Desert Discovery Center Scottsdale No scottsdaledesertcenter
NoDDC Answers The Conservancy’s Questions
The McDowell Sonoran Conservancy submitted written questions to Sam Campana and DDCSI. We have provided answers to these same questions. Please read and share. Feel free to use these as talking points.
1. If Desert EDGE is built within the Preserve, what would prevent a future City Council from placing another venue within the Preserve? Isn’t a dangerous precedent established since the café and gift shop, or even the entire Desert EDGE, will be considered commercial activities by some and used to justify additional projects?
Absolutely nothing. Linda Milhaven has repeatedly said each Council deals with the decisions before them, and nothing can prevent future decisions of future Councils. The DDC transforms Milhaven’s controversial position into precedent.
The DDC is a commercial operation by definition of its activities, not their purpose. The “municipal use” is a semantic twist using their alleged purpose to justify their activities. We think the court will rule in our favor. The Preserve Ordinance allows special use permits that temporarily exempt many things normally prohibited, when they align with the Preserve mission of education. However, justifying the DDC operations under this “special permit” most clearly makes these special activities common.
DDCS Board Member Dan Gruber informed the DDCS Board when he stated: “Municipal use amounts to a permanent permit to engage in activities like music, food/alcohol, after-sunset operations.”
2. The GDI buildings are the second largest structure in the project with a construction cost of $5M paid for by the residents of Scottsdale but used by ASU. What benefits will the residents of Scottsdale gain from this investment?
Let’s start with the cost: $5M, free use and maintenance, Scottsdale assumes all the risk that ASU will fund this facility year-over-year.
What benefits does Scottsdale see from Scottsdale Community College’s Center for Native and Urban Wildlife? Is the Conservancy’s Field Institute merged into the GDI?
NoDDC likes the ASU component of the plan the most, but why doesn’t Scottsdale put a $2M facility of labs on cheaper land with its partners the Conservancy or SCC? Why hasn’t it explored a partnership with Taliesin? That could be a done deal using the DDCSI’s $2.2M contract. All the benefits of education and tourism, none of the costs of an Event center in the Preserve.
3. Will the City need to re-zone any land within the project to accommodate the café and gift shop?
No zoning changes. Everything is “municipal use” under the special use permit.
4. In the initial capital costs for Desert EDGE, how much is expected to come from the Preserve Tax?
THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION FOR THE CONSERVANCY
The majority will come from the Preserve Tax, supplemented by the Bed Tax.
According to Treasurer Jeff Nichols, the Preserve Fund has about $25M currently, and will have about $125M at the end of its life in 2034. Nichols forecasts $34M of capital improvements at $2M a year, the same rate we currently have to maintain the quality of the trailheads and access areas. Nichols then forecasts $81M available ONLY IF the Sales Tax Base continues to expand at an average of 3% per year for 17 years. While that has been the growth rate since the great recession, it is overly optimistic to assume that nothing will happen to disrupt growth for the next 17 years.
Spending $61M now and committing to subsidize it forever almost assuredly results in no endowment to fund the future of the Preserve. DDCS and Campana will break the piggy bank. They have openly stated the Preserve Tax for the DDC is permitted, by a simple majority of Council.
Public Works Director Dan Worth explained there is about $30 million in the capital fund, vs. $80 million in needed projects. The dismal trend continues out the next 5 years. The City’s infrastructure is underfunded, debt for each Scottsdale resident is almost $6,000. There is no money for the DDC in the Capital Fund, Council will not raise taxes for the DDC. The Tourism Community will not give up the entire Bed Tax for the DDC.
Saying “no new taxes” is a gross misrepresentation. The Preserve Tax is paid everyday via sales taxes until 2034. The Bed Tax comes in from tourism everyday, including Scottsdale voters and their families and guests.
5. Does the projected budget include payment for services to be provided by partners of Desert EDGE, including the Conservancy?
