Council, planners talk Surprise City Center’s future

Land is pictured along Civic Center Drive near Bell Road Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016 in Surprise. (Independent Newsmedia/ Jacob Stanek)

Matt Roy
Independent Newsmedia

Measure twice, cut once.

That message resonated at last week’s public meeting on future development of the City Center.

Surprise officials invited residents and other stakeholders to the Nov. 9 joint meeting of the City Council andPlanning & Zoning Commission, which was hosted next door to City Hall at the Ottawa University Surprise campus, 15950 N. Civic Center Plaza.

“My dad once said: measure twice, cut once. Don’t make a big mistake,” said Surprise Mayor Sharon Wolcott, encapsulating the evening’s predominant theme – the need for thoughtful, well-informed master planning.

Discussion and public comments at the two-hour event focused on what residents, offi cials, business leaders, land owners and investors envision for the City Center, an almost-entirely undeveloped parcel of desert scrub encompassed by Bullard Avenue, Litchfield, Bell and Greenway roads.

“It’s time for us now, all of us, to know and weigh in,” said Ms. Wolcott. “How does this City Center look to you and what do you want to see here?”

Dr. Dennis Tyner, Surprise Campus Provost, welcomes recently enrolled students to Ottawa University Arizona in Surprise City Center. (Courtesy Ottawa University)

Ottawa University Arizona Vice President and Provost Dennis Tyner, Ph.D. led off the discussion. Also a science professor at OUAZ, the scholar provided a brief presentation to the joint panel on the progress of his nascent campus and plans – immediate and long range – for its expansion.

“When we decided to come out, our goal was to recruit 250 students in our first year, having half a year to recruit” Mr. Tyner said. “And we are just delighted to tell you that we enrolled 434 students at the beginning of our fall semester. So, we exceeded our numbers significantly.”

He said university officials had acknowledged the challenge of recruiