Gilbert Grows Up: How the East Valley Town is Transforming Itself

Original Article VIA Phoenix Business Journal

Jasmine Holmes and Mark Gustin have some typical narratives on Gilbert’s evolution into its current status as a local restaurant hub with appealing workforce demographics.

“It was a pass-through town,” said Gustin, a managing director with commercial real estate firm JLL, who has done deals in the PHX East Valley for years.

Holmes — who owns 910 West, a high-tech marketing firm in Gilbert — said she remembers traveling to the East Valley for soccer tournaments growing up.

“There was nothing past Country Club Drive,” said Holmes, who also lives in Gilbert.

When Holmes and her husband moved to Gilbert, she said, “Liberty Market was a convenience store. It was dark.”

Liberty Market now is one of a slew of popular, hometown restaurants dotting Gilbert’s landscape. Those eateries include Postino’s, Zinburger, Barrio Queen and the Farmhouse, with new locations coming from Sam Fox’s Culinary Dropout and O.H.S.O. Brewery.

Restaurants took Gilbert’s image from vanilla suburbia to having a millennial- appealing foodie niche that could draw employers that otherwise might prefer a more urban market.

Gilbert Mayor Jenn Daniels said her town has created a sense of place while trying to keep its small-town vibe within the sprawling Phoenix market.

“We don’t want to price out the ‘mom and pops,’” said Daniels, referring to the town’s small-business base and independent restaurants. “That’s our niche.”

Narratives of Gilbert:

  • Big population, good workforce

    Gilbert has more than good planning and nice restaurants. It benefits from the return of the Valley’s population growth, but also stronger-than-average workforce demographics.

    Its population has grown from 5,700 in 1980 to more than 237,100 in 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That population is highly educated, with more than 41 percent of Gilbert residents having earned college degrees versus 30 percent in Maricopa County and 27 percent statewide.

    Established before World War I by Mormon settlers from Mexico leaving that country during one of its revolutions, Gilbert now is home to residents with a median household income of more than $82,000, compared to $54,229 for the region.

    Daniels said Gilbert is attractive to newcomers because of its low crime rate and good schools in a state often slighted for low teacher pay and classroom spending.

  • A cheaper alternative

    Gilbert has Scottsdale’s population demographics, but it doesn’t have the costs of Scottsdale or even downtown Tempe or Phoenix. Bryan Taute, a senior vice president with commercial real estate CBRE Group Inc., said Gilbert has average office rents cheaper than the $30 per square foot found in downtown Phoenix and central Scottsdale and the $40 per square foot space is going for in downtown Tempe…

  • Looking to expand 

    To grow beyond its sleepy, bedroom- community image, Gilbert wants to bring in more office space, retail and potentially hotel and multifamily residential to its downtown core on Gilbert Road…

  • Companies taking risks

    The restaurant transformation of Gilbert’s main drag didn’t happen overnight. The Gilbert mayor pointed to cutting-edge developer and businessman Joe Johnston transforming Liberty Market into a destination and Upward Project’s Postino’s and Joyride Tacos concepts that took a chance on Gilbert…

  • Changing its image

    Gilbert has an ample amount of workers, and it can offer shorter commutes, but the challenge is selling those workers — including millennials — and employers on a suburban location at a time when downtowns are desired, Gustin said…