Give Us 10 Minutes…
Give us 10 minutes and we’ll show you how the DDC went from a fresh idea to off-the-rails 5 years later.
The DDC “Big Bold Idea” started with open, honest discussions. When the proponents realized they had to ask the voters for permission after 2 years of effort, the course changed radically to grab the $100M+ Preserve Fund Surplus. We have screen shots and City documents. Follow the highlights and we promise you in and out in 10 min.
2010: Phase II Study, and “The Big Center” Idea Is Born
Everyone agrees there have been discussions about an interpretive center since the beginning of the Preserve. From 2008-10, a new breed of advocates advanced the novel idea of a large tourism event center. They were led by Linda Milhaven and Virginia Korte, John Sather of Swaback Partners and DDCS Board Members Melinda Gulick and Mike Surguine.
The City sponsored a Phase II Feasibility Study. The Preserve had bloomed and the Gateway just opened. It was a worthwhile discussion in 2008-9. The big vision had remarkable similarities to the Tourism Event Center being discussed today – 8-9 figures, and 300,000 visitors a year, tourism with a dash of education on top.
Mike Surguine, current VP of DDCS Inc, stated on Dec 7, 2009: “60% of the business in Scottsdale hotels and resorts is group meetings”.
Melinda Gulick, Chair of the DDC Advocates Group and Board Members of DDCS Inc said during committee meetings in 2010 it must be an attraction:
John Sather got paid $500,000, and waxed philosophical about all the same southwest design concepts he’s still pushing seven years later.
A design team from Hollywood’s BRC Imagination Arts received thousands upon thousands of dollars to create detailed programming. Look these over from 2010, they sound very similar to the current programming ideas.
The Boston-based Consult Econ wrote a business plan. Consult Econ is the same firm that has been involved in every iteration of the DDC for 10 years. Their messages have evolved, but not fundamentally changed in 10 years. 300,000 visitors to have a chance of financial sustainability.
Same advocates, same experts, same roles as today’s plan.
Phase II Study Shows Baked-In Problems
2010: During the Phase II Feasibility Study, McDowell Sonoran Preserve Commission Chair Gerald Miller told the AZ Republic on July 18, 2010 “The big issues will be who’s going to pay for it. There are issues having to do with governance (and) how will it be interfaced with the rest of the Preserve.”
Violating the Preserve Ordinance and Funding were the two central problems then, as they still are now. They also realized it would lose money.
Everyone had consensus that a bond was the only viable funding mechanism, which meant citizens had control over the DDC. The Phase II Team in 2010 talked about bonds a lot.
Capital costs were only part of the financial worries. DDCS Board Member Melinda Gulick agrees it will operate in the red.
They did a national survey, and tallied up all the competition. Add to this list: The Museum of the West, the Musical Instrument Museum, Odysea Aquarium, Butterfly Wonderland, Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center, and the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy’s Family Sundays. Oops, we forgot IFly and the Herpetological Society. And the Mesa Museum of Natural History. Its a crowded space, with a lot of competition.
Beyond funding and operating losses, the Preserve Ordinance prevented the DDC.
Pay close attention to how many times Campana says “I’m just following my contract” in the coming weeks. She’s just following orders, just like Sather and Surguine here?
The results of the Phase II Study
A compromise is on the table. Remove a small plot, vote on building and funding it, but don’t violate the Preserve Ordinance and open it to development. This sounds like a great idea that should have happened 7 years ago.
Phase III and the Slippery Slope
DDC Proponents took the report as an acknowledgement of the good and the bad in their plan. We agree with them. Some of us may not like the DDC idea, but in 2010 there was an open honest transparent discussion about the project.
And the #1 impediment.The DDC needed money. Here’s DDCS VP Mike Surguine in 2010:
The City sponsored a Phase III study in 2011. They knew they needed funding, and looked into private bids and professional salaried fundraising. After two more years of meetings and investigations, the “concept” needle was moved to a 1:2 private/public partnership.
The City put out a bid, and got 0 replies to their 1:2 funding offer.
Here the DDC sat, absent funding and law, from 2012-2015. The proponents of the DDC formed an advocacy group DDC Advocates Group (DDCAG) and pursued the project and community support.
Suddenly, in 2014, DDCS Attorney Lynne Lagarde and City Attorney Bruce Washburn discussed a new interpretation of the Preserve Ordinance. It offered great flexibility for “municipal uses” of the Preserve Land and $150,000,000 Preserve Fund surplus. In 2015 they cobbled up an official memo to bless using the Preserve funds that were not available in 2010-14. 300,000 annual visitors in a $50 million spot on the Preserve could be decided by simple Council majority. In 2012 Virginia Korte was elected to Council, and in 2014 Linda Milhaven was re-elected. 2 votes out of 4. And a tasty legal opinion, first written in 2015.
They say its a municipal use; we humbly ask for a vote. Kathy Littlefield,Guy Philips and Jim Lane want a vote. Linda Milhaven, David Smith,Virginia Korte and Suzanne Klapp have not supported a vote.
What do you think?