By Matt Roy, Independent Newsmedia
Momentum appears to be growing in the decades-long effort to develop the empty land, which surrounds the city of Surprise’s civic core.
After years of legal wrangling and contentious debate over the property’s future, landowners and Surprise city leaders are finally collaborating to create a master plan for the roughly square mile of dormant desert bounded by Bell and Greenway roads, Litchfield Road and Bullard Avenue.
Scott Phillips, vice president of Scottsdale-based Carefree Partners, confirmed his group has selected a design firm to oversee the development of a master plan for the more than 500 remaining acres awaiting development at the City Center.
He said requests for proposals had been issued to seven top firms last fall and, after considering responses from five of those, the landowners selected Norris Design to create a long-term master plan for the site.
Norris Design won the project because of many factors, including their specific previous experience and creative talent, Mr. Phillips explained.
“It was a combination of the type of projects they’ve been involved with, the quality of the projects, their expertise in imaging and their creativeness in communicating design concepts,” Mr. Phillips said.
With Norris Design on board, the landowners expect to deliver a working master plan for the City Center as early as this summer, he confirmed.
“Our goal is to work closely with the community over the next two months and go through the rest of the design and the conceptual work within the next six months,” Mr. Phillips said.
Joel Thomas, a principal at Norris Design, said his firm is ideally suited to the task and he looks forward to working with the community to complete the important project.
“Whenever you see a project like this, it’s just an outstanding opportunity. It’s one unlike any other in the Valley … it’s basically planning a downtown city center for Surprise and you don’t get many opportunities in your life to do that,” Mr. Thomas said. “Since we are deeply rooted in landscape architecture and planning, this fit exactly the guideline of something that we would pursue and do well at.”
He said the firm has engaged in larger projects in the past, but the Surprise City Center is unique among recent opportunities in Arizona.
“We have done everything from something very small in urban settings up to planning 30,000 acres. We’ve seen everything,” Mr. Thomas said. “This is definitely unique in the Valley, especially since the recession. There used to be large projects out there and there aren’t really many large projects out there anymore.”
He compared the scope of the City Center master plan to the size of downtown Phoenix from 7th Avenue to 7th Street and from Roosevelt to the railroad district.
With a master plan, the city will be primed for development opportunities and future economic growth, Mr. Thomas suggested.
“It’s going to be rewarding for the city and it’s going to be rewarding for the surrounding business owners and the residents,” Mr. Thomas said. “This is going to have a lot of job growth and job creation, unique housing options, unique connected public spaces, and through all of those it’s going to promote the community.”
He also praised Carefree Partners for their guidance and encouragement on the project and said he looks forward to seeing more input from stakeholders in the community.
“Scott Phillips has been working very hard with his group and the people at Surprise Center Development Company. They’re being so thoughtful with every decision and they definitely want the community to be successful and invigorated by the City Center,” Mr. Thomas said. “This is a huge undertaking, it’s not something that’s easy to do and you want to be thoughtful whenever you do that. It definitely needs city support, it needs community support, so that public outreach will be important.”
Mr. Phillips launched a series of design charrettes last fall with an event hosted by the Surprise Regional Chamber of Commerce at West-MEC, followed by another conducted with Ottawa University students at City Hall (“Ottawa students join City Center discussion; City officials, developers to host more public outreach meetings,” Surprise Today, Nov. 7, 2018).
Having met again with Ottawa students and then with faculty at the Surprise campus, Mr. Phillips said he was impressed by the ideas and enthusiasm shared by participants.
“It’s been tremendous, the involvement and the comments and the level of thinking and enthusiasm are exciting for us,” Mr. Phillips said. “Part of this is trying to identify the culture of Surprise today and the ambitions for Surprise in the future and how we can be involved every step of the way.”
He said he plans to host up to eight more community outreach sessions.
“We’re ramping up to get out to the community with several events over the next couple of months and we hope to have this process wrapped up in the next six months,” Mr. Phillips said.
Working with city officials and businesses to identify potential sites, Mr. Phillips said he hopes to meet with residents in Asante, Sun City Grand, Sun Village and Arizona Traditions among other communities before wrapping up the public outreach effort.
Mayor Skip Hall confirmed plans for an early March meeting in Sun Village are already under discussion and said he looks forward to what public input will contribute to the final master plan.
“I’m really looking forward to the resident input on the proposed master plan by the consultant hired by the landowners,” Mr. Hall said. “I think it’s a critical next step to where we really start moving on some developments in City Center after getting that feedback from the residents. It’s a good informational step and will communicate to the residents that we really are going to be doing something there. I think it will also be inspiring.”
Virginia Mungovan, a spokeswoman for the city, was not yet able to announce any specific dates, but encouraged residents to participate once meetings are set.
“I believe the developer is still planning the details of these meetings and we should have more to share soon,” Mr. Mungovan stated. “However, I can say that public participation is always important in planning and development. We want our residents engaged and offering their thoughts on how our city grows so that we are building a city we all can be proud of.”