Alexander: new Discovery Center proposal is beyond the edge of reality

We told you the Desert Discovery Center would be a huge tourist event center, paid from the Preserve fund, with nightlife and a bar. They made a tweak around the edges and flattened the tummy, but it’s everything we warned it would be.

• 306,000 annual visitors;

• $61,200,000 capital costs, mostly paid from the Preserve tax;

• $6.3M operating cost;

• 120,000 square feet of developed space, 48,000 indoor AC space;

• 5000 square feet of retail space serving alcohol, open to public;

• 60 night events a year;

• $700,000 a year city subsidy;

• 150 new parking spots at Gateway, additional 5,000-square-foot plot and 150 spaces nearby;

• Major roadwork to four intersections, new signal;

• 1300 new trips per day;

• 75 employees and 20 outside staff, $3.6 million in salaries;

• bus lanes.

These numbers come directly from DDCS, Inc’s business plan. We think the size and scope of the operations warrant a public vote. The proponents of the DDC don’t believe a vote is necessary, but they are wrong.

Myth 1: the DDC has always been planned

We all agree an interpretive center has been discussed for a long time. DDCS Architect John Sather says it best in his latest architectural report to Scottsdale City Council:

“The concept has evolved from that of a basic information center into a global center focused on tourism, research, education and policies regarding sustainable living in arid environments.”

The big bulleted list of operations above first appeared in 2010, in the city’s Phase II Study. The site plan that permits an interpretive center had never discussed anything bigger. We agree that concepts evolve, but let’s vote on such a dramatic change. Almost 8,000 Scottsdale voters have signed a ballot initiative to get this on the ballot. We did not vote for this in 2004. We’ve have raised $50,000 for our legal fund and will sue the city when they act.

Myth 2: the DDC is not commercial

Sam Campana asserts the DDC’s activities don’t violate the Preserve ordinance because it’s a municipal use, not a commercial use. We find this simply stupefying. How is the list above not commercial? How is a night event every week and 1,000 visitors a day not commercial?

This legal basis for the DDC was only first proposed in 2015 by DDCS’s attorney Lynne Lagarde. I asked Councilwoman Linda Milhaven why it wasn’t used in 2010 when a very similar plan was before the city. She said (paraphrasing) that lawyers advance new theories all the time in response to new ideas, and the city attorney advised her this new theory permitted the DDC.

“Municipal use amounts to a permanent permit to engage in activities like music, food/alcohol, after-sunset operations.”

Dan Gruber, DDCS Board Member, March 5, 2015.

DDCS, Inc knows exactly what they are doing by promoting this legal theory. This is what we believe is coming with the DDC, er, Desert Edge! Let’s agree to disagree about the concerts after the Waste Management Open. But let’s all acknowledge its a very new point of view, that we should decide by vote.

Myth 3: the DDC will be successful

The DDC financial projections are beyond optimistic, they are mold-breaking!

  • 73 percent comes from earned revenue, requiring only 27 percent subsidies. The business plan does not explain how it will earn so when its closest comps average 37 percent in subsidies, and its overall business class requires 52 percent subsidies.
  • The DDC will only need 300 volunteers a year. Its comps average 450.
  • The DDC attendance will outdraw all but a handful of the local competitors. It will outdraw The Musical Instrument and Taliesin combined in its first year.
  • 4,590 Annual Memberships at $119/yr.
  • ASU contributes no money. Nada. The business plan says “this analysis does not include any initial or ongoing payments by GDI (Global Drylands Institute) for use of its building and the overall site, nor payments for any operational services.”
  • The city will contribute $700,000 a year for the first five years.

The Preserve fund does not have enough cash in it to fund the construction of the DDC. It may require a new bond. That means the DDC pays interest and finance fees on a loan against future tax collections to bulldoze part of the Preserve. It might drain the tourism fund (bed tax) in the process.

The most tone-deaf part of the business plan says this:

“The estimate of potential attendance at DDC has been prepared through a “gravity model” analytical approach. That is, the propensity to visit this conservation and education destination is strongest among people who reside the closest.”

The neighborhoods immediately surrounding the Gateway turned out strongly opposed to the DDC in the 2016 election. They are a large source of NoDDC’s support. Do you think these neighbors will be patrons, or protestors? Do you think they will take their friends?

Do you think we should vote?

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