The Metro Report
The Valley’s already booming economy prepares for an ambitious future.
By Peter O’Dowd
Surf park to bring millions to one lucky city and the entire region
Somewhere below this vast valley of dust and desert landscapes, an oasis is about to spring forth—a $250 million outdoor park on the scale of Disneyland but with an aquatic propensity previously unseen in Arizona.
Waveyard Development, founded by a life-long surfer and a former wireless executive, is capitalizing on the increased number of adventure sports enthusiasts flocking to Greater Phoenix. The plan is ambitious: a technological flurry of wave pools and whitewater rafting, kayaking and scuba diving—150,000 square feet of water surface in all—merged with a 320-room resort hotel, a conference center, retail, residential and restaurants on 200 acres. By incorporating these varied amenities into the master plan, Waveyard aims to become the nation’s first live, work and play surfing and adventure sports community. Developers cringe at the thought of calling Waveyard a theme park.
Wendell Pickett, managing partner of Greey-Pickett Landscape Architects, is leading the integration of Waveyard’s recreation and residential components. “Homebuilders are looking for the next growth driver in order to keep their pipelines full,” Pickett says in a prepared statement. “In a market of rising interest rates and declining demand, they need to remain competitive and add value to their product. The opportunity to surf, raft, snorkel, kayak and still be home by dinner is unprecedented in an urban environment.”
Developers Richard Mladick and Jerry Hug are keeping a tight lid on exactly where the park will break ground in 2007, though Mladick says the interest from several cities in the Phoenix area was extreme. Even as the group publicly gave the green light for development in June, a new municipality had come forward asking for consideration. “The impact on the city will be significant,” says Mladick, who spent the better part of his life in the ocean. “The city where it will be located has called this a transformational project. It will help define who and what that city is and drive the future growth around that city.”
However gung-ho the developers may be about their project today, the Waveyard concept started humbly. The original idea centered around a retail, entertainment and lodging concept with the potential to later bring in headline amenities like the whitewater course. But all signs pointed toward expansion when developers sat down with corporate sponsors and investment partners.
“Numerous feasibility studies were run by three separate companies on the Phoenix market and every time the capacity analysis exceeded our planning and design intentions for the original park,” Mladick says. “That’s what drove some of the growth.”
Phoenix has always had a radically under-served recreational market, developers say, which further supports Waveyard’s ambitious scope. Rawhide, the faux Western town that recently relocated from its longtime perch in north Scottsdale, was the state’s No. 2 tourist attraction behind the Grand Canyon for years, and Arizona is the only major metropolitan market without a theme park. This has always been attributed to the engineering challenges associated with the extreme temperature swings. Mladick says Waveyard is the logical approach to conquering these challenges in Arizona.
By catering to the nearly 39 million enthusiasts who participated in outdoor sports last year, according to the Outdoor Industry Association, Waveyard’s first-year attendance is projected to exceed 1 million, keeping dollars in Arizona that would otherwise be spent in coastal cities and drawing new revenue into the state during the scorching summer months.
Power Line Proposal Would Link States
Harquahala Switchyard, Ariz.— A California power company wants to build a 230-mile high-voltage transmission line from Harquahala Switchyard outside of Phoenix to a substation near Palm Springs, Calif. Officials at the Southern Edison Co. say the project, called Devers-Palo Verde No. 2 because it runs parallel to an existing line, will lower the cost of electricity for California customers and increase tax revenues and employment figures in Arizona. During a two-year construction period, 150 people will work on the project and Arizona’s economy will receive $85 million. Before construction starts, however, multiple state and federal agencies must grant approval, including permission from the Arizona Corporation Commission, the Bureau of Land Management and the California Public Utilities Commission.
Expansion to Feed Need for Lawyers
Phoenix, Ariz.—For a state of its size, Arizona produces fewer attorneys than many of its peers; but now the capital city and fifth largest metropolitan area in America will finally see its first private, urban law school. The Phoenix School of Law will relocate from Scottsdale this fall to a campus on the southeast corner of Indian School Road and Central Avenue, adjacent to Steele Indian School Park. The move will bring an anticipated 150 students, faculty and staff to the new location–a number that will increase to about 500 within the next three years. The school’s spokeswoman Jodi Weisberg says Arizona falls below the national average of lawyers per capita. The state has approximately two attorneys per 1,000 citizens compared to the U.S. standard of 3.7 per 1,000. This is the first law school in Arizona that offers part-time and evening classes.
Mayor Keeps Commuter Rail Dream Alive
Lichfield Park, Ariz.— It may not be as glamorous as the light rail project snaking through Metro Phoenix, but Lichfield Park Mayor Woody Thomas believes commuter rail could service the region within the decade. The Maricopa Association of Governments put $300,000 into next year’s budget to study the feasibility of commuter rail and the Arizona Department of Transportation allocated $400,000 to update their reports, says Thomas. Thomas says light rail issues often clash with commuter rail proposals based on the “scepter of money” and fears that a regional transportation system would compete for light rail customers. But advocates say the two are complementary. Questions remain, however: How much would commuter rail cost? Is freight rail—running at capacity—able to share track? One proposed route would run from downtown Phoenix to near the Palo Verde power plant in the West Valley with only a handful of stops. Thomas says the East Valley would have similar opportunities.
Metro Job Growth Tips National Scales
Phoenix, Ariz.— With population surging in all corners of the state, Greater Phoenix has edged ahead of every metropolitan area in the nation in at least one growth category. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 308 metropolitan areas reported over-the-year increases in non-farm payroll employment from April 2005 to April 2006. Of those cities, the Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale area topped the list with 97,800 new jobs. Next was the Dallas area, which trailed the Valley by nearly 17,000 jobs. Not surprisingly, Valley unemployment also improved. At 3.6 percent in April 2006, it fell 0.4 percent from the previous year. The Arizona Department of Commerce announced it would receive recognition from Area Development magazine for its involvement in the state’s employment growth. The magazine acknowledged Intel, Countrywide and Verizon projects that brought approximately 3,600 jobs to Chandler in 2005.