Tourism chieftains: Scottsdale Desert Discovery Center vote shows foresight

The Gateway Trailhead at McDowell Sonoran Preserve. (photo by Flickr user Dru Bloomfield)

The Gateway Trailhead at McDowell Sonoran Preserve. (Photo credit: Dru Bloomfield)

At a recent city council meeting, a majority of the Scottsdale City Council showed vision and foresight by moving the plans for the long-awaited Desert Discovery Center forward. In a 5-2 vote, the Scottsdale City Council approved the proposed contract with Swaback Partners, the architect carefully vetted and selected to design the schematics of the DDC.

We in the business community and tourism industry are more than familiar with Swaback Partners and the stunning transformations they’ve made to the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Gainey Ranch and the Arizona Biltmore.

And the name should ring a bell for you, too. Managing Partner Vernon Swaback studied under Frank Lloyd Wright and remained with the Wright organization for 21 years. One can only imagine Swaback knows his way around a desert shelter.

But perhaps the most convincing line on Swaback Partners’ resume is their work on paths for another desert preservation gem — the Desert Botanical Garden.

This contract with Swaback Partners will allow Desert Discovery Center Scottsdale, Inc., the nonprofit organization selected by the city of Scottsdale to design a business plan for the project, to learn more about the appropriate size and elements of the DDC, as well as the potential costs.

Once all those factors are determined, Desert Discovery Center Scottsdale, Inc., will only then be able to better ascertain if the project is supported by the community. Currently, myths and lies about the DDC abound. You may hear them from your neighbors. You may even hear them from your elected officials.

The DDC is of great importance to Scottsdale residents, as well as the business community and the tourism industry. We support the development of the DDC at the gateway of our stunning McDowell Sonoran Preserve because it will be an incredible asset to our community at-large and to our industries.

But we first and foremost support continuing conversations about what the project will look like, how big it will be, and how much it will cost the city. No matter what you hear, those factors are not yet known.

What we do know is that this educational institution will inspire both locals and visitors to value desert environments for generations to come, and it will showcase an asset that distinguishes us from our competitive destinations, our Sonoran Desert landscape.

Tourism is already the backbone of Scottsdale’s economy with visitors generating nearly $40 million in additional tax revenue each year to fund critical public services that enhance our quality of life.

Once completed, the DDC will serve as Scottsdale’s next signature project that will attract additional visitors to Scottsdale, much like Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West has proven to do since its debut.

The DDC will be unlike any other amenity we have in Scottsdale — built green on a minimalist footprint. It will put Scottsdale even more prominently on the map as a state-of-the-art global destination, not only luring in those international visitors who tend to stay longer and spend more at all of our local businesses, but also C-level executives looking to relocate their companies. And such an attraction would appeal to families and millennial tourists looking for educational and eco-tourism experiences.

Imagine the revenue — and ultimate positive impact on our quality of life as residents of Scottsdale — that will be generated by all those additional visitors and businesses that come to Scottsdale because of the DDC.

We in Scottsdale have an amazing preservation story to tell that sets us apart from any other communities in the world. While tourists and our own residents may hike in our Preserve or drive past the expansive land, the DDC will help them understand Scottsdale’s commitment to protecting our Sonoran Desert. The DDC will promote not only respect for our desert, but also respect for our city on a global level.

Let’s continue conversations about the DDC and eventually see this 30-year vision come to life.

This letter was signed by the following: Andrew Chippindall, general manager of the Hotel Valley Ho and serves on Scottsdale’s Tourism Advisory Task Force and the Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau’s Board of Directors. Kate Coulson is a resident of Scottsdale. Steve Helm is the retired manager of Scottsdale Fashion Square, former acting CEO and current docent of Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West, and chairman-elect of the Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Directors. Carmela Lizzo is the president of Camelback Adventures and a Scottsdale resident. Amanda Long is the co-president of Hot Air Expeditions and a Scottsdale resident. David Winter is the director of events for Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Gainey Ranch and a Scottsdale resident.  

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