Public kept in the dark on the Desert Discovery Center

Residents of Scottsdale need to know that the city is planning to build a very large facility in OUR McDowell Sonoran Preserve, right at the Gateway trail head, the most popular of all the Preserve trail heads. It is called the Desert Discovery Center (DDC) and the last estimate for it had 72,000 square feet of buildings on about 10 acres and would cost about $75 million. Its prime purpose is to lure tourists to Scottsdale, which the Preserve already does all by itself, unimpeded by development. It will charge a fee, have concessions and night time operations which violate the Preserve Ordinance. Now they want to increase the footprint to 30 acres with no approved plan.

Proponents will say “the DDC was always planned to be at the Gateway” but this is simply not true. It was originally conceived to be part of Pinnacle Peak Park but in 1997 city tourism staff moved it to the Gateway without venting it to the public or even to the McDowell Sonoran Preserve Commission (MSPC), the city’s commission responsible for all things related to the Preserve. The MSPC wasn’t even informed much less asked if this was okay. The city council vote on it was on the consent agenda, which means it was buried with other items that wouldn’t normally require any consideration. Therefore there was no discussion or public input. Everybody, but city tourism staff and the Tourism Development Commission, were kept in the dark.

Preserve land continued to be acquired and another public vote allowed the city to raise the sales tax to buy more land AND fund minimal improvements like trails and trail heads that allowed some public access. Still the public was not informed that the city intended to build the DDC in the Preserve citizens formed and paid for. There was also NO indication they could use Preserve funds to pay for it. As time went on, the DDC grew in size, scale, and cost, again with little or no public involvement or knowledge.

Now we find the city is claiming the DDC has always been planned to be at the Gateway, so just accept it, despite the fact you are just learning about it and have had NO opportunity before to express your concerns. Even now, in the so called public meetings, your concerns about the location will not be heard because the organization pushing it and doing the plans for it, Desert Discovery Center Scottsdale (DDCS), have told the public they will NOT accept any comments or concerns about the location. It is being forced on you, like it or not.

Personally I have a big problem with putting it in the Preserve, especially over the objections of the public who paid for it. There are good sites outside the Preserve that would actually be better for the DDC because it wouldn’t have to TRY to conform to the Preserve Ordinance and Rules and therefore could become whatever it needs to be to attract tourists AND could be managed as it needs to be sustainable (not lose money). Outside the Preserve it could be run by any organization or business relieving the city, and us taxpayers, of the financial responsibility and risk, which is considerable. Sounds good for everyone, except the people who insist it has to be in the Preserve yet provide no valid reasons why.

In the end, the Preserve belongs to all of us so we should have a major input on what happens in it and also on what our tax revenues, targeted to buy land, are used for. It is your Preserve, you bought it, you deserve nothing less.

Howard Myers is a Scottsdale resident and past McDowell Sonoran Preserve Commission member and chairman who has been helping to create the McDowell Sonoran Preserve for the past 20 years. Reach him at howard.myers@cox.net.