A long-vacant Scottsdale Unified School District campus in southern Scottsdale may finally rise from the ashes with the help of the Valley’s professional soccer club.
The Phoenix Rising is in negotiations with the district to turn the former Tonalea Elementary campus into a practice facility for the team.
The USL Championship league team currently plays its home games about four miles away from the Tonalea site at Casino Arizona Stadium at Mclintock Drive and Loop 202.
The property it is eyeing, located at 68th and Oak streets, has been vacant since 2014.
SUSD Superintendent Dr. Scott Menzel announced the potential plans to lease the campus to Phoenix Rising, telling the governing board Dec. 1:
“Phoenix Rising has expressed an interest in leasing the 68th Street property and making some improvements in terms of soccer fields, practice fields for them as well as a walking track and some other recreational amenities for the neighborhood.”
An attorney representing the team confirmed the club’s interest in the site.
“As one of the most successful professional soccer teams in North America playing in the USL Championship, Phoenix Rising needs to accommodate its growing fan base with a larger stadium, welcome visiting teams from around the world with more training sites for its expanding spring training professional soccer tournament, and provide for its thriving non-profit youth soccer organization with more fields,” said Jordan Rose, president of Rose Law Group.
Menzel said Rose Law Group is spearheading a community outreach event scheduled for next week.
News of Phoenix Rising’s interest in the 68th Street Campus is likely welcomed by many in the community who have been clamoring for the district to do something with the shuttered property since SUSD brass relocated Tonalea students six years ago.
“I am very much in favor,” said Nancy Cantor, a longtime southern Scottsdale activist and organizer with the Coronado Neighborhood Schools Alliance.
She said the team and representatives from Rose Law Group approached the community about the proposal months ago.
Cantor, one of several community members who has seen Phoenix Rising’s plans for the site, said she supports the project.
She said it will preserve district ownership of the campus and make sure it remains a community amenity.
In addition to practice space for the team, the facility could include indoor meeting space, an outdoor exercise track and other facilities open to community use.
Cantor said the team also committed to refurbishing the playground along Oak Street.
“That was one of the big things – opportunities for the kids to continue – and it will be a program that won’t encroach on the neighborhoods,” Cantor said.
She is also excited about potential mentorship and training opportunities for local high school youth soccer players and noted that Coronado High soccer coach Jose Velarde attended a presentation about the project.
At the time it was closed, district officials said Tonalea was badly in need of renovations and repairs.
The district included the campus on a list of eight schools eligible for rebuilds under the $229-million bond approved by voters in 2016.
But officials eventually demolished all but one building on the property and consolidated Tonalea Elementary and Supai Middle School on the Supai campus at 68th Street and Continental Drive to create Tonalea K-8.
Meanwhile, rebuild plans fell by the wayside and the old campus sat empty.
Residents worried it would eventually be sold outright to developers or to a charter school, Cantor said.
Residents also turned out in force at a governing board meeting in January 2015 to oppose a rumored community services center that could have brought a homeless shelter or similar use to the site.
The Coronado Neighborhood Alliance long pushed the district to restore a neighborhood elementary school, but even though the new proposal would not accomplish that goal, Cantor said she still considers it a win.
“I don’t want to see a developer build a high-rise, massive development in the middle of that neighborhood,” Cantor said. “That would be the wrong place for it, but then along comes Phoenix Rising with a proposal that is just ideal for the area.”
Other community members aren’t sold on the new proposal yet.
John Washington, another longtime community activist, said SUSD should put out a public bid to ensure it’s getting the best deal for taxpayers.
“I believe that they have an obligation to put it out as a public solicitation and say ‘we have excess capacity and we are considering leasing this’ and let everybody bid on it,” he said.
Washington said that process would ensure the district is getting the best deal for taxpayers.
“And so, using this extra excess capacity in some fashion like this may not be a bad idea, but it’s all about the process,” he said.
At the Dec. 1 meeting, Menzel said the district is also working with legal counsel and real estate professionals to determine fair market value for the site.
In addition to rent payments, he noted the district would also reap value from the deal in the form of improvements to the property made by the team.
The only original building remaining on the site features a mosaic depicting the Sonoran Desert that was designed by past Tonalea Elementary students.
According to Cantor, the building was protected during demolition and Phoenix Rising has promised to keep the building and mural in place.
“And I told anybody that if anybody wanted to do anything with that property and they wanted to do anything to demolish that building, they’d have to go over me to do it,” Cantor said.
It is unclear when the district and team plan to make the deal official.
Menzel, the superintendent, said the process is moving forward “slowly” and the district wants to gather community input before bringing a proposal before the governing board for approval.
The district will host a hybrid in-person and virtual open house at SUSD’s Mohave District Annex, 8500 E. Jackrabbit Rd., on Dec. 10 to share the team’s long-term plans for the campus.
The meeting will be limited to 20 in-person guests and will also be streamed virtually via Microsoft Teams.
Board Vice President Patty Beckman emphasized the need to communicate plans with the community.
“I do feel this is really important to the community,” Beckman said. “It’s been a long time coming, and I want to make sure, similar to our rebuilds or builds, that we do…something that lets the community know, lets neighbors know that may not otherwise get emails or be involved in our schools, of what we are planning for that area.”