Gila River Community plans mammoth playground The Mesa Tribune | The Hometown Newspaper for the city of Mesa, AZ

Gila River Community plans mammoth playground

February 9th, 2021 Mesa Tribune Staff
Gila River Community plans mammoth playground
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By PAUL MARYNIAK
Tribune Executive Editor

The Gila River Indian Community and a Scottsdale development company are poised to begin work on a 3,300-acre sports and entertainment complex at Wild Horse Pass.

Sunbelt Holdings President John Graham told the Tribune that the development, located just south of the Loop 202-I-10 intersection, will fill a “missing corner” of the East Valley with additional hotels, a wellness center, an event center, an outdoor amphitheater music entertainment venue, sports facilities, outdoor recreation and parks, restaurants, retail and an office park.

Sunbelt has partnered with the Wild Horse Pass Development Authority, the tribe’s economic development arm. The project team also includes the planning-design firms of CallisonRTKL and Kimley Horn as well as real estate consultant Elliott D. Pollack & Company.

“This expansion furthers our vision to provide additional economic development opportunities for Wild Horse Pass, GRIC, and the Greater Metropolitan Phoenix area,” said Donald Antone, the Wild Horse Authority board chairman.

Even before the overall project was unveiled, the site was announced as the home for a new stadium being built by Phoenix Rising, the state’s largest professional soccer team.

The stadium, which is expected to open for the May start of the 2021 season, will have a 35 percent greater capacity than the team’s previous 6,200-seat venue at its previous home at McClintock Drive and Loop 202, and will offer permanent bathrooms, paved parking with multiple entrances and exits, a double-sided video screen, more practice fields and “improved family and VIP experiences,” according to the team.

Mark Gardo, a spokesman for the Wild Horse Pass Development Authority, said the stadium will cost “in excess of at least several million dollars,” and that funding will come from Wild Horse Pass and the club.

The Wild Horse Pass Authority is already home to Gila River Hotels & Casinos – Wild Horse Pass, the Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass, Whirlwind Golf Club, Aji Spa, Rawhide Western Town & Event Center, Phoenix Premium Outlets, KOLI Equestrian Center, Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park and the Bondurant High Performance Driving School.

Graham said he envisions a lengthy buildout for the project, though some new tenants are expected to be announced within the near future.

“The stuff we do is long term in nature,” he said. “Our first plan is kind of a 10-year plan but I would believe between this land and other tribal land around it that it’s a 30-year build-out.”

A 40-year-old developer of master-planned residential and commercial properties in Arizona, Sunbelt Holdings will lead the project and provide asset and construction management as well as marketing services.

“We can’t sell the land; It’s all got to be ground leased, but that’s something that we’re very attuned to,” Graham said. “On behalf of ASU, we’ve managed and marketed their research park in Tempe since 1992 and that’s all ground-leased – we can’t sell it. So we certainly know how to do it.”

The Gila Development Authority White concurs. General Manager David White said, “Sunbelt Holdings’ proven expertise and reputation in master plan development, their blue-ribbon portfolio and deeply-rooted community connections made them the ideal partner for this expansion project.”

White also said the project will create new jobs for tribal members “and will evolve our culture and legacy.”

Graham said he also is excited about working with the tribe.

“I think that’s one of the things that excites me about the opportunity the most – is to work with them to celebrate their culture and heritage and at the same time to create economic development opportunities to benefit the tribal members,” Graham said, adding that it also will have ripple effects on that portion of the East Valley as well as Ahwatukee.

“I view it as an additional piece of economic development potential for the whole area,” he added.

Graham said the project also is benefitting not only from the completion of the South Mountain Freeway – which opened opportunities farther west on the GRIC’s sprawling 372,000 community – but also from the planned widening of I-10 between Phoenix and Casa Grande.

“We’ll have multiple interchanges on it,” he said. “We’ll have direct access into Ahwatukee on 40th Street and 48th Street, as well as Chandler…It’s a phenomenal piece of property.”

Sunbelt Holdings has developed more than 50,000 acres of land, including residential communities like the 3,800-home McDowell Mountain Ranch in Scottsdale, the 9,800-household Power Ranch in Gilbert and the 5,600-home Vistancia. Its commercial developments include the Marina Heights and Hayden Ferry Lakeside projects in Tempe and the PV303 industrial project in Goodyear that will include more than 20 million square feet of industrial, office and retail space on a 1,600-acre site near the Loop 303 and I-10.

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