McDowell Sonoran Preserve

Desert Discovery Center Scottsdale lists progress

Since being hired by the city of Scottsdale, the Desert Discover Center Scottsdale has been investigating the feasibility of building a proposed desert interpretive facility at the Gateway to the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

The first half of the Desert Discover Center’s 18-month contract has been spent working with designers from New York-based Thinc Design to define the Desert Discovery Center concept, personally meeting with more than 2,000 people to discuss the project and gain public feedback and surpassing its $270,000 fundraising goal.

The City awarded DDCS a $726,900 contract on Jan. 11, 2016 to create a business plan and feasibility analysis, conduct public outreach and explore the fundraising potential of the project with the goal of offsetting the need for public dollars.

Other 2016 highlights include:

  • Held dozens of meetings with Arizona State University experts who have provided input and direction into the Desert Discovery Center education and research programs as well as the principal exhibit content
  • Gathered exhibit and content input from the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community and several local conservation groups
  • Initiated ongoing collaboration with education community (Scottsdale Unified School District, Scottsdale Community College, Paradise Valley Community College and Arizona State University’s Global Institute of Sustainability) to create an educational program, including science curriculum for 3rd/4th grade SUSD students
  • Collaborated with Swaback Partners PLLC, the City-hired architect firm that has created its own Think Tank – a room packed with sketches, photographs, architectural concepts and related historical documents — at its offices
  • Engaged ConsultEcon, a nationally recognized nonprofit business consultant, to formulate the Desert Discovery Center business plan according to the new exhibit experience and spatial programming
  • Held the inaugural Desert Discovery Center Nature Film Festival, which netted more than $30,000 and engaged more than 250 community members
  • Partnered with the McCormick Kiwanis Club to develop the Nature Zone at the inaugural Children’s Play & Learn Festival at WestWorld
  • Participated in the Arizona Forward Valley Educators Forum
  • With the City of Scottsdale, created a public workshop that included eight sessions where the community could engage with the designer and architect
  • Throughout the year, met with nearly 2,000 community leaders, educators, donors, neighbors, conservation groups and interested stakeholders in Scottsdale and throughout the Valley
  • Raised nearly $280,000 in cash and almost $50,000 in in-kind donations for a total of nearly $330,000 — $60,000 more than the City of Scottsdale-required $270,000 financial contribution
  • Expanded the governing boards to include four business leaders – Diana Yazzie Devine (Native American Connections), John Graham (Sunbelt Holdings/Urban Land Institute), Mike Miller (Nationwide Insurance), Steve Hilton (Meritage Homes) — and two prominent educators, Dr. Art DeCabooter (former president, Scottsdale Community College, and original chair, McDowell Sonoran Preserve Commission) and Dr. Jan Gehler (president, Scottsdale Community College)

“We have been out in the community nearly every day of 2016,” said Sam Campana, executive director, Desert Discovery Center Scottsdale. “We know there are several questions surrounding the proposed location at the Gateway to the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. In response, we’ve worked with our experience designer to advance a concept for a small footprint at the very edge of the Preserve where visitors can look into the Preserve and out to the surrounding urban community. This juxtaposition showcases our big vision for exploring how to live well in desert environments.

“Further, we are exploring offsite locations where we could house non-essential services, locating only those components of the Desert Discovery Center on the Preserve that are necessary for the experience we are looking to create.”

The DDCS contract with the City of Scottsdale continues through summer 2017. Over the next several months, the full concept for the Desert Discovery Center will emerge and will ultimately be presented to the Scottsdale City Council in fall 2017.

Next years plans for the group include:

  • Work with Thinc Design to finalize the Interpretation Plan to guide the creation of the Desert Discover Center experiences
  • Collaborate with Swaback Partners to finalize the site plan and conceptual design
  • Continue to meet with community stakeholders, particularly those interested in education and research, to further inform the concept
  • Provide another opportunity for public dialogue in spring 2017
  • Craft a pilot education program to engage the Scottsdale Unified School District and other local educators with a curriculum especially designed for the Desert Discovery Center
  • Hold the second annual Desert Discovery Center Film Festival on the Summer Solstice
  • Continue to cultivate donor relationships
  • Present the final conceptual plan, including business and funding plan, to the Scottsdale City Council

“We look forward to bring a concept forward that will serve as a community point of pride and as a capstone for the Valley’s educators to teach the next generation of conservationists what it means to live sustainably in the desert,” said Campana. “We have the right team in place to ensure this project will sensitively showcase the McDowell Sonoran Preserve and what it means to the community and to the world, itself.”

