Smith: the Scottsdale Desert Discovery debate carries on

Tuesday evening, council heard a brief presentation from the study group under contract to develop the concept for a Desert Discovery Center. Much of their message was already known.

David Smith

They confirmed their timeline is to present their findings to council in late summer, followed by a series of public outreach meetings to present the concepts to the public at large — in all cases to gather feedback for “what works and what doesn’t.”

Readers may remember council authorized this DDC study in January 2016. The study was paid for with money accumulated from bed tax collections paid by tourists.

Why was it paid for by tourist taxes? The council — and the citizen’s Tourism Development Commission — believed a properly conceived DDC could complement the portfolio of city assets that attract visitors to our city — our museums, WestWorld, the Tournament Players Course, Scottsdale Stadium and many, many others … most importantly, the Preserve itself.

The goals of the authorized study were purposely vague. The most important directive to the study group was to develop the concept — what should a DDC be? The overarching vision was a DDC that would be an immersive learning experience, communicating the uniqueness of Scottsdale as a community that thrives in a desert environment.

Besides this “experience plan”, the study group was tasked to develop a business plan, sources of funding, partnerships with academia, and a master site plan with architectural renderings of what a DDC look like.

Later at the council meeting Tuesday evening, several opponents of a DDC also spoke. Some objected to the presumed location of a DDC; some objected to the potential capital and operating costs of a DDC; some objected to the assumed concept of a DDC, which they fear might be a Disney-like tourist attraction.

Most importantly, the opponents pleaded for a public vote, a plea that will be easier to consider once the study is completed later this year.

What do we know for sure at this time?

The DDC study group has assembled teams with the expertise to address the objectives council gave them in January 2016. One team is developing the experience design; another has been tasked with the challenge of creating architectural renderings; still another is focused on developing a business plan and fund-raising strategies.

A partnership has been developed with ASU and Scottsdale Community College to develop and deliver educational components. Most importantly, we were assured, the DDC study group is “on track” to deliver the promised report by August.

Passions often run high in Scottsdale, but this is a good thing!

Scottsdale citizens — for and against a DDC — care deeply about their city and are not afraid to lend voice to their concerns. We should celebrate a civil debate and be glad our citizens are not apathetic. All their voices have been heard and they will be heard in the future.

Editor’s note: Mr. Smith is a member of Scottsdale City Council

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