The controversial Desert Discovery Center, a desert attraction planned to be built in or near the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, just moved one step closer to reality on January 11 when the Scottsdale City Council committed $1.7 million to develop a specific design and business plan.

In a 6-1 vote, the council awarded a $727,000 contract to Desert Discovery Scottsdale Inc., a group of volunteers and professionals, to determine what the center woul look like, how it would operate, and what the proposed facility would cost. The group is also tasked with conducting outreach that includes presentations and town-hall meetings where residents will provide input on the center’s design and programming.

According to an article in The Arizona Republic and details provided online by the City of Scottsdale, the city will use bed-tax revenue, which is collected from hotels and typically reinvested in tourism-related projects, to fund this contract, a future contract for architectural design, and administrative and contingency costs. The total for all of this is expected to come in just under $1.7 million.

No one is sure at this point what a Desert Discovery Center would actually look like. Previous plans have ranged from a small visitor center to a multi-million dollar complex with exhibit halls, desert gardens, an amphitheater, a gift shop, a café or restaurant, and administrative offices.

Former Scottsdale Mayor Sam Campana, now executive director for Desert Discovery Center Scottsdale, has big plans for the center and compares her vision for it to the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California.

“When people leave that aquarium, they never look at the ocean the same way again,” she told The Arizona Republic. “That’s what we want to happen out here with the desert.”

But not everyone is excited about the center, planned for a proposed 30-acre site at the McDowell Sonoran Preserve Gateway Trailhead, on Thompson Peak Parkway about a half-mile north of Bell Road. Several local residents (DC Ranch, Windgate Ranch, and other communities surround the trailhead) and community activists have expressed concerns over the project’s costs and the center’s potential impact on the preserve.

Desert Discovery Scottsdale Inc. indicates on its website that, rather than damaging the preserve, the center will encourage preservation and instill in visitors a sense of respect for the surrounding Sonoran Desert. The group also maintains that the center will have minimal impact on existing trails.

Funding is a concern for everyone, though. Before breaking ground, the city will need to find the money to build and operate the Desert Discovery Center. How much money is needed will be determined by the plans now in development.

Supporters are confident the center can be funded through a combination of public funding and private donations. A 2010 consultant report indicates that if a large Desert Discovery Center is built, it could employ up to 80 workers, draw hundreds of thousands of visitors, and have a positive economic impact.

What’s your take on a potential Desert Discovery Center?

Don Matheson
Realtor | Founder
The Matheson Team – RE/MAX Fine Properties
21000 N. Pima Rd., #100, Scottsdale, AZ 85255