Scottsdale Independent

Henninger: ‘we believe city council should keep the Desert EDGE project on track’

The Scottsdale Coalition of Today and Tomorrow, a group of business and civic leaders, launched a month ago to pursue a mission to promote Scottsdale, address issues of concern and encourage civil discourse on how to move forward on them.

Don Henninger

One of the most pressing issues is the Desert Edge, a plan decades in the making to build an educational and visitors center at the Gateway Trailhead to the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

The debate, oftentimes, has hardly been civil. Mayor Jim Lane says it has divided the city like he has never seen before.

Indeed, the issue has stirred deep passions on both sides — those who have worked hard to build the vision and those who have worked in opposition to it.

While the debate continues, we believe the city council should keep the Desert EDGE project on track and move it into the next phase of design. The analysis and debate on the merits of the project can continue as the project design evolves and city staff answers questions the council posed to them.

But the work should continue moving forward in the meantime.

Here are a few things to consider about the Desert Edge project.

The Desert EDGE, formerly known as the Desert Discovery Center, is a decades-old vision that was approved by voters in 1995 at the same time as the creation of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

Following up on that approval, in 1999, the McDowell Sonoran Preserve Access Report said there should be a point designated for educational purposes and other facilities that would include a visitors’ center, displays, an amphitheater and other areas to accommodate group activities. That vision remains at the core of the Desert EDGE proposal today.

That 1995 ballot proposition and Access Report recommendations were reaffirmed with supporting city council votes on the project in 2006 and 2011.

A project very much like the Desert Edge was approved in 2007. The mission since then has stayed pretty much the same with the addition of Arizona State University and its plans to create a research function. So consider, this project was the will of the voters when they agreed to create the Preserve with their tax dollars nearly 30 years ago. It has been reaffirmed several times since by the city council.

Over the past year, the contractor, Desert Discovery Center Scottsdale, has put together a world-class project proposal and reacted to feedback from the community, moving the location of the project to a smaller size footprint — less then 6 acres in the 33,000-acre Preserve, and at a lower cost.

Desert EDGE has been approved in recent weeks by the Planning Commission and the Design Review Board. The city attorney has concluded that the council has authority to proceed with the project under the Preserve Ordinance.

The board of Experience Scottsdale supports exploring the completion of the project. The Scottsdale Area Association of Realtors says the Desert Edge fits in its policy guidelines as a project for the city.

Supporters and organizers of the project have done the job assigned to them, following the public process, raising funds from the private sector and seeing the project through the city’s approval processes.

It makes sense for city leaders to follow through on their current course of due diligence needed for their ultimate decision on the Desert Edge while it allows the design process to unfold.

As those answers come back, it will give more clarity to the merits of the project and encourage what we hope will be a healthy, civil debate on its future.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Independent has a policy of disclosing any potential conflicts of interest to its readers. Mr. Henninger is a member of the board of directors of Independent Newsmedia Inc. USA, the company that publishes the Scottsdale Independent.  However, the views expressed by Mr. Henninger on behalf of SCOTT do not reflect the views of the newspaper.  To avoid tainting the objectivity of its reporting, the Independent doesn’t take positions.  Our opinion pages are for the opinions of readers, not the opinions of our editors, publishers or executives, and we encourage readers to post their responses or email their comments to the editor at scottsdalenews@newszap.com.