Activity Area. One of the things that we’ve discovered in our research is there’s not much of a brand really. It’s just there’s not a strong perception one way or the other so making sure that we develop a strong brand and a strategy that really brings in an integrated marketing and communications plan to support the additional promotion needed it will raise the level of awareness and promote the area to previously untapped markets and employers,” she said.
For Mr. Clement, a swimming pool that he frequented as a child at Falcon Field Park is what he remembers when he thinks of Falcon Field Airport and its surrounding area, he said at the study session.
“I agree with you. In my mind it kind of has a nebulous identity. In fact, when I think of Falcon, all I remember is as a boy going swimming in the pool that used to be there. That’s how dated my thoughts are,” he said. “What do you have in mind in terms of how you really are going to posture going forward? Is that still going to be developed? Have you got a theme or a concept on the plate yet?”
“The branding process will take some time and depending on how we approach it we’re still developing how exactly we want to tackle that,” Ms. O’Donnell said. “I think one of the pieces is to make sure we embrace the aerospace and aviation that does exist there because it is so tantamount to the area. But also being able to paint a picture of other opportunity.”
A brand could be conceived in the next year, she said to the board.