Mayor David Ortega

On Jan. 12, Mayor David Ortega introduced a proposal to preserve city-owned land along the Arizona Canal that could be used in the future to expand public space available for the popular Canal Convergence art festival.

Shortly after taking office, Scottsdale Mayor David Ortega introduced two proposals to preserve – and potentially expand – public open space downtown used for popular events like Canal Convergence.

At City Council’s first meeting of the year, he asked his colleagues to consider preserving strips of city-owned alleys along the Arizona Canal downtown rather than allow them to be sold to private developers.

He said the land could be used as additional space for Canal Convergence and other popular downtown events.

“The bank is about 30 feet wide and this could add about 18 feet,” Ortega said.

Ortega identified several slivers of city property adjacent to the canal between Soleri Plaza, located southwest of Scottsdale and Camelback roads, and the city’s Rose Garden parking lot at 5th Avenue and Goldwater Boulevard.

Several tracts would be difficult to develop because they are currently used by service vehicles, contain utility boxes or bisect private or city property already in use, such as the Rose Garden lot.

According to visuals presented by Ortega, the city could develop a strip of land abutting parking east of Goldwater, though that, too, could prove difficult. Much of the land identified in the visual appears to bump up to, or be owned by, private property owners, according to County Assessor records.

Ortega said he would also like to see Council consider the creation of Scottsdale’s 43rd park by dedicating the city-owned property around Soleri Bridge and Plaza.

The southeastern portion of the Plaza is owned by the city while Salt River Project owns the remainder of the site.

The bridge, designed by famed architect Paolo Soleri, opened in 2011 and has served as a focal point of Canal Convergence each year.

Notably, the proposed new park would likely not bear Soleri’s name.

The celebrated architect was accused of sexual abuse by his daughter Daniela Soleri in an essay she penned in 2017. Since then, there have been no public conversations in Scottsdale about removing his name from public assets.

In 2018, city officials told the Progress there were no conversations internally about removing Soleri’s name from the bridge, plaza or nearby Soleri Way.

Ortega, an architect by trade, suggested naming the new park “Solstice Park” to honor the bridge’s unique design. He said the bridge would remain named Soleri Bridge under his proposal.

Scottsdale Arts, which maintains the bridge, said it was designed to mark solar events produced by the sun’s shadow. A red stripe along the deck follows the light and leads viewers across the bridge.

“At each summer solstice (June 21) when the sun is highest in the sky, no shadow is cast,” according to Scottsdale Arts. “While at each winter solstice (Dec. 21) when the sun is lowest in the sky, the shadow is the longest, reaching to the bridge structure….The bridge and plaza also celebrate the annual equinox events that are approximately on Sept. 21 and March 22.”

Comparing it to global solstice-related landmarks like Stonehenge, Ortega said by creating an official park that draws more attention to the bridge’s unique features, the city could better leverage it as a tourist attraction.

The park designation would likely have little or no impact on city resources as parks staff already services the area daily as part of its route assignments, Assistant City Manager Bill Murphy said.

Council voted unanimously to direct city staff to explore both proposals and bring back more concrete details at a later date, but some members still expressed skepticism about moving forward with the plans, especially the proposal to preserve city property along the canal.

Councilwomen Linda Milhaven and Tammy Caputi both questioned the need to protect the canal side land from private development.

Milhaven suggested the city could realize more benefits by selling the land to adjacent property owners “so we get the money for selling the property; we get the taxes from it going back into the tax base; and then we require the property owner, who is usually an adjacent property owner, to pay to maintain that space and leave it as open space.”

“So I’m certainly willing to explore and discuss,” she added, “but I’m a little bit reluctant to look at trying to do too many things, especially since this is an area that we’re really looking to redevelop and have reinvestment.”

Ortega said the canal area is already the site of significant investment by the city and hosts its premier events.

“This is a great opportunity to expand the canal side area for the public,” he said.

Still, the mayor did not rule out support for the possibility of allowing limited development on the land – such as underground parking – as long as it does not eat into open space along the canal.

“The idea is that we can have 30 to 40 percent (of the canal bank) added to Canal Convergence is too important,” he said. “That is underlying thing: keeping that openness.”