Marana has more than 35,000 residents and covers about 120 square miles east and west of Interstate 10 and north to the Pinal County line. That works out to just under 300 residents per square mile.

With that kind of density, it’s easy to see why officials want to establish a city center to promote the town’s identity.

In his State of the Town Address last week, Marana Mayor Ed Honea mentioned that the town is divided into three distinct areas: Dove Mountain, an upscale area and the future home of a massive Ritz-Carlton development; Continental Ranch, which has more than 4,000 homes and the Arizona Pavilions business area; and North Marana, consisting mainly of miles of undisturbed farmland.

It is in that last area Honea mentioned — North Marana, a sparse swath of land — that town officials want to create downtown Marana.

The future quarter-square-mile downtown at the town’s center would stretch north from Barnett Road to Grier Road and west from Lon Adams Road to Sandario Road.

Already within that area stand a $32-million Marana Municipal Complex, a Northwest Fire station and numerous older businesses and houses, including the Yaqui tribe’s Yoem Pueblo neighborhood.

Marana was not always without a town center.

Before the 1960s, the Pima Mercantile, a general store and community hub, served as the area’s de facto business center.

The expansion of Interstate 10 in 1961, though, signaled an end to the mercantile business district as well as a nearby church.

“St. Christopher’s was there at the time,” recalled Mary Aguirre, whose family has lived in the area for several generations. “That was really it. There wasn’t much of Marana.”

By re-establishing a central business district, Marana officials hope to re-create the “live, work and play” environment that existed in the town in the past.

“I think the actual goal is to create a place that all the Marana residents can view as the heart of the community,” said Gilbert Davidson, deputy town manager.

While the downtown project remains in the offing, town officials have taken the first, tentative steps to establishing the new Marana center.

“The first thing we’ll be doing is taking the single central business district to the council for approval,” Davidson said.  

The central business district will stretch from the proposed downtown area, along Interstate 10 and down to Tangerine Road.

For a time, the town could own the land, even after it sells various properties to developers, temporarily freeing them from paying property taxes, Planning Director Kevin Kish said.

“It’s a place we’re looking for commerce,” Kish said, adding that officials have no timetables for developing the area, but expect some businesses to start appearing along Marana’s new Main Street in the next year to 18 months.

The single central business district plan should go before the council on May 6.

Kish expects other businesses to move to Sandario Road as well.

Town officials have taken cues from the Smart Growth Network, a partnership of public, private and non-government organizations that advocate compact, pedestrian-friendly areas, among other things.

Mixed-use is another tenet of smart-growth, according to the network.

Under Marana’s plan, hotels and residential units will stand alongside 120,000 square feet of office space and more than 150,000 square feet of commercial space. Special use buildings, like libraries and information centers, also figure into the mix.

In essence, town officials think they can build a downtown from scratch. None has any idea how long it might take.

But, Mayor Honea told residents and business leaders last week: “We believe in the importance of a downtown in our community where our citizens can gather to enjoy life in Marana.”

Two neighborhoods receive facelifts

Two of the older communities in Marana proper will get infrastructure improvements as town officials plan for a downtown area nearby.

Last week, residents of the Marana Vista Estates marveled at new sidewalks and streetlights, which match the ones at the proposed downtown, at the grand opening of the project.

The neighborhood, on the northeast corner of Grier and Sandario roads, was part of the Pima County Neighborhood Reinvestment Program, which promotes stability and revitalization in the county’s communities.

The total project cost $750,000 - $310,000 of which came from the town, with the rest coming from the county, according to Marana Capital Improvements Project Manager Heather Roberts.

Honea Heights, at the corner of Sanders and Moore roads, is in the midst of a years-long septic-to-sewer conversion.

The project, which has seen several stops and starts, is approximately 95 percent complete, town Construction Manager Tom Houle said.

The next steps in the project involve connecting the houses to the sewer line, discarding the old septic tanks and repaving the roads.

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