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09/18/17 Newsletter

Hot Issue: Desert Edge build in the McDowell Mountain Preserve?

 What do you know about your Scottsdale McDowell Sonoran Preserve ?

What is the Preserve? 30,580 plus acres of pristine desert environment set aside by the citizens of Scottsdale as a Preserve--not "park". It is 26% of our total city with 182 miles of trails and 11 trail heads. There is hope to purchase approx. 4,000 more acres.

Purpose: To protect and preserve the desert. Preserve Ordinance 2000: "The preserve will be left in as pristine a state as possible to maintain for this and future generations, in perpetuity, a nearby natural desert refuge from the rigors of urban life."

Where? The Preserve is located in NE Scottsdale and includes the McDowell Mountains and the native desert to the north of Dynamite Blvd from Pima Road to 136th Street.


When ? The preserve movement started in 1990. In 1994 the original Preserve boundary was established and the McDowell Sonoran Preserve Commission was created. In May 1995 with Prop 400  Voters approved a tax increase of 0.2% to buy pristine desert lands for the Preserve. The 1998 Charter Amendment to protect preserve lands and to expand the Preserve boundary was approved. 2004 added another sales tax increase of 0.15% for additional land purchases and to fund "improvements thereto" was approved.


How is the public involved? There were five public votes that approved to form the Preserve, expand it, two sales tax increases to pay for it, a Charter amendment to protect it, and to use municipal bonds to buy the pristine desert land. The McDowell Sonoran Conservancy, with 600 plus volunteers, provides flora and fauna research at no cost to the city and educational hikes, lectures and trail walks for tour groups, also maintenance,trail construction, vegetation care and re-vegetation at no cost to the city.


Who is in charge? City of Scottsdale Preserve Director Kroy Ekblaw under city council direction.The McDowell Sonoran Preserve Commission (city council appointed commissioners on 3 year terms) provides oversight and makes recommendations to the city council on Preserve issues.


How is it paid for?  Voters approved two sales tax increases to buy the land, one in 1994 (0.2%) and one in 2004 (0.15%). The cost is about $1 billion including bond debt.In addition Growing Smarter state funds were used to supplement city funds for State Trust Lands reclassified as "suitable for conservation"

What pays for the maintenance and operations? The Preserve Fund revenue source total of 0.35% sales tax.


The city council issued a contract to Desert Discovery Center Scottsdale (DDCS) to develop a concept design for a tourist attraction facility inside the Preserve. Opposition grew quickly beginning with the immediate area neighborhoods and Preserve advocates. 

 What do you know about the DDC/Desert Edge?

What is it? A design concept for a site and buildings to be used for informing the public about the desert environment. interpretive, educational, desert appreciation complex. Preserve Ordinance 2000: "support tourism in the community by providing public outdoor educational opportunities for visitors." The project name has been changed to Desert Edge.
How large is it? It was never 30 acres. That was the Study Boundary. Never was there a thought to bulldoze 30 acres. The 30 acres designated by city council includes the Gateway tail head and parking areas plus an area for the complex, originally 10 to 15 acres. Currently plans are for less than 6 acres within the originally designated 30 Preserve acres with 8 pavilions and less than 50,000 square feet of structures.
When did it begin? 1986 is cited when a privately funded conceptual plan and programming study for a "desert discovery center" was completed, 1988 Feasibility Study and 1990 Vision to protect 34,000 acres. The original center was to be at Pinnacle Peak Park and was moved to the Gateway area in 1997 by a Consent Agenda item.
How has the public been involved? The public has been invited to attend community group presentations, public hearings, become informed through the DE/city website and to complete surveys. Additionally, interested residents have been invited informally to the studio on Cattletrack.
What is DDCS doing now? They completed the design concept for a desert facility located in the Preserve, are seeking a Master Use Municipal Site Plan Amendment to allow it, and seeking Preserve ordinance legal interpretations to allow its uses that are being challenged as a violation of the current Preserve Ordinance. The Desert Edge site plan and displays will be presented to the City Council study session (no vote) , September 26th, Tuesday 5 pm. The public is welcome.
Who is incharge? Desert Discovery Center Scottsdale, LLC is under contract with the City of Scottsdale; staff project manager is Gary Meyer. If approved and built, the city owns the land and buildings and the Desert Edge group would be under contract as facility operator.
Where does the funding come from? Funding sources will be determined by city council. Possible sources are Bed Tax, Preserve Funds, and General Funds from the city and private sources. Funding the DE will not require new taxes. DDCS must raise $270,000 in private funds and in-kind contributions for this project phase and the city contracts commits the private sector to a goal of raising 10% of the capital costs. It is planned as a public/private not-for-profit partnership.
How much will the center cost? Final planning and design is required to be precise.  Estimates are $56-64 million in hard and soft costs which includes buildings, exhibits, public art, furniture, fixtures, equipment, permits, design, engineering, contingency, start-up budget, operating reserves/endowment fund to name a few expenditures

Okay, Readers, this is the background preparation for the Monday COGS E-Newsletter. Tomorrow will be the Opposition concerns and challenges to the Desert Edge project and/or location inside the Scottsdale McDowell Sonoran Preserve..

The DDCS information above was provided by Director, Sam Campana and materials from the city. More details at or contact

Thank you for taking your valuable time to read the COGS E-Newsletter and to be an informed resident. Feel free to forward to your HOA neighbors or friends. Our help and support are totally free--might charge you a smile and thank you though.   


Sonnie Kirtley, COGS Chair 



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