By Mckayla Hull
A plan to redevelop Gilbert’s Heritage District is in the works, with the goals of relieving traffic congestion and adding retail and entertainment amenities.
Don Arambula, project manager and lead planner/urban designer from Crandall Arambula, presented the plan to the community recently.
It proposes a north anchor with potential office space, a hotel, conference area and multifamily housing. It would also include a portion called “Commons,” which will be the focus of nightlife with entertainment and dining venues.
The district core may include office space as well. Inside the core would be the “Living Room Plaza,” for community events.
A roadway to alleviate traffic, named “Vaughn Ventilator,” is also in the plan. The roadway would not cross the railroad tracks, but run alongside it and Neely Traditional Academy, up to Guadalupe Road, Arambula said. It also includes a park.
The south anchor proposes a chain grocery store on the corner of Gilbert and Elliot roads, a parking structure and retail spaces with office above.
Town officials are excited about the potential of the redevelopment plan, but others see pros and cons.
Members of the business community say they worry the plan will lead to too many new restaurants coming into the downtown core. They would like more diversity of businesses that would help bring people to the area during the day.
Bergies Coffee Roast House owner Brian Bergeson said he doesn’t “want (the Heritage District) to just become a food court.”
Terry Spanos, owner of Petersen’s Ice Cream and Cafe, said he would like to see the city encourage more family businesses in the district. “That’s kind of the feel of downtown Gilbert,” he said.
Spanos wants more boutique-like stores, similar to the ones along the main streets of downtown Sedona and Flagstaff. He also suggests a bike rental store.
Daytime traffic is something many business owners in the Heritage District said they’d like to encourage. Spanos said having more retail options would help bring people there during the day.
Kayla Kolar, president and CEO of HD South, formerly the Gilbert Historical Museum, said she likes the idea of pedestrian-friendly walkways and retail. “I know there’s controversy about tall buildings and the sightline as it relates to the water tower, so keeping that visible from a distance (is important), because that’s our signature icon for the town and for the district,” Kolar said.
“Affordable office space to rent is key for down there,” she added.
Kolar also would like to see more businesses south of the railroad tracks, as well as more arts and cultural activity east of the museum.
Heritage District resident Sandra Reynolds said she worries additional office buildings will cause traffic congestion: “My biggest concern is (the town is) not being forthcoming with the citizens even though they say they’re open and transparent.”
Reynolds sensed a disconnect between the town and its residents. Residents are being told by the town that access roads are off the table, she said. However, she said the roads will have to be access roads so traffic can get in and out of the district.
Aimee Elliott Ghimire is a member of the women-focused co-working space, Thrive, which opened recently in the Heritage District. She likes the concepts of creating the Living Room Plaza and walking paths. She also would like to see karaoke places, jazz bars, and other entertainment-related places. Ghimire said adding those would provide more of an experience to downtown rather than just food.