If Tom Hanks decides to make a sequel to his blockbuster “Big,” maybe the kid who suddenly becomes as big as an adult will be the mayor of Avondale
And maybe he will look at the city’s robust bank account and say, “Let’s spend like $20 million for a huge thing that has a splash park, a skate park and all kinds of fun things so kids don’t get bored.”
For the actual mayor of Avondale, this isn’t a fantasy — it’s really happening.
Avondale spent $19 million to renovate the 30-acre Festival Fields Park, which will now have a fishing lake, splash park, skate park, pump track, play courts, multi-use fields and more.
Avondale Mayor Kenn Weise will be there, likely every bit as gleeful as Hanks’ Josh Baskin character. As the park has two new baseball fields, Weise thinks of another movie: “Field of Dreams.”
Weise gushed about the “community effort” that went into the park. “This is one of the largest projects we’ve done since I’ve been on the council and now mayor,” said Weise, elected to council in 2007 and the mayor since 2014.
His piercing eyes lit up when he talked about the new baseball fields and places where skateboard and BMX riders can race around the park.
Coming near the end of 2019, the reopening of Festival Fields Park caps a pretty big year in Avondale.
Asked for his top five Avondale stories of 2019, Weise put the park at number three.
Number one for him is “The BLVD,” the rebranding of Avondale Boulevard as a retail-residential mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly development.
Weise said there is still more to come on Avondale Boulevard.
“We will announce some development happening there over the next 60 to 90 days,” he said.
Back to his top-five-of-2019 list: “Akos would be number two,” Weise said.
“For them to move their headquarters from Deer Valley to us shows what kind of destination Avondale is.”
This year marked the opening of the first building of what is envisioned as the Akos Medical Campus, “a new state-of-the-art medical campus conveniently located in the heart of the Avondale Health-Tech Corridor,” according to akosmedicalcampus.com.
“We have taken the direction that we are going to focus on medical,” Weise said. “We now have a medical corridor, with Akos coming in between two hospitals. It’s a big deal for us.”
Next on Weise’s best-of-2019 list is a McDowell Road neighbor of Akos, Portillo’s Hot Dogs.
The opening of a hot dog stand might not stand out to some, but Portillo’s is a very big deal to people from Chicago — like Kenn Weise.
Showing he’s not just interested in fun food and parks, Weise listed as number five on his 2019 list a relatively dull project: The construction of an Interstate-10 off-ramp.
“That’s a huge deal for us,” said Weise, who is also a corporate sales manager for the Wigwam Resort. “The construction started. The off-ramp will go from I-10 to Fairway Drive. It feeds our multi-million-square-foot industrial park that’s right there.”
Looking ahead to 2020, Weise’s rapid-fire pace seemed to intensify. Like a kid who can hardly wait for Christmas, he eagerly talks about NASCAR Championship Weekend coming to ISM Raceway, Nov. 6-8, 2020.
And more big projects loom in the year ahead.
“We’re going to have the completion of the two big logistics centers behind the auto mall — that’s going to be 650,000 square feet of employment. Barrio Queen (a trendy Mexican restaurant) is coming in, that’s a big deal.
“And then the official signing is probably nine months away, but we announced that we worked out a deal with the Gila River Indian Community to purchase part of their land ... on the south side of the Estrellas (Estrella Mountain Regional Park).”
Asked about the importance of that, Weise replied, “Because Avondale is landlocked and we’ve always included the planning area on the other side of the Estrellas as part of our planned area.”
Weise, who has lived in Avondale since 1995, expects the city to continue to grow in 2020, with more single-family and multi-family developments. He calls himself “a data geek,” spending hours on his laptop deep-diving into trends.
“Our sweet spot is somewhere between 500 and 750 new homes a year,” Weise said. “I think 2019 will probably be right around 500 to 600 new homes. And 2020 will probably be the higher end of that.”
Since 2000, Avondale’s population doubled and now is over 85,000, according to the most recent U.S. Census estimates. That’s slightly higher than the most recent estimate of 82,385 for Goodyear, Avondale’s neighbor.
Goodyear gained quite a bit of publicity over the last year, landing new offices and production facilities for giants like Microsoft, Amazon and Nike. Weise termed the relationship between Goodyear and Avondale as “a friendly rivalry.”
He said he enjoys a good relationship with Goodyear Mayor Georgia Lord that allows for ribbing. “I tell her, ‘You keep bringing in people for the jobs and we’ll keep feeding them,’” Weise said.
Weise insisted he is not jealous of Goodyear’s increasing reputation.
“Avondale is still under the radar — and I like it that way,” Weise said, when asked about the Goodyear comparison.
“I do think there’s an underdog thing. One of the reasons I got on council was Avondale reminded me of the home that I had, the city that I grew up in, Chicago,” Weisse said. “And Avondale for a very long time was the city that I was told ‘you shouldn’t’ and ‘you can’t.’ It was ‘You shouldn’t go after this development’ or ‘You guys can’t do that.’
“And now we are the city that will and the city that does. We form our own destiny.”