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Renderings for the Desert Discovery Center, now Desert EDGE, show a smaller footprint and reduced cost.
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The non-profit planning the center released its plans on Monday, the night before community meetings start.

Plans for Scottsdale’s Desert Discovery Center released Monday show a smaller project, lower price tag and a new name.

The new moniker is Desert EDGE.

The 47,586-square-foot facility to educate visitors about desert living would cover 5.34 acres near Gateway Trailhead in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve and carry a $61.2 million price tag, according to the report.

That’s pared back from a 2010 feasibility study that envisioned a $74 million, 72,000-square-foot center sprawled across a third of a 30-acre area.

Leaders at Desert Discovery Center Scottsdale, which was contracted by Scottsdale to plan the center, say the latest plan is based on community feedback. The non-profit has spent the past 18 months reaching out to residents and community leaders.

They hope the tweaks will be enough to quell criticism, they said, which has grown increasingly organized.Opponents can be seen with “No DDC” bumper stickers and plan to attend upcoming public meetings to share their criticisms. Their concerns include building in the preserve, increased traffic and cost.

MORE: Groups threaten to sue over Desert Discovery Center Scottsdale vote

Initial community meetings are scheduled for 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4-7 p.m.Aug. 1 at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, 7380 E. Second St. A series of meetings will occur through late September when the Scottsdale City Council will take it up.

“I think we have done a lot of listening — there’s a lot more to do,” architect John Sather said. “We just know that democracy is all about healthy debate.”

The long-discussed center could break ground as early as winter 2020 if it moves forward. It’s not yet known whether council will approve the project or send it to voters as some, including Mayor Jim Lane, have called for.

What would it look like?

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The designs by Scottsdale-based Swaback Partners call for eight low indoor/outdoor pavilions that would take advantage of desert vistas.

Interpretive courtyards would tie the pavilions together.

“Remember, this is not a refrigerated box we’re bringing you into. It is not a museum,” Sather said in a released statement. “It’s a living structure that is very much integrated into the desert and fulfills many principles of biomimicry, where we’re really interfacing with the desert as one.”

The latest plan moves the project about 500-700 feet southwest to take advantage of a drop in elevation that should make the project minimally visible from the street or nearby neighborhoods, according to the DDCS.

The existing building at the Gateway Trailhead is about 20 feet taller than the proposed Desert EDGE facilities, Swaback design partner Brent Harris said.

Overflow parking would be off the preserve site, according to the DDCS.

Who will pay for it?

New plans for the Desert Discovery Center, now known as Desert EDGE, show a slightly reduced footprint and cost. (Photo: Swaback Partners)

Supporters emphasize the plan would require no new taxes, although it would lean on the city’s bed and preserve taxes, as well as private donations.

Hotel guests staying in Scottsdale pay the bed tax, while the preserve tax is a voter-approved levy the city has used largely to acquire preserve land.  

The Scottsdale City Council previously mandated the plan must require at least 10 percent of the capital funding come from fundraising. 

DDCS leaders say they are committed to raise at least that amount for capital costs and could raise more for other expenses such as startup costs and operating reserves. 

The DDCS could ask the city for $700,000 annually during the center’s first five years. Executive Director and former Mayor Sam Campana said at a news conference Tuesday the group is not going to ask the city for the money, though.

“We’re not going to ask for that,” she said. “We’re just trying to be transparent and remind the city they have allowed that.”

DeEtte Person, DDCS spokeswoman, said once open, the non-profit would take care of the center’s ongoing operating costs, which it would fund through memberships, admissions and fundraising.

Annual operating costs are expected to be nearly $6.3 million, with about 30 percent of that from contributed revenue and the remainder earned. The DDCS expects to charge about $17.50 in admission, with Scottsdale residents getting in free once per month.

Other revenue opportunities could come from a retail shop and a restaurant, according to the operating plan.

Campana said the restaurant has been scaled back to more of a cafe setting, based on feedback from residents who didn’t want to see a destination dining location that close to home.

She said it would serve locally-crafted beer and wine but would not be a bar.

Partnership with ASU

The new plans tout a partnership with Arizona State University’s Global Drylands Institute.

ASU researchers would be located at the center and post-doctorate fellows would be able to research the desert from Desert EDGE, the report says.

The university hasn’t committed to any ongoing funding. But ASU already has put up about $26,000 and could pay for millions of dollars in researchers, equipment and studies, Wellington “Duke” Reiter, senior adviser to ASU president Michael Crow, said Tuesday.

The center also would feature virtual-reality field trips for K-12 students.

Visitors to the site could take advantage of lectures, workshops and exhibits on the Sonoran Desert.

About 228,000 to 385,000 visitors are expected annually, according to the report. 

Why the name change?

Sather said he and a project designer stood on Thompson Peak Parkway one afternoon and felt like they were on the edge dividing Scottsdale development and nature.

Thus, the name Desert EDGE, he said.

There also are practical reasons. He said he didn’t want there to be any confusion between the project and an existing Desert Discovery Center in Barstow, California.

The DDCS, in its report to the city, also points out that a Google search for “DDC” often returns results for the Desert Diamond Casino, which opened near Glendale in 2015. The casino now owns the name “DDC,” the report says.

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