DMB pursues Mesa subdivision project

The Arizona Republic |
January 11, 2012
Article by Gary Nelson

800 homes planned for former General Motors Desert Proving Ground

Primed by optimism over the region’s future, DMB is aggressively pursuing its development of the former General Motors Desert Proving Ground in Mesa.

DMB, based in Scottsdale, said it would break ground early next year on about 800 homes in nine subdivisions adjoining the first phase of a mile-long “great park” that will run through the center of the project.

DMB planned to roll out a new name for the project during this morning’s East Valley Partnership breakfast with Gov. Jan Brewer in Mesa.

The name: Eastmark. It replaces Mesa Proving Ground, which was DMB’s previous tag for its property.

“We didn’t want to come up with a contrived name, a foreign-sounding name, a flowery name,” said Karrin Taylor, a DMB vice president. “It needed to create an identity both geographically and as to importance.”

The idea, she said, was to find a name that would resonate outside Arizona as the Gateway area grows in importance.

Eastmark is expected to evolve over the next three or four decades into a dense urban center closely tied to the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport. Eventually, there could be high-rise business districts fronting the airport along Ellsworth Road.

“Eastmark aspires to be the heart and hub for homes and families, the connector for great neighborhoods, education and active centers of commerce, and a vibrant economic engine impacting the entire region,” DMB board Chairman Drew Brown said in a news release.

A zoning plan approved by Mesa for the property in 2008 allows up to 15,000 dwelling units of various kinds. Dea McDonald, DMB’s vice president for development, said the time had arrived to start building them.

Builders have been signaling for months that they’re ready to turn dirt, McDonald said.

“The lights are back on,” McDonald said.

He expects DMB and “multiple” developers to close escrow in June, and that Mesa also will approve plans for their subdivisions about that time. McDonald said he cannot reveal the builders’ names until deals are finalized.

Taylor said the Gateway area is rapidly making good on the potential that was described in a 2006 Urban Land Institute study that identified the region as a likely future business hub.

Gateway is becoming a hotbed of education, health care and aerospace, she said. Roc Arnett, president of the East Valley Partnership, noted that the airport currently supports about 5,000 jobs — more than were there during its previous life as an Air Force base.

Taylor cited other indications of southeast Valley prosperity, including Intel Corp.’s growing presence in Chandler and the enhanced tourism expected after Mesa builds a complex for the Chicago Cubs in its northwest corner.

Although the recession hit Arizona hard, she said, “The southeast Valley has weathered this storm better than most.”

Because of that, she said, DMB doesn’t have to start from scratch with Eastmark.

“A lot of the big master-planned communities that have developed in the last two decades — ours and others — you had to create something from nothing,” Taylor said. “And here we don’t have to create something. It’s there — the components of a great place.”

Trevor Barger, who leads DMB’s design team, said Eastmark is not going to be a cookie-cutter subdivision.

“Typically, it’s much easier to announce that the design is going to be Spanish or Tuscan, and then everybody knows what to design,” he said. “This has been taking us back a bit and saying the theme is, not a theme. It doesn’t exactly fit a perfect stereotypical category. At the same time it can’t be chaos. You have to hold it together.”

Narrow streets, distinctive hardware such as streetlights and monument entries to subdivisions will help with that, Barger said. He calls them “memory points.”

Neighborhoods will be designed to almost force people to mingle, Barger said.

“If you’re moving here, you’re not moving here to be alone,” he said.

DMB will build and maintain a 10-acre park just west of the new homes and donate it to Mesa. It will have an “event lawn” capable of hosting 15,000 people for community events, DMB’s community center and riparian wildlife habitats.

Eventually, the park will stretch north to Warner Road, encompassing 106 acres and in some places providing a direct line of sight to the towers of the still-hoped-for Gaylord resort that is on hold because of the economy.

Although the homes may stay for generations, McDonald said early phases of Eastmark’s design will signal that it will always be a work in progress.

“It’s difficult to understand a vision that’s got a 30- or 40-year runway to it, and that evolves over time,” McDonald said.

DMB, founded in 1984, is a real-estate and investment firm with an array of developments in its portfolio.
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