The City of Scottsdale is moving forward with design work on the most expensive – and controversial – project included in the $319-million bond package approved by voters in 2019.
The project will meet a need for more lighted fields for sports like football, soccer, lacrosse, field hockey and rugby while also addressing a looming special event parking shortage.
When completed, the $40-million project will include up to 13 multi-use sports fields east of Loop 101 and Bell Road that will double as special event parking for major events the Waste Management Phoenix Open golf tournament and Barrett-Jackson car auction at WestWorld.
For years, golf tournament, auction and other WestWorld events used parts of hundreds of acres of vacant state trust land in the area to park thousands of visitors, but it’s unclear how much longer that will be a viable option as the state continues to auction land.
In 2018, Nationwide purchased a 134-acre parcel for its Cavasson development and the state is selling off another 74 acres this month.
At a meeting of City Council’s Capital Improvement Plan Subcommittee in 2019, City Manager Jim Thompson said the city “could find ourselves challenged” for parking in the near future if it does not replace that parking.
According to current plans, the project will be constructed in two phases.
The first phase will include six fields at the northwest corner of 94th Street and Bell Road and approximately 500 permanent parking spaces.
During special events, the 94th Street and Bell Road site could accommodate up to 3,000 to 3,500 cars when the fields function as parking stalls, Scottsdale Preserve Manager Kroy Ekblaw said at the meeting.
The first phase will also include a DC Ranch community park northwest of the fields that will include an irrigation lake to hold reclaimed water from the city’s nearby water treatment plant.
Phase One is now in the design phase, which will last about a year and there will be additional opportunities for public input.
The second phase could include fields farther east near McDowell Mountain Ranch Road and Thompson Peak Pkwy.
The city identified two possible sites, including one on the eastern edge of the WestWorld property and another near McDowell Mountain Ranch Park.
“This Bell Road site was selected because its city owned land, while the WestWorld and McDowell Mountain Ranch location included both state and private ownership parcels which needed to be purchased, which would require more time to complete,” Scottsdale spokeswoman Erin Walsh said, adding that Phase One efforts on the West Bell Road parcel allows for completion of the fields in the next 12 to 18 months.
The project’s second phase will include between four and seven fields located at the easternmost end of the WestWorld property, not the park property.
That site could accommodate between 3,000 and 3,500 special event parking stalls, Ekblaw said.
Much of that site is owned by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and managed by the city but portions are owned privately or by the state.
The city currently has room on lands under its control to build four fields at the WestWorld site and is negotiating to purchase the remaining parcels.
“If the city is unsuccessful in acquiring the additional land, it will need to find an alternate location for the remaining fields,” according to the city’s website.
The fields and parking project comprised the only item in the 2019 bond package that did not receive support by at least 50 percent of residents who submitted comments online or attended six open houses in spring 2019.
But the Capital Improvement Plan Subcommittee voted in favor of keeping it in March 2019.
At the time, subcommittee members Suzanne Klapp, Guy Phillips and Kathy Littlefield expressed concern that low support was due to the fact that early outreach stated the project would ‘“build parking lots…to support special events” but made no mention of the sports fields.
“I had a lot of people come to me and say, ‘We’re going to spend all of this money on parking,’” Littlefield said. “I think it can be explained more clearly; I don’t think a lot of citizens knew what it was and why we were asking for so many millions of dollars for parking lots.”
The project received some push back when it reached Council. Both Councilwomen Linda Milhaven and Solange Whitehead supported a failed motion to remove all projects connected to WestWorld from the bond proposal.
Milhaven also tried to reduce cut its funding to $20 million and suggested event organizers like Barrett-Jackson and The Thunderbirds should foot the bill for their own parking.
“I think these events need to pay for their own parking,” Milhaven said.
Still, it passed Council and was approved by voters as part of the larger $112.6-million bond question for parks and recreation that passed with 69 percent of the vote.
In August, the Facebook page for Scottsdale Citizen, a website run by resident activist John Washington, criticized the project as “A thinly disguised taxpayer-funded subsidy for the already-heavily subsidized PGA and for Barrett-Jackson.”
According to the city, discussions are ongoing with both Barrett-Jackson and The Thunderbirds.
“The city has been and is continuing conversations with both Barrett Jackson and Thunderbirds about long term parking fees with a future agreement as end goal,” Walsh said.
The project has also been criticized more recently by representatives from DC Ranch community that neighbors the Bell Road site, who claim they were misled.
During the city’s campaign, Christine Irish, DC Ranch’s director of public affairs, said city staff assured her that the city was only considering fields on the western 40 acres of a larger 80-acre site at 94th Street and Bell.
But now the city is considering using the eastern 40 acres as well.
Jenna Kohl, DC Ranch’s executive director, said the eastern 40 acres border homes and residents are concerned about how the fields and event parking would affect their neighborhoods.
Walsh said the city is still considering its options on the eastern 40 acres.
“The city is currently exploring a range of options that include city use of the property and possible sale of all or a portion of the property,” Walsh said.
“The city will initiate a public process for review of any city use or propose a public process for sale of the property in the future when the facility needs in this area have been determined.”