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Rethinking WestWorld

WestWorld is a funky show on HBO.  It challenges our thinking about the future.  And it’s time to challenge the thinking about another WestWorld, a weird property in Scottsdale.  We opine odd because the site serves as a flood detention basin and is owned by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, but operated by the City of Scottsdale.  Not a lot of constructs like that.

Since it first debuted decades ago as a private, commercial enterprise until today as a local governmental operation, managers have always struggled to make it pencil.

But what if it’s never meant to.  That may have to be the conclusion after many college tries.  And it should be.

Scottsdale City Councilman David Smith started to make private musings about the notion earlier this year, only to seemingly scuttle the thoughts.  He shouldn’t have.  As a former City Treasurer he has the standing to reintroduce and reinvent thinking about WestWorld.

Smith’s too abrupt argument kind of went like this:  WestWorld is effectively a park, a large one that serves special events as does Central Park in New York City but also recreationists from joggers to dog walkers to even a parking lot for the most attended golf tournament in the United States, and one that is losing more parking soon.  

So why look at WestWorld as a money-making enterprise unto itself?  It doesn’t work.  It won’t work.  But when you factor in mega-events like the Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show, Barrett-Jackson, the Scottsdale Quarterhorse Show and numerous other events that populate the property throughout the year a different story reveals itself.  For example, a recent City-Barrett-Jackson joint economic report showed an impact of $167 million annually with millions in direct revenue to Scottsdale.  Barrett-Jackson would not exist in Scottsdale without WestWorld.  Nor would the two-week long Arabian Horse Show which is the largest of its kind in the world.

Factoring these numbers in reveal an entirely different story.  Indeed, WestWorld has become a municipal asset any community in the United States would crave.

Citizens don’t expect the McDowell Sonoran Preserve to make money for Scottsdale, except as a driver of tourism and a source of enjoyment and recreation.  Sounds a lot like WestWorld. Citizens don’t expect El Dorado Park to make money either, though they can go there for birthday parties, boat rides, soccer matches and softball games.  Not unlike WestWorld.

In its never ending quest to squeeze every last dollar out of WestWorld city officials several years ago sent out a national request for proposals seeking renowned operators to help book more events there.  There were two responses.  Two.  Maybe the market is telling Scottsdale something  And maybe Councilman Smith has a point, if only other councilmembers would listen.  They should.  Because the din of criticism about WestWorld is anything but deafening.  And beecause the citizenry gets what the council does not.

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