Mesa’s Answer to Urban Sprawl: The Major Redesign of a City Center

 

by Stanley Collyer

20140813 aerial context future growth
Winning Entry – Image courtesy Colwell Shelor
Designing a city plaza as a “people place” is no small challenge. One only has to recall the various redesigns that Pershing Square in Los Angeles went through, or Seattle’s Pioneer Square, to recognize how intent and reality were often in conflict. In both of these temperate climate municipalities, the image of an otherwise welcoming destination was tarnished by an unforeseen presence of the homeless. The City of Mesa, in sunny Arizona, believes that a new plaza, well connected to the surrounding urban environment, can present “a signature public space” that will not only serve as a destination for public activities, but also as a catalyst for downtown revitalization. It would appear that a number of favorable conditions already exist: city administration buildings are located directly within the two block site area; Arizona’s largest art center borders the area to the south; and the city library is in the block immediately facing the site to the north. With this kind of built-in pedestrian activity, the site should be well positioned to attract a higher-than-average number of locals and visitors. To flesh out the best design for the 18.3-acre site, the City decided to stage an invited design competition. The first step was a call for expressions of interest, to which 18 firms responded. Of these, three were shortlisted to compete in the subsequent design competition. The competing teams were undoubtedly aware of the passage of a $70M City bond issue, which is allowing Mesa to allot $750,000 for design of the plaza site. Because this was a real project, each firm was to receive $25,000 upon completion of their entry. Under the supervision of Jeffrey McVay, a planner and the Manager of Downtown Transformation, a committee made up of principals from the City administration with only one exception—the Director of the Downtown Mesa Association—convened to arrive at a shortlist for the competition. It consisted of:
  1. Jeffrey McVay, AICP – Manager of Downtown Transformation
  2. Christine Zielonka – Director, Development and Sustainability Department
  3. John Wesley, AICP – Planning Director, Mesa
  4. Marc Heirshberg, CPRE – Director, Parks, Recreation, and Commercial Facilities
  5. Cindy Ornstein – Director, Arts and Culture
  6. Zac Koceja, RLA – Landscape Architect, Engineering Department
  7. Vincent Bruno – Engineering Designer, Engineering Department (At time of competition, he represented the Transportation Department)
  8. Lori Gary, CEcD – Project Manager, Office of Economic Development
  9. David Short – Executive Director, Downtown Mesa Association

The selected finalists were:ÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ
• Woods Bagot, Sydney/Portland (lead) with Surface Design, INC., San FranciscoÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ
• Colwell Shelor, Phoenix (lead) with West 8 urban design & landscape architecture, Rotterdam/New York and Weddle Gilmore, Scottsdale, Arizona
• Otak, San Francisco (lead) with Mayer Reed, Portland, Oregon ÂÂ

This initial phase of the competition was replete with site visits and public forums and left no stone unturned when it came to interaction between the competing firms and the client and public. The City thought this phase of the process worked well, and the Colwell Shelor team was especially active in fielding public input during this phase. Each team then had to translate those public priorities into a feasible design concept. As they say, this is where the rubber hits the road.

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