Gulick: Desert Discovery Center debate getting lost in personal attacks, lies

I remember the Scottsdale — heck, I grew up in the Scottsdale — where a community leader could advocate for an idea and the community listened thoughtfully, considered other viewpoints and didn’t assume there was a nefarious plot to personally gain from it.

Melinda Gulick

Melinda Gulick

Are those days gone forever? I hope not.

But, if the nasty, name-calling vitriol polluting the conversation of a Desert Discovery Center is any indication, we are at a tipping point as a community.

The community “dialogue” has descended to horrifying depths of personal attacks, out-of-context gotchas and outright lies. You may be passionate about a DDC — you may be lukewarm about it — one thing I know, people who live in Scottsdale aren’t lukewarm about our community and that’s one reason you see such passionate people involved — on both sides.

For 12 years, I’ve advocated for the Desert Discovery Center — serving on every committee and task force both public and private to bring the DDC to life. In 2012, I was recognized statewide for my advocacy and conservation work on behalf of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve as the first ever Arizona Conservation Hero. In short, I am happily and deeply committed to the Preserve and I am honored to have served the community in support of it.

Several years ago, a group came together to gauge community support for the DDC, begin assessing private fundraising capacity and bring the concept to life. I was the first volunteer chair of the Desert Discovery Center Advocates. We presented to dozens of community groups and over 250 individuals and found overwhelming support for the project.

That group morphed into Desert Discover Center Scottsdale, and they responded to the city’s Request for Qualifications that was issued after getting unanimous direction to do so by the Scottsdale City Council. The DDCS was awarded the contract through an open, public process.

The DDCS is now mid-way through their work that includes the design of the visitor experience, what the facility will look like, what size it will be, and how much it will cost. Their goal is to have a comprehensive report to city council in September 2017. I am not on the board of the DDCS, but I remain a passionate and enthusiastic advocate for the DDC.

Scottsdale has invested nearly $1 billion in the acquisition of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. It was an ambitious dream — and today it is a spectacular reality and our greatest treasure. It is time to match the impressive accomplishment of the Preserve with an amenity to teach our residents and visitors about the unique Sonoran Desert — how to live in it, to respect it and learn from it in a fun and engaging way. The Desert

Discovery Center will be a world class interpretive center at the front door to the Preserve — the Gateway — where the center has been envisioned since 1997 — before we had a Preserve, before we owned the Gateway.

It’s also time to make the Preserve accessible for all of our residents and visitors. In a recent city survey of Preserve users, the vast majority of people using the Preserve live in the immediately adjacent neighborhoods or in north Phoenix. The number of Preserve users south of McCormick Ranch didn’t event register statistically on the survey.

The DDC will ensure that everyone in Scottsdale who voted to tax themselves to create the Preserve will have equal access to it and will benefit from the additional tax revenue generated by more visitors to Scottsdale as a result of it.

Knowing the quality of the people involved — and the deep appreciation they have for our Sonoran Desert — the utmost care and thought is being given to the sensitivity of the DDC’s design in the Preserve. There’s talk about a public vote on the DDC — and that may be appropriate — but it’s too early to know. Let the DDCS finish their work — and then, let’s have a community-wide conversation based on facts, not hyperbole.

Let’s discuss the actual plan, not personal attacks or conspiracy theories. I remain optimistic we can have a dialogue worthy of Scottsdale.

Editor’s note: Mrs. Gulick is a mother, nature lover and lifelong resident of Scottsdale

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