Over the next decade, Ahwatukee will be getting a big new neighbor – a 3,300-acre sports and entertainment complex that could give the Gila River Indian Community a rival to the Talking Stick Entertainment District just south of Scottsdale.
The project lead, Sunbelt Holdings of Scottsdale, and the tribe’s development arm, Wild Horse Pass Development Authority, envision additional hotels, wellness and event centers, an outdoor amphitheater for concerts, sports facilities, outdoor recreation and parks, restaurants, retail establishments and an office park.
Sunbelt Holdings President John Graham told AFN that the development, located just south of the Loop 202-I-10 intersection, will fill a “missing corner” of the East Valley.
“It’s an additional piece of economic development potential for the whole area,” said Graham, whose project team also includes the planning-design firms of CallisonRTKL and Kimley Horn as well as real estate consultant Elliott D. Pollack & Company.
And he said the completion of the South Mountain Freeway, along with the Arizona Department of Transportation’s plans to add a third lane in each direction of I-10 between Ahwatukee and Casa Grande further enhance the site’s attractiveness – and likely spur more development on the sprawling 372,000-acre reservation.
“We’ll have multiple interchanges on it,” Graham 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.”
Tribal leaders see the project as an expansion of “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, it was starting to unfold late last year when Phoenix Rising, the state’s largest professional soccer team, announced it as the home for its new stadium.
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.
It also 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 is costing “in excess of at least several million dollars,” and that funding comes from both Wild Horse Pass and the club.
Wild Horse Pass 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 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.
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.
Meanwhile, a far smaller project nearby also is underway.
Trammell Crow Company is laying the groundwork for a speculative commerce park on 48 acres and three buildings totaling approximately 700,000 square feet on the Gila River Indian Community land at the southwest corner of Loop 202 and 40th Street.
“The South Mountain Loop 202 submarket is a newly emerging submarket given the 22 mile expansion of the Loop 202 Freeway, but already boasts tenants from a breadth of industries,” Cathy Thuringer, a principal with TCC’s Phoenix office, said at the time the project was unveiled.
“This new access to and from the Southwest Phoenix and Southeast Valley submarkets will change the dynamic of travel for tenants and visitors to the area and provide excellent opportunities for product type optionality. This location benefit, along with the fact that supply and demand are in strong balance, signal to us that this new commerce park will be well received.”