July 20, 2008

Final Loop 202 Leg a Boon for East Mesa

By Ed Taylor, The Tribune, Mesa, Ariz.

Jul. 20--Joe Monks, the owner of pilot-supply shops at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport and Scottsdale Airport, can't wait for the final segment of the Loop 202 freeway to open.

He figures it will shave 10 to 15 minutes off the drive time between his two business locations compared with the more heavily traveled alternatives.

"I've been counting the days for the last year or so to when they would have this completed," he said. "It will be much quicker."

While freeway openings are often touted as profitable for businesses along the sides of the route, Mesa economic development officials think the biggest benefits of the new opening will be created for the businesses around the airports at either end of the segment -- Gateway and Falcon Field.

Not only will it provide a direct freeway connection between the two airports, it will give businesses at Gateway more direct links to Scottsdale, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and downtown Phoenix.

"As soon as the (Loop 202) freeway opened to Greenfield and Higley roads, there was a sudden burst of development in the Falcon Field area," said Mesa Mayor Scott Smith. "Now Gateway is no longer in the middle of nowhere. ... You can't underestimate the impact it will have on investment decisions."

The reduction in drive times for shippers and employees will create development opportunities at both airports, said Bill Jabjiniak, Mesa's economic development director. He cited the decision by Cessna to locate an aircraft servicing center at Gateway.

"When Cessna looked at how long it took to get from various points in Scottsdale to Sky Harbor and to Gateway, they found how easy the access becomes at Gateway due to the 202," he said.

He added that residents in northeast Mesa will find it easier to go in either direction to Sky Harbor or Gateway for airline flights, which could advance the development of passenger service at Gateway.

Representatives of Allegiant Airlines, the only carrier so far to operate scheduled flights at Gateway, took a close look at freeway access in making their decision to fly into the east Mesa field, said Brian Sexton, spokesman for Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport.

"Airlines look for how many people live within certain drive times," he said. "When a new freeway opens, it brings more people within that drive-time parameter. .... It helps market the airport for passenger flights."

As for Falcon Field, it will benefit from freeway access in two directions instead of one, which will make it easier for employees to get to their jobs at employers around the airport, said Lois Yates, executive director of the Falcon Field Area Alliance.

Falcon Field "will also be about halfway between Sky Harbor and Gateway, which is better for the business district," she said.

Another direct link will be created between the Arizona State University main campus in Tempe and the ASU Polytechnic campus in east Mesa, she said.

Completion of the freeway could spur the development of shopping centers, bank branches, restaurants and other businesses at freeway exits that would support manufacturing and office developments around Falcon Field, she said.

"One thing we lack is services to support a strong business district," she said. "I really do believe the freeway access will develop that property to its highest and best use over time."

Developers of large masterplanned communities in east Mesa also are looking forward to the opening of the eastern loop.

Jeff Blandford, president of Blandford Homes, which is developing the 717-acre Mountain Bridge community about a mile east of the new Loop 202 segment, said "it obviously has a huge impact. ... Without having that freeway we probably would not be opening it (Mountain Bridge) this year. It would be a couple of years down the road."

Despite the weakness of the housing market, customers camped out for days to get at the front of the line when Mountain Bridge lots and houses went on sale in May. Several mentioned the freeway access as a major reason for their interest.

"I live in that area myself, and it is going to have a huge impact getting from northeast Mesa to Gilbert and Chandler," Blandford said. "It will be 20 minutes in either direction."

Completion of Loop 202 has also been vital in planning the redevelopment of the former GM Desert Proving Ground east of Gateway airport.

"Since we purchased the property we recognized the 202 would add tremendous value," said John Bradley, vice president of DMB Assocates, the Scottsdale-based developer of the project. "I think everyone sited around the 202 will eventually see its value. We are counting on it."

Bradley said DMB hopes to gain zoning and other approvals for the project by the end of this year and could begin construction on the masterplanned community by the middle of next year, when GM officials have indicated they will vacate the site.

"Our plan is to bring jobs to the Gateway area, and the freeway will be a big factor in that," Bradley said. "Our notion is to bring jobs to this part of the Valley and create a reverse commute. And we hope to eventually add residential so that people will both be coming in and living on-site. We think that is a 21st-century answer to sustainability issues."

MORE ON NEXT PAGE >> How area residents feel about the completion of the Loop 202 freeway. >>


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