6. What is the justification for using the Preserve Tax in funding the capital costs?
DDCS claims voters approved improvements like the DDC in 2004 when we passed the second Sales Tax and Bond provision.
Voters believed the exact opposite in 2004. The ballot packet is explicit about protecting the Preserve in its most pristine condition, not voting to build a tourism center. Both Virginia Korte and Christine Kovach published comments in the ballot packet with no mention of a DDC. The 1998 Preserve Amendment to the City Charter mandated that the Preserve be kept in its most pristine and natural condition without voter approval. The 2000 Preserve Ordinance banned almost 100% of the DDC contemplated structures and activities. In 2004 voters could only conclude that they were voting to continue to preserve the Preserve in its most pristine condition with nothing more than access improvements. This will be part of our lawsuit against the City.
7. What portion of the projected $3.6 million annual employee expense is attributable to recruiting, training and managing the “Desert Keepers” volunteers?
One Volunteer Coordinator & Trainer for $35,000/yr. The DDCS’ business plan mentions 300 volunteers. The same Business Plan notes that comparable facilities average 450 volunteers. If the volunteer effort is not structured and properly managed, the DDC financial plan fails badly, leading to underperformance and additional salaries. We do not believe this single $17.50/hr employee can effectively manage a large critical volunteer force.
We do not believe the Conservancy Stewards will volunteer in significant numbers. The DDC’s schedule requires regular commitments for indoor assignments at a snack bar, collecting entrance fees, and repeating paid tours. Required shifts failed when the Conservancy tried them for Pathfinders and Patrol. Working indoors is not a significant source of Conservancy volunteers, there are only a few dozen who actively volunteer for school tours and similar public-facing events.
After a family of four spends $57 for EDGE tickets, we do not believe they will donate to the Conservancy. The Conservancy’s mugs and t-shirts are not in the retail store.
How does the Conservancy benefit from the DDC?
8. Has there been an assessment of peak parking demand (January-April)? If overflow parking is needed during that time, how will it be allocated, on-site vs off-site?
We don’t think offsite parking will be highly effective. Look at the Zoo, or Camelback Mountain, to see people will circle the lot long before going to offsite parking and catching a shuttle. At the least, people will arrive and be turned away from the lot prior to going offsite.
A mobile app costs $50,000 to build and $20,000/year to function. We do not see it achieving marketing penetration except among locals.
Shuttle service and land acquisition are not included in the DDCS business plan. Shuttle service will be needed for employees and volunteers, beyond peak visitor times.
9. The Business Plan, page VIII-13, proposes annual City funding of $758k for a five-year period, which appears intended to supplement operating reserves. Is this anticipated to be from bed tax funds?
The same Council that approves the DDC will subsidize them $700k a year, just as they subsidized the Museum of the West every year. This will either come from the Bed Tax or the General Fund. If it comes from the Bed Tax, that will place more pressure to use Preserve Tax for construction.
10. A significant portion of Non-operational revenues are derived from “fund-raising events.” Some of these events will necessarily be held in the evening, serviced by “approved” caterers. These caterers often furnish alcohol. How will these evening events be managed to minimize evening traffic, noise and maintain Preserve integrity?
The Desert Edge will have 60 night time events a year, with no restrictions to operations once everything becomes “municipal use”. The DDC Operators will face constant pressure for more and more-profitable events, as their attendance and fundraising predictions are highly optimistic.
John Sather has made it clear that the DDC will not be secure. Under even the best of circumstances, a bus will take 10 minutes to idle and load.
The DDCS is built upon one of the largest washes that flows out of the McDowells. It is the major animal corridor under Thompson Peak Parkway into Reata Wash. 60 events a year, concentrated around a few peak months, will impact the animals.
The Stewards will face an increasingly complex task of enforcing after-sunset restrictions when there are parties visible. The message sent to all other Preserve users will be that nighttime use is tolerated. The Steward volunteers will increasingly be placed in difficult situations.
Follow us at: Noddc.org, https://www.facebook.com/NoDDCAZ/