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We should get to vote on the proposed Desert Discovery Center at the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

DDC_airial_view.jpgAndrea Keck, AZ I See It, Az Republic, March 21, 2018

I read Jack Miller’s “My Turn” article on the Desert Discovery Center. Sadly, many key facts were omitted.

Another feasibility study exploring a Desert Discovery Center is underway; the fourth the city has paid for. While a new plan will be forthcoming in June 2017, it is important for Scottsdale residents to understand the size and scope of what is being favored for the DDC.

The most recent proposal, from 2010, called for a 74,000 square-feet facility of 15 buildings, potentially 900 parking spaces, covering 30-plus acres, costing $74 million, with a projected $1.6 million annual operating deficit. The concept includes educational displays, but also an outdoor amphitheater, café, gift shop, and night-time operations (all currently prohibited in the preserve). I think most Scottsdale residents would be shocked to know that such a large-scale, commercial development could be allowed on preserve land.

Residents have numerous concerns about the DDC project.

MORE: Scottsdale commits $1.7M for Desert Discovery Center

3 top concerns 

  • Whether a project of this scope and size in the preserve requires,
  •  or should require, a public vote. The Scottsdale City Council doesn’t appear to believe so.
  • Whether the Municipal Use Site Plan or the Preserve Ordinance allow for, or can be amended to allow for, this kind of development without a public vote. The City Council recently initiated action to amend the MUSP, laying the groundwork for the council to modify it without a public vote.
  • Whether preserve funds (provided by taxes approved by Scottsdale voters) can be used for design and construction without a public vote. 

Shouldn’t Scottsdale residents have a say in whether or not they want this kind of development in their preserve? And if they want to spend $74 million of their city’s resources in this way? If council members are so confident a Discovery Center, one even remotely approximating the size and cost outlined above and built on preserve land (not on other public or private land), is a good idea for Scottsdale and that residents support it, why not put it to a vote?

A citizen’s petition to require these issues to be put to a public vote is available by emailing Howard.Myers@gmail.com.

MORE: Meetings coming up on Desert Discovery Center in Scottsdale

Do tourists really want this?

A September 2010 study included conceptual designs

A September 2010 study included conceptual designs for a Desert Discovery Center in Scottsdale, including this image of potential desert pavilions. (Photo: City of Scottsdale)

Many of Mr. Miller’s comments are incongruous. How does a project anywhere near what’s envisioned enhance Scottsdale’s “most majestic asset,” “showcase the desert” and “respect the integrity of the preserve”? Do tourists who want “natural beauty and outdoor experiences” really want to spend their time inside a museum?

Mr. Miller says other cities outrank Scottsdale as destinations for natural beauty and outdoor experiences. However, he doesn’t cite any studies that confirm that more visitors would choose to come to Scottsdale if a Discovery Center was here. To my knowledge no quantitative market research studies have been done to confirm this critical hypothesis.

The consequences of being wrong about this are enormous.

The consequences will not be borne by any hotel, restaurant, architectural firm or development company promoting this project. The consequences will be borne by residents, who will have to look at the facility forever and who will likely be taxed more to cover revenue shortfalls.

Over the years, studies have significantly reduced the number of tourists expected at a DDC while significantly increasing the size and cost of the facility to serve them. A 1997 study projected 500,000-700,000 annual visitors. By 1999, this was reduced to 300,000 visiting a 16,000 square-feet facility costing $4.3 million. The latest estimates are for 330,000 annual visitors, yet the size of the facility proposed is 74,000 square-feet costing $74 million. Essentially the same number of visitors now require 4.5 times more space and $70 million more?

Mr. Miller is right about one thing, the tourism industry is driving this project.

The original concept in 1986 called for a small visitors center on public land in Pinnacle Peak Park. In 1997, city staff recommended it be moved to the Gateway Preserve because the Pinnacle Peak site “would jeopardize the support of the Tourism Industry” and the Gateway site “would generate the highest level of Tourism Industry support.” The council approved moving the DDC to preserve land, with one public meeting and no public vote.

MY TURN: Desert Discovery Center should not go on preserve land

What do Scottsdale residents want?

A September 2010 study included conceptual designs

A September 2010 study included conceptual designs for a Desert Discovery Center in Scottsdale, including this image of a potential site plan. (Photo: City of Scottsdale)

Those in the tourism industry always want to see more tourist attractions. Do residents want Scottsdale to become Las Vegas, or do they like the character of the city as it is? I don’t know the answer, but I believe residents should be asked through a public vote.
Andrea Keck

Andrea Keck (Photo: Andrea Keck)

If you’re a Scottsdale resident concerned about these issues you must take action. Four of the seven council members are up for re-election this year. Research the positions of all candidates on the proposed DDC. Vote for candidates whose position matches yours. This is the most impactful action you can take.

To mirror Mr Miller’s final statement, I would ask this of residents. What would you be more proud of — 30,000 acres of undisturbed desert in the Sonoran Preserve or a colossal tourist attraction sitting on it?

I know my answer.

Andrea Keck is a Scottsdale resident.

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posted about this on Facebook 2016-04-03 08:27:07 -0600
We should get to vote on the proposed Desert Discovery Center at the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.
@TPScottsdale tweeted link to this page. 2016-04-03 08:27:02 -0600
published this page in Scottsdale City Council & DDC 2016-04-03 08:26:55 -0600