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firm that has created its own Think Tank – a room packed with sketches, photographs, architectural concepts and related historical documents — at its offices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.”