More than 150 people turned out for the groundbreaking ceremony for Gilbert’s yet-to-be-named regional park on Tuesday morning. The ceremony officially kicked off Phase 1 of the massive 272-acre park, located in southeast Gilbert. The park runs along the west side of Higley Road and stretches southward from Queen Creek Road to the south of Ocotillo Road.

Gilbert Parks and Recreation Director Rod Buchanan, mayor Jenn Daniels and Maricopa County Supervisor Denny Barney all spoke to the crowd, which included council members from neighboring communities Queen Creek and Chandler.

In her remarks, Daniels thanked the town staff and community members who put in the time and effort to make it possible to have, “this momentous occasion for the Town of Gilbert and all of our residents and also for the future residents of Gilbert.”

Daniels stressed that parks are a vital part of a tight-knit community, and “this is going to be a place where we connect with one another. That is the importance of parks and that’s the reason why, as a town, we find investing in them to be so valuable.”

Phase 1 of the park is made up of 30 acres and will include tennis courts, pickleball courts, a large playground with a separate tot playground area, a splash pad, restrooms, ramadas and trails and sidewalks. Residents will not see the heavy equipment moving earth on site until September, as crews first will conduct surveying work and dig a well at the site. Phase 1 is expected to be completed by September of 2019.

Haydon Building Co. is the lead construction firm in charge of turning the former Maricopa County Flood Control District land into a showpiece for the town. When fully complete, the park is expected to cost $100 million to build, with Phase 1 costs expected to be an estimated $18 million. Gilbert is hoping to pay for future phases of the project through voter-approved land sales.

Town officials also noted that they are currently in talks with several private companies about joint projects in the park. While no specific projects are planned, some past ideas included a public-private aquatics or recreation center at the park, as well as commercial spaces that could include shops and restaurants. The town is confident that once Phase 1 of the park is done and potential investors see the traffic that the park generates, they will jump at the chance to have businesses in that location.

“What went from a great public resource in the form of a massive hole in the ground for flood control, is now going to become something that is not a liability to taxpayers, but a tremendous asset, not just to the town, but to the region,” said Barney, who is a Gilbert resident. “This is a regional asset. While it’s being funded and driven by the great town of Gilbert, this will become a legacy asset that will bless families in this community for generations.”