Future of Waveyard, Gaylord resorts in doubt as recession takes toll - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Valley And State

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Future of Waveyard, Gaylord resorts in doubt as recession takes toll

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Posted: Saturday, May 14, 2011 2:30 pm

Plans to build two of the Valley’s largest tourism attractions — the Waveyard water park and the Gaylord resort — are being pushed back as their owners continue to suffer the recession’s aftermath.

Gaylord is asking for another three years to start its 1,500-room resort in Mesa, meaning nothing could happen until as late as 2017.

And Waveyard may never happen, as Mesa will terminate an agreement to sell land to a developer that’s failed to get financing since 2007.

The attractions would likely draw tourists nationwide and boost travel to Arizona.

Waveyard’s deal to buy city-owned land was about to expire in July, and it hadn’t submitted the required plans or proof of funding. Mesa extended a prior deadline by 18 months but wasn’t willing to do so again, said Jeffrey Gustin, Waveyard’s chief operations officer.

“It’s the first step for us collectively to move forward,” Gustin said. “We all recognize that it needs to happen.”

Waveyard isn’t giving up. It was first pitched as a 125-acre, $400 million water park with a resort and shopping center at the southeast corner of the Loop 101 and Loop 202 in northeast Mesa. The Chicago Cubs now plan a 100-acre spring training complex on the city-owned land. Waveyard is working on plans for just a water park on the remaining land.

Mesa’s termination letter said it intends to negotiate with Waveyard but cautioned it may not sign another deal. The City Council will vote on the termination Monday, along with the Gaylord extension.

Gustin said Waveyard has identified an interested New York investor. Waveyard will be easier to sell once work starts on the Cubs complex and investors can see neighboring amenities, he said.

“We’re hopeful that we can sort of attach ourselves to the back end of that,” Gustin said.

The Waveyard proposal was approved by 65 percent of Mesa voters in 2007.

Vice Mayor Scott Somers said Waveyard would be a great fit, and he’s open to talking with its developers.

“I fully expect that they’re going to come back to us with a scaled down version of their plan,” he said.

Gaylord’s delays are rooted in two areas. Its massive resorts cater to business travelers and conventions, which plunged about the time Gaylord proposed a Mesa location in 2008. The company took another hit a year ago, when a flood ravaged its flagship Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville. The company spent $270 million to repair the 2,800-room resort.

A company representative didn’t respond to an interview request. Gaylord has previously said it needs travel to pick up before it can build its Arizona resort at the former General Motors Proving Grounds in east Mesa.

It would be Arizona’s largest, with up to 1,500 rooms, a golf course and 1 million visitors a year.

A delay brings concerns the company may change priorities in time, but Somers said he’s not overly concerned. Gaylord’s site is already zoned, the land owner is still willing to sell and Mesa voters approved a $51 million incentive package to rebate bed taxes that would otherwise be used for tourism promotion.

“Right now we are the only real deal for them on the table and their own customers say that Arizona is one of their top picks for conventions, so I like our chances,” Somers said.

Arizona’s hotel industry plunged in the recession but a strong growth trend has emerged in recent months, said Michelle Streeter, a spokeswoman for the Mesa Convention and Visitors Bureau. Business travel in particular is on the rise, which Streeter said bodes well for what Gaylord envisions in Arizona. She pointed to a National Business Travel Association forecast that business travel will increase more than 6 percent annually this year and in 2012.

Gaylord is unlike anything in Arizona and would boost the Valley’s image nationwide, she said. “Having the extension is spectacular because we would like to see a property of their caliber not just in Mesa but in the Arizona marketplace, because they have such a unique business model for attracting large groups to this region and the impact will be felt statewide,” Streeter said.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-6548 or ggroff@evtrib.com

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