McKeighan: Great Hearts investment offer is one worthy of exploration

What would you say if someone offered to pay $4.5 million to develop a public park on city-owned park land at no cost to taxpayers? “Wow, that’s great” would seem to be the obvious answer. This is actually being proposed for approximately 13 acres adjacent to DC Ranch.

Jace McKeighan

DMB, the developer of DC Ranch, deeded this land at 91st Street and Trailside View to the City in 2003 for a park. The site has been vacant ever since, except for a sign announcing the park’s future development. Great Hearts Academies is offering to pay $4.5 million for the development of the park.

Great Hearts is a public charter school that operates nearby Scottsdale Preparatory Academy. Scottsdale Prep does not have any dedicated outdoor athletics facilities. Students travel far on a daily basis for practices and games. To help its students with a field, Great Hearts bought land in DC Ranch catty-corner from the city-owned site. By state law, a public charter school is permitted to develop its own site without regard to zoning and similar restrictions.

Great Hearts reached out to DC Ranch to discuss developing the field on its property, and solicited comments from the community. In the course of those discussions, a group of DC Ranch residents suggested that Great Hearts investigate the city-owned park site.

Great Hearts, DC Ranch’s Community Council, and the city then began discussions on the park site as an alternative that might lessen the overall impact of a field on DC Ranch residents. The park site offers a significantly larger buffer between the field and homes.

Discussions are still at an early phase, but Great Hearts is offering to fund the development of the park, which will remain fully owned by the city. The park could include a playground, tennis courts, sand volleyball courts, a football/soccer field, a track, and restrooms at no cost to taxpayers.

The city would control the site, and Great Hearts would pay a proportionate share of the ongoing maintenance — a typical arrangement between Scottsdale and the public schools that use its fields. For its very substantial initial investment, Great Hearts would only receive a priority scheduling right. The park would operate like any other city park, open to the general public for their use and enjoyment. This is how city-owned parks operate — with users who schedule times and pay for maintenance.

Most communities are not fortunate enough to find a partner willing to bring this much capital to develop a public amenity without seeking more control or outright ownership. Those who claim this is an underhanded deal ignore the $4.5 million that Great Hearts will contribute for the park.

Those who claim that this was conceived in secret are not aware of the three open meetings already held with DC Ranch and its residents. This is how agreements come together. When you consider all of the facts, the proposed park offers a great amenity to the area at no expense to the taxpayers.

Editor’s note: Mr. McKeighan is a resident of Scottsdale

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