Desert Discovery Center may get Scottsdale City Council direction

A scenic view of of the Scottsdale McDowell Sonoran Preserve. (

The McDowell Sonoran Preserve. (Photo courtesy of the Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau)

Nobody knows who will run it, who will pay for it or where it should go but Scottsdale City Council is expected to provide city staff with direction on next steps of the creation of the Desert Discovery Center later this month.

Scottsdale City Council is hosting a work session discussion 5 p.m. Tuesday, March 24 on possible direction of next steps — steps likely to include the issue of a request for qualifications for a third-party, nonprofit entity to operate and construct the desert appreciation venue.

The center will serve as an elaborate museum geared toward teaching patrons the story of the Upper Sonoran Desert, proponents say.

The Scottsdale Desert Discovery Center Phase III Feasibility Committee in May 2013 unanimously approved the Gateway of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve as the ideal spot for an estimated $74 million, 20- to 30-acre desert appreciation venue.

In addition, the four-person volunteer committee included language in its motion offering two additional sites — 94th Street and Bell Road or Pima Road and Dynamite Boulevard — for consideration if a nonprofit entity were to run the operation.

The Scottsdale McDowell Sonoran Preserve encompasses 21,400 acres of land with rough boundaries of the Pinnacle Peak Road alignment to the west, McDowell Mountain Regional Park to the east, Happy Valley Road to the north and Via Linda Road alignment to the south.

“The study session is to get direction from council,” said Scottsdale Strategic Projects Director Kroy Ekblaw in a March 17 phone interview. “There will be a review of the history of the project and an overview of the project.”

But Scottsdale City Council has to provide direction for next steps, Mr. Ekblaw contends.

“The real question is, does the council want to move forward with this concept and if so where and what should be next steps,” he pointed out.  “We would like to know about public funding, scope of the project and potential next steps that could include another RFQ. It’s more of a matter of council identifying if they want to go forward and if so, how.”

Two members of Scottsdale City Council say they like the idea of a desert discovery center, but only within certain parameters.

David Smith

David Smith

“This is the first step in the multistage process that get’s something done,” said Councilman David Smith in a March 17 phone interview. “Fundamentally, I think it (the DDC) has the potential to an iconic, unique Scottsdale offering. It is a presentation, or a product but it is something that only we can do.”

Councilman Smith says he wants to see the DDC be an educational compliment to the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, pointing out Arizona State University has approached the city with an interest to partner at the desert appreciation venue.

“Done properly it can be very synergistic with the land mass we now call the preserve,” he said. “The intent is that it will be an informative learning experience … it will be entertaining in an intellectual sort of way as you become enlightened about the desert we live in.”

Councilwoman Kathy Littlefield says she likes the idea of a Scottsdale Desert Discovery Center.

“If done right,” she said in a March 17 phone interview. “I look at the DDC as an idea that has been around for a long, long time. This is not something that just materialized out of the blue.”

Councilwoman Littlefield says the DDC can be “absolutely phenomenal or a disaster,” largely based on how Scottsdale City Council outlines its next steps.

“I would like for it to be done with the conservancy. We need to keep our terms with the citizens,” she said of the using public dollars for the creation of the center. “We made certain conditions and we made promises that we would use the money for certain things and nothing else.”

Scottdale voters in 1995 and 2004 approved sales tax measures allowing the municipality to acquire cash ultimately to purchase and preserve lands now known as the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

“We want to make sure not to overstep those boundaries,” Councilwoman Littlefield said of the public dollars.

“Nobody wants to see the preserve encroached upon or eroded. The McDowell preserve is really unique, you can’t just go out and find one.”

Northeast Valley Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at tthornton@newszap.com

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