Alexander: Scottsdale Desert Discovery Center update does little to belay concerns

Midway through their 18-month planning process the proponents of the Desert Discovery Center are opening the curtains just wide enough to let the city peek at their plans. Our response: shock and awe.

Jason Alexander

Jason Alexander

We are shocked at how little they have absorbed of the community’s desire for a small and minimally invasive project, and in awe of their insatiable appetite for taxpayer-bought land and Preserve tax revenues.

The DDC’s Preliminary Exhibit Program — Sept. 1, 2016 — and their Nov. 28 city council presentation describe lofty exhibition goals that look to require large, expensive constructions and permanent staff to go along.

The experience designers reference the Perkins Center at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History as a model, and the architects specify four major exhibit areas as anchor attractions upon which they stake the project’s significance.

The exhibits alone will cost millions. DDC also lists the myriad ancillary functions needed to support their audacious scope:

  • Arrival zones and group (bus tour) arrival zones;
  • Main entry and meeting terrace;
  • A cafe and gift shop with “unique” products and gifts to encourage regular visitorship;
  • Admissions, hospitality and guest services including childcare and accessibility aids;
  • Digital exhibits that guide guests through the experience with tablets, headphones or other types of digital experiences
  • Live animal exhibits;
  • Staff headquarters including offices, meeting spaces, IT and infrastructure, maintenance, workshops and storage;
  • ASU’s laboratories, large enough to host conferences and research symposiums; and
  • The “Desert Great Room” — a meeting center for presentations, IMAX films, and event rentals.

The DDC will be big, it will cost plenty, it will impact the wildlife of the Preserve and the communities that surround the Gateway. How can it not when DDC plans to vie for tourists with similar facilities like the Desert Botanical Garden and the Phoenix Zoo? How does this uphold the value of preservation on which the Preserve was founded?

DDC presented their “new” vision to the city council on Nov. 28. They sprinted through 50 slides in 10 minutes, glossing over most of the details. But DDC spoke at length on this one slide, produced by Swaback Partners as part of their $500,000 architectural contract for the DDC.


Assuming the scribbles are to scale, the DDC (green scribble) is six times larger than the current parking lots (red scribble). The similarly sized “DDC Support Facility” (blue scribble) looks to be located at Westworld or the 80 acre plot the city owns at 94th Street and Bell Road.

Coincidentally, this latter is the alternate site many community members proposed for the DDC to keep the Preserve free of development. The DDC opposed this location because it would require helping DDC visitors get to the Preserve with, what else, pedestrian/bike/vehicle connections. But since you mentioned it, why not build on two plots of multi-million dollar, taxpayer-purchased property? It’s free, right?

This multisite plan is a brazen attempt to shoehorn the DDC concept into a smaller footprint at the Gateway, but vastly larger overall in its size, cost, and detrimental impact on the neighborhood. This plan will still require changing the Preserve Ordinance to permit the many commercial uses planned for the DDC, and still threatens to raid the Preserve Fund to pay for the DDC construction, staff, and ongoing operations.

There is still no sound fiscal plan that doesn’t involve taxpayer subsidies and safety nets, still no demonstrated business case for this facility. There is still no accounting for higher budget deficits, cannibalizing the city’s infrastructure maintenance funds, and increasing what is already the highest per capita debt of any city in the metro area.

It still could usurp and convert many of the free community services and presentations offered by the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy Stewards and other community groups, locking them away inside a gated, commercial, tourist attraction with entrance fees.

We encourage everyone to attend the city’s DDC workshops on Nov. 30. Ask hard questions about how this project will impact you and our community.

NoDDC is preparing a lawsuit against the city to stop this project. The lawsuit will be citizen funded and volunteer supported.  We need your help to stop the DDC.

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