21 thoughts on “Desert Discovery Center Scottsdale lists progress

    1. Mary Leimbeck

      I am totally against the DDC and will do anything to stop it. It is appalling what the City Council & Mayor Lane are shoving down our throats! We will not stand by and see our desert destroyed! NO DDC!!!!!

    2. EJP

      Ummm, can someone please define preserve, oh yeah to keep as is, for future folks to enjoy. This whole project smells to high heaven. Let’s put it to a vote

  1. No DDC

    The NoDDC Organization has filed an initiative for 2018 to force this project to a public vote. We have also requested the Arizona Attorney General to review the City’s funding of this project. We will be launching a lawsuit intended to stop the project this month. The best source of information can be found on our facebook page at We have more people following us than Mayor Jim Lane and Councilmembers Korte, Klapp and Milhaven combined. The community is avidly opposed to this project without a public vote. Campana and her band of con-artists have spent our tax dollars on trips, meals, and controlled-meetings where they and city staff attempt to silence opposition. Details of all the financial malfeasance and insider deals can be found on our website and facebook page. The Desert Discovery Center project is everything wrong with how Scottsdale is being governed. It is a violation of the City Charter and the most massive zoning exemption yet conceived by our anti-resident Council majority. Please help us take our city back and protect our preserve from this parasitic commercialism. We are seeking volunteers to help with signature gathering and contributions to our legal fees.

  2. Lyn Hamacher

    This is an atrocity. The desert is beautiful as it is and there already is a beautiful visitor center. This will destroy the preserve, not enhance it. Nobody who lives in that area wants this to happen, so shameful.

  3. Blair Kenney

    Beyond comprehension how this won’t be put to a vote. Your “small” footprint is complete nonsense and the only ones who benefit will be those with the consulting gig (Sam), those with the design contract (Swaback), and whoever ends up building this thing. If you’re so certain about the benefits it will bring to the City of Scottsdale and its residents, why are you so afraid of putting it to a vote?

  4. MJMcGuinness

    Absolutely the WORST use of public lands I have EVER heard of. The joy of hiking in natural desert surroundings so close to the city is one of the prime attractions of Scottsdale and Phoenix. Don’t mess it up by commercializing it.

  5. Diane Freibaum

    DDC ruins the preserve. I cannot believe our elected officials are pursuing this project. The last thing Scottsdale needs is development in this beautiful area.

  6. wayne

    NO DDC! Sam Campana / Randy Schilling are you listening? Or are you having “high tea” at the Phoenician again on the tax payer dime?

  7. Carrie

    We, the taxpayers, paid for the preserve and we are not allowed a vote?!! The land is supposed preserved! We do not need a “project” to showcase the preserve!

  8. Terri Myers

    I’m absolutely against this, a preserve is just that a preserve, not a tourist attraction. In addition, this is in direct violation of the charter that governs the preserve. Crooks, all crooks.

  9. Amy

    Scottsdale city council – this needs to be put to a public vote. Please do the right thing and follow the existing charter that gives the citizens a vote on this. You are destroying trust with this project.

  10. Lisa

    Sam… your a liar. You have not been out in the community every day. If you really were you would know no one wants the DDC. Save the preserve!

  11. Martin Simonetti

    The preserve should be preserved. The leaders of DDCS have been disingenuous throughout the process. They just want access to our tax dollars. If this is to be built, build it on city owned land. Leave the preserve a preserve.

  12. Kat

    It is unbelievable that our Mayor and City Council have given over $1M to the DDCS to “explore” building a desert discovery center inside OUR preserve. Yes, Our preserve! Who do they think they are that to move forward spending taxpayer money to “explore” i.e. move forward with building this monstrosity without a public vote?! It is reprehensible and clearly shows that special interests are being served here. For if not, why not put it in front of the voters?

  13. Cara

    Leave the preserve exactly what it is, a preserve! I am so tired of these self fulfilling politicians, with no regard for the people. This is some of the most beautiful desert in the state.. enough building on every inch!!

  14. Carolyn LeBlanc

    I am firmly opposed to the DDC, and it is shocking that a handful of self-serving city despots are trying to cram it down our throats. While, it turns out, billing us for their lavish meals and entertainment. It is also a complete violation of the plain language of the preserve charter. Shame on Campana and her cronies.

  15. Yingchun He

    Please no building in the Preserve. Education and amusement activity can be held in other places. Buildings do not belong to desert.

  16. Scottsdale ❤️️

    It’s Preposterous to have to say: NO DDC on the PRESERVE!
    Stop this waste of taxpayer subsidies now! Put it to a vote. Then let’s get a new mayor and council who do what we voted them to do–keep Scottsdale Special with thoughtful growth!

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