Few municipal projects have conjured as much controversy and consternation in recent years than the Desert Discovery Center (DDC), proposed as a Valyrian Steel-like Visitor Center at the Gateway of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.
Opponents have ransacked the purported rationale, even though form often gets in the way of their substance.
Supporters, largely the inheritors of the idea’s inertia, often tout the grand tourism benefits they think the DDC will mean. There are also those longing, and hoping, for Scottsdale’s next great thing.
This week proponents unveiled the latest design, touting the changes that had been made and how they listened to the community, as if that is something that shouldn’t have been done all along.
But alterations can’t alter something that is fundamentally flawed, and lesser than that which it seeks to accentuate. Allow us to invoke football to make our point. Patrick Peterson is the All-Pro Cornerback for the Arizona Cardinals. The other person playing that position on defense is always “the guy playing opposite Patrick Peterson.” He’s secondary, just like a man-made attraction pales next to the real thing.
Quite simply, no one is going to come to Scottsdale because of the Desert Discovery Center. Tourists will and do because of the Preserve itself. If people want a related man-made attraction Taliesin West is far more compelling and sits on the preserve’s edge just a short throw away. And it’s a far better location for the DDC too.
The DDC is also a knock-off of the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. So the concept is not even inventive, or a more compelling version like New York City’s Highline Trail is compared to Paris’ Promenade Plantee, from which it was sparked. That’s why one-time calls for a Highline Trail down McDowell Road initially missed the mark. Replicating a project in New York was interesting but ultimately duplicative, and would have been less successful as a result. Extending the Indian Bend Wash or Papago Park would have been more distinctly Arizona.
Lastly, eating up so much tourism tax money, not to mention preserve tax funds, diverts from more impactful projects and opportunities down the road. There is only so much money available. You always want to hit home runs with the use of such funds but base hits, especially when they are distinct concepts like the Museum of the West, are OK too.
In recent days DDC supporters talk a lot about how much enthusiasm and support they are now receiving. So why not make it easier on your supporters on the City Council and support a public vote? If that which you say is true win at the ballot box just as hockey arenas and preserve taxes did in Scottsdale. Or spring training stadiums, water parks, conference centers and Bass Pro subsidies have in Mesa. Winning a public vote would also give the project clear validation and momentum that would always be lacking without one. There should be nothing to be afraid of, unless you know that taxpayers are likely to go Patrick Peterson and intercept the notion.