Gilbert’s Agritopia to start construction on ‘Epicenter’ urban core

The Republic
August 18, 2017

Gilbert’s Agritopia community already has hundreds of homes, a school, a senior-living center and a handful of niche restaurants and businesses.

But now, the agriculture-focused town-within-a-town is getting its own urban core — a nearly 20-acre “downtown” with five-story luxury apartments, Arizona-specific dining options and boutique retailers.

Johnston Properties, the developer of the 160-acre community near Ray and Higley roads, will break ground on the long-awaited “Epicenter” this fall. It’s expected to open in early 2019, according to Family Business Manager William Johnston.

Johnston’s father, Joe Johnston, is the brainchild behind Agritopia and a few other unique Gilbert concepts like Joe’s Real BBQ and Liberty Market in downtown Gilbert. Agritopia was once the Johnston family farm.

William Johnston said his family, who all live in Agritopia, “live and breathe this area” and are excited to bring another part of their vision to the people who live in and around the community.

“We’ve got a lot of really cool things going on but we think density and an urban element … makes a lot of sense,” Johnston said.

What is ‘Epicenter’?
Joe Johnston, developer of Agritopia in Gilbert, wants the community to take on certain characteristics of a village.

When completed, the $70 million-plus Epicenter will consist of four five-story buildings. The top floors will house nearly 300 high-end apartments.

Johsnton would not disclose the estimated rent prices but said the apartments would vary in size and cost to reflect Agritopia’s “all ages, all stages” motto.

“We want to be the place where the target isn’t just a same economic group or education level,” he said. “Connectivity and diversity will make it a lot more meaningful space.”

The bottom floors will be reserved for 55,000 square feet of commercial space, according to a development agreement with Gilbert.

7 eateries and shops signed on so far
Johnston said the retailers will be local and focus on “what Arizona has to offer.”

MORE: Agritopia Epicenter may be Gilbert’s third dining core

The project has already landed several notable tenants:

– OBON Sushi, a Tucson staple that recently opened a Scottsdale location.
– BIRD Modern Provisions & Bar, a sister concept to OBON.
– Gadzooks Enchiladas and Soups out of downtown Phoenix.
– Cycle Ave. of downtown Gilbert.
– Yoga Center.
– Vintage Home.
– The Rice Shop, a second concept from the owners of The Coffee Shop at Agritopia.

“We just think that this project will be something a lot of people can come enjoy and kind of make another stamp for Arizona and Phoenix and the East Valley,” Johnston said.

Gilbert will give $1.3 million to project
At a meeting earlier this month, the Gilbert Town Council agreed to provide $1.3 million in development reimbursements to the Agritopia project.

The town contracted with Applied Economics to prepare an economic-impact study of Epicenter. The firm found the project could create an annual economic impact of $18.5 million and support more than 200 jobs.

The council approved the incentive with a 5-2 vote. The council’s most conservative members, Victor Petersen and Jared Taylor, opposed the reimbursements.

Both men said they respect and support the development but did not find it fair to provide an incentive to one development while others receive no such benefit.

“I love the development, wish them all the success in the world, welcome them to Gilbert — I just want everyone treated the same,” Petersen said.

Johnston said his family is thankful for the town’s support throughout the years, both through encouragement and financial assistance.

“I think (the town has) shown great faith in this development. I think they are hoping, just like we are, that it’s a home run,” he said.