West Valley transforms cotton fields into tourism magnets

Above: The Tohono O’odham Gaming Enterprise (TOGE) opened its new Desert Diamond Casino West Valley to the public in February. Business News | 17 Mar |

The story of West Valley tourism once centered on residents traveling to other areas of the Valley to recreate. Downtown Phoenix and Scottsdale dominated sources of entertainment, restaurants and other tourist attractions. The tale of West Valley tourism has clearly changed. Cities like Glendale — home to the Westgate Entertainment District, which is the mecca of West Valley entertainment options — are booming.

With newer attractions like State 48 Funk House Brewery, Escape Westgate, Low Key Piano Bar, and Lumberjaxes Axe Throwing Bar, Westgate and other area attractions prove that the West Valley tourism boom shows no signs of slowing down.

Date at Westgate

Watch a movie. Catch a hockey game. Throw an axe. Go shopping. Eat and then eat again. Westgate has everything for an all-day date, family outing, corporate retreat or single-shopper experience.

In addition to its latest arrivals, Westgate has long bolstered an impressive foundation of entertainment venues. Dave & Buster’s, Bar Louie, Buffalo Wild Wings, Yard House, McFadden’s, Kabuki Japanese Restaurant, Johnny Rockets, Stir Crazy Comedy Club, Just Sports, AMC Theatres — not too mention Gila River Arena, home to the Arizona Coyotes — are a sampling of what fortifies Westgate as a major tourism spot and economic driver for the region and state.

“Now is the perfect time for a spotlight on the Westgate Entertainment District,” says Danielle Dutsch, administrator for Visit Glendale. “Just recently, the District reached 100 percent occupancy for the first time since its 2006 opening. And, there is plenty more room to grow on 70 acres as YAM Properties continues to expand the complex, working to develop new and exciting shops along Glendale Avenue.”

“Westgate is an iconic property and its location, on the doorstep of Gila River Arena and State Farm Stadium, makes it a true entertainment destination,” adds Dan Dahl, director of real estate for YAM Properties. “Westgate is home to more than 50 tenants, offering a mix of dining, entertainment, retail and personal services. Additionally, the center includes a luxury apartment community.”

To help accommodate the West Valley’s growing hospitality demand, Glendale will soon see the arrival of several new hotels.

“These additions should boost overall hotel visits and revenue generated through the bed tax,” Dutsch says. “The city had just 400 beds when State Farm Stadium, formerly the University of Phoenix Stadium, opened 11 years ago. Today, Glendale has 1,695 guest rooms with more in the pipeline. When capacity is met by larger groups hosting events in Glendale, neighboring West Valley hotels benefit from the overflow.”

Scoop on the Loop (101)

“The Loop 101 corridor has been shaping up as a prime location for the West Valley’s entertainment options for more than a decade,” says Sintra Hoffman, president and CEO of WESTMARC. “With Topgolf, Desert Diamond Casino West Valley and new amenities coming to that central area, it’s evident why the West Valley is the place to recreate.”

In addition to Topgolf, Desert Diamond Casino, State Farm Stadium, Gila River Arena, and Arrowhead Mall, dozens of hotels dot the Loop 101. And while West Valley residents, as well as other Valley visitors, flock to these tourism destinations, local business owners are quick to share their geographic gratitude.

“Topgolf has so enjoyed being part of the Glendale community,” says Morgan Schaaf, communications manager for Topgolf Entertainment Group. “The West Valley is booming because of the expanding commercial development, as well as the real estate opportunities available. In recent years, sports, entertainment, arts and culture, events and venues have come to the region, making it one of the top destinations in Phoenix and throughout Arizona.”

Root for the home teams 

Fueling the hot tourism industry in the West Valley is sports. The Arizona Cardinals, Phoenix Coyotes, Phoenix Raceway (host to two NASCAR weekends each year) and nine Cactus League baseball teams all call the West Valley “home.”

“The Coyotes have played in Glendale since 2003 and have developed strong partnerships with the West Valley business community,” says Ahron Cohen, president and CEO of the Phoenix Coyotes. “One of the core pillars of our organization is to positively enrich our community and we are proud of our efforts over the past 17 years.”

Together, the West Valley’s home teams beckon residents and visitors from near and far, amassing a robust economic impact to the region and beyond.

“A 2018 ASU study found that the Cactus League generated $644 million in economic impact,” says Bridget Binsbacher, executive director of the Cactus League Baseball Association. “The report did not list specific spending in the West Valley, but it’s clear that impact is felt across the Valley.”

Binsbacher emphasizes that six out of 10 Cactus League game attendees come from out of state, so with an attendance of nearly 1.8 million, that’s a lot of tourism dollars coming into the state each Cactus League season.

“The West Valley is filled with out-of-town visitors watching spring-training baseball,” Dutsch says. “But Glendale sustains that momentum and goes beyond spring training with huge tourist draws to Gila River Arena, home of the Coyotes, as well as State Farm Stadium, which hosts the Fiesta Bowl each year and has also hosted the NCAA men’s college basketball Final Four and the NFL’s Super Bowl.”

In 2017, a study completed by the Seidman Research Institute at the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University demonstrated a $1.3 billion in economic impact, from four marquee events alone.

Diamond opportunities

Much West Valley tourism talk as of late, has centered on its newest casino.

“The opening of Desert Diamond West Valley Casino will truly tip the scale with new entertainment and dining options for this region,” Hoffman says. “This project has been in the works for many years and we’re thankful for the commitment, dedication and tenacity of the Tohono O’odham Nation’s tribal leadership, who stayed the course to make this happen. From an economic development perspective, the Desert Diamond Casino West Valley just added an incredible amenity to the region that will also serve as a business attraction asset.”

The $400 million project, which broke ground in December 2017, includes a 75,000-square-foot casino floor with Class III slot machines, poker and blackjack tables, live bingo, and five restaurants. And, has availed upwards of 3,000 local job opportunities.

Looking ahead

When anticipating the future of West Valley tourism, it’s important to remember that the latest research reveals that upwards of 1.6 million people live in the 15 communities that make up the West Valley. Additionally, upwards of 43 percent of the growth in Maricopa County within the next 25 years will take place in this area, according to WESTMARC.

It’s not only safe to say that economic impact and employment opportunities will continue to skyrocket, but more and more entertainment, dining, sports and recreation hot spots will make a home in the West Valley.

“With additional annual events that bring tourists to Glendale, such as the Mecum Auto Auction, new experiential attractions, updated and innovative hotels on the horizon, and groundbreaking restaurants, there’s no stopping Glendale and Arizona’s West Valley from becoming one of the most sought-after destinations for business and leisure travel,” Dutsch says.

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