Gilbert reveals final design for massive regional park

Key changes include reductions in retail space and sports fields.

Engineers have revealed the final design for a 272-acre, $174 million regional park in Gilbert, the culmination of a five-month process that began with nearly 30 options.

The revised plan has less commercial space and fewer sports fields than previous versions, with more precise — though still tentative — cost estimates and construction schedules.

Parks Director Rod Buchanan said the town saw "outstanding" participation from residents, business owners and park aficionados in the interviews, workshops and focus-group meetings devised to shape the final design. Gilbert officials believe the amenity could compete with the likes of Tempe's Kiwanis Park or Scottsdale's Indian Bend Wash Greenbelt at build-out.

The town, which already owned 47 of the 272 acres near Higley and Queen Creek roads, secured the adjacent 225 acres of Maricopa County Flood Control District land for recreational use last year for a token $10. The Flood Control District is building a basin on the land that will capture water from the Queen Creek and Sonoqui washes during storms.

Given the new park's size, the space likely will lend itself to large-scale events and tournaments with possible corporate sponsors in addition to daily use, according to the town. It also will help address Gilbert's master-plan goal of 1,070 acres of parkland when complete.

Here are five key pieces shared at the May 24 unveiling.

1. Commercial center

Previous designs included 90,000 to 100,000 square feet of commercial space, an element that met considerable pushback from some Parks, Recreation and Library Services Advisory Board members who worried about introducing a "fancy strip mall" that didn't mesh with the rest of the park.

The estimated square footage has shrunk to 30,000.

"We met with commercial, medical, retail and some other local developers and got some pretty good input from them regarding ... what this site could handle and what the current area already has around it," said Sean Wozny, civil engineer with Kimley-Horn and Associates, the consulting firm that helped prepare and present the final design.

Potential tenants could include local restaurants and retail related to park activities, such as a bicycle shop.

2. Fields 

Early park plans were "loaded up" with 37 sports fields to address the town's overall field needs.

"That was not well-received," Wozny said. "We heard, 'Less fields — scale it back.' They liked the 50 percent approach, where we included half the needed fields and then addressed other needs in the park."

The revised plan has five multipurpose fields, four soccer fields, four baseball fields and four softball fields.

Constructing that portion of the park will require the relocation of 2.5 million cubic yards of dirt, according to Wozny, which could take up to three years.

3. Aquatic and recreation center

In the final design, aquatic and recreation centers previously presented as separate amenities are combined into one 100,000-square-foot facility.

"One of the comments we heard, through not only the workshops but individual interviews, was the idea of utilizing one building for this facility, just looking for some savings in terms of operations and building or construction costs," Wozny said.

Development of the sprawling center would warrant its own feasibility study to determine specific activities it could host and the square footage needed for each, he said.

For a full-size image of the design, click here.

4. Price and financing

A tentative cost summary released with the final design pegged total construction expenses at about $174 million, a hefty price tag that would require voter approval of a parks-bond package.

It's not yet clear how much bond funding the town would request.

Gilbert also is considering the sale of about 140 acres of surplus town land to offset construction costs, according to Buchanan, the parks director.

The sale could raise an estimated $35 million to $40 million depending on the market at the time of the sale, he said. The town could recoup some costs through retail-tenant leases as well.

5. Construction timeline

Previous construction timelines had the first phase of the park opening as early as 2018.

According to the new schedule, initial construction phases wouldn't finish before July 2019, and the full park could take until 2027 to complete.

Phasing could be broken down as follows:

  • Phase 1: Lake, playground, splash pad, pickleball courts, tennis courts, sand-volleyball courts, turf area, restroom building, parking, infrastructure improvements.
  • Phase 2: Recreation and aquatic center, parking, road work, disc-golf course, skate park, bike park, amphitheater, multiuse path, trails, basketball courts.
  • Phase 3: Sports fields, amphitheater, playground, ramadas, multiuse path and trail extensions, ropes course, food-truck plaza, great lawn, restroom buildings, road work.
  • Phase 4: Multiuse center, retail, parking.

The Gilbert Town Council is expected to review the plan at its June 23 meeting. Detailed conversations about financing mechanisms will follow.

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