(Source: AZCentral): Lily Altavena – Construction on the first phase of a sprawling, 272-acre park on the southern end of Gilbert will begin this fall, the town’s park director said.
The build-out of the first 30 acres will be a major milestone in what’s been a years-long plan for the park on the southwest corner of Queen Creek and Higley roads. The Town Council heard an update on the project in December and expects the design of Phase 1 to conclude this summer.
“I love the idea that we’re going to be able to make this for all generations and families for whatever spot in life they’re in,” Mayor Jenn Daniels said.
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When completed, it will be the largest park in Gilbert, Parks and Recreation Director Rod Buchanan said.
Here’s what you need to know about the massive park:
1. What the first phase will include
- Eight pickle ball courts.
- Six tennis courts.
- A play structure accessible to people with disabilities.
- 300 parking spaces.
- A splash pad.
Buchanan confirmed that the play structure will be inclusive, following in the footsteps of a newly-opened structure in Scottsdale.
“There will be something for everyone,” Daniels said.
Design is ongoing, but Buchanan said future parkgoers can expect to “see all the way to the San Tan Mountains.”
“We are looking at taking advantage of vistas,” he said.
2. When the park is expected to open
The first phase of construction will be done in time for an opening in June 2019, Buchanan said.
That doesn’t mean construction will be entirely over, though it’s unclear when construction on other phases will begin. The park could be completely done in five to 10 years, he said, “if funding is identified.”
3. How much the park is going to cost
All told, Gilbert will spend about $100 million on the massive park, Buchanan said.
Funding for the first phase is estimated to cost $16.9 million and will primarily be covered by system development fees, which is money the town collects from building permits.
Gilbert officials haven’t entirely hammered out how it will pay for future phases of the park. However, Buchanan said the town expects about $35 million to $40 million to come from the voter-approved sale of town land. The town will attempt to sell property, also in the southern part of town, this fall.
4. What private-public partnerships could exist
The park will include partnerships between the town and private organizations.
“The goal is to add something in our community recreation mix that we don’t already have,” he said.
Buchanan said the town is looking over responses to a request for proposals from private companies for the park and will soon go into negotiations. He cited a few examples of possible public-private partnerships: a water park, a sports academy and an ice rink.
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This would hardly be the first private-public partnership for Gilbert.
The town is still embroiled in a costly legal battle with Big League Dreams, the operator of a troubled sports complex built by Gilbert and opened in 2008. The Town Council axed its contract with Big League Dreams in September, a third of the way into a 30-year deal. Court documents claim broken promises on both sides and the town asserts that the deal ended up being costly for Gilbert.
5. What residents want
The town conducted extensive community surveys to get a sense of what residents really wanted for the park, Buchanan said.
A 2015 needs assessment found Gilbert has a high need for sports fields. A community engagement summary indicates there’s also a high need for an amphitheater, an aquatic center, a lake and a splash pad.
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All are planned for the park with the exception of the aquatic center.
Gilbert Regional Park will also contribute to economic development and officials hope it will attract more people to the town.
“It will serve an underserved area at the moment,” Buchanan said.
On a Gilbert community Facebook page, residents told The Arizona Republic what they thought about the planned park.
“We live a five-minute bike ride away and have been patiently waiting for a big park to come this way,” wrote Christine Kopp, a four-year resident of Gilbert.
Joshua Morris, who has lived in Gilbert for 20 years, said he’s looking forward to the park’s economic benefits.
“We should all see our property values increase with the influx of capital funds,” he wrote. “Somewhat concerned about traffic but we will have to see the traffic flow studies when they are released.”
While the potential 10-year timeline for the park and $100 million price tag can seem daunting, the mayor called the buildup of the park “a marathon, not a sprint.” The park, she said, will be a 100-year investment for the community.
“We get to see this for generations to come,” Daniels said.