The city’s portion of the Soleri Plaza in downtown Scottsdale is now Solstice Park, marking an early win for Mayor David Ortega three months into his first term.
On March 16, City Council voted 5-2 to officially name Scottsdale’s 43rd park, which is also the city’s smallest park to date at less than half an acre.
The city owns a little less than half of the plaza, which features a bridge and other artistic elements designed by architect Paolo Soleri on a small patch of land on the south bank of the Arizona Canal southwest of the intersection of Camelback and Scottsdale roads.
Salt River Project owns the land that is directly abutting canal.
Functionally, not much will change following the park designation. The city already cleaned and maintained its portion of the property and made it available for a number of special events in the area, including the annual Canal Convergence art festival.
Assistant City Manager Bill Murphy said the city may now be able to offer some leisure activities in the plaza to local residents, though he did not specify what they would include.
Ortega proposed the creation of Solstice Park as part of a larger plan to preserve city-owned land in and around the Arizona Canal for city events.
Comparing the site to Stonehenge, he said the rebrand would make the area more marketable and attractive to tourists by taking advantage of unique features designed by Soleri to mark solar events.
“At each summer solstice (June 21) when the sun is highest in the sky, no shadow is cast,” according to Scottsdale Arts, which maintains the bridge.
“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.”
Opponents said the creation of Solstice Park was about more than marketing or tourism.
Councilwoman Linda Milhaven, who voted against the measure, alleged it was an under-handed way to make it more difficult for marijuana dispensaries to open downtown.
Public parks are considered a protected use under Scottsdale’s City Ordinance, meaning a dispensary cannot be located within 1,500 feet of the plaza now that it is officially a city park.
Milhaven said she believed the park proposal “is really window dressing for trying to prohibit that from being in the downtown rather than addressing that issue directly, so given that I think this lacks transparency…and given that there’s no real benefit to calling it a park, I can’t support this item.”
Scottsdale has received criticism from medical marijuana advocates in the past for having protections that are too restrictive, resulting in a lack of access to medical marijuana in the southern part of the city.
There is currently only one dispensary in southern Scottsdale east of McCormick Ranch at Pima Road and Via de Ventura despite the fact that the state issued an additional license for the southern portion of the city in 2017.
Attempts to open a second dispensary have run into roadblocks, most notably in 2019 when Sunday Goods attempted to rezone a building east of Scottsdale Road and 5th Avenue to allow for a dispensary but failed in the face of opposition from local property owners due to its proximity to a nearby preschool and Christian Science reading room.
Beyond the dispensary issue, Milhaven and Councilwoman Tammy Caputi said they did not understand the point of creating the park, arguing the new designation will effectively change very little about how the plaza is maintained or utilized.
Supporters of the change said the plaza has effectively been a park for years, citing the numerous public events held there, and that it was time the city made it official.
“As a park, it’s small but mighty…it’s important that if it looks like a park and walks like a park, let’s just call it a park and not play games with it,” Councilwoman Betty Janik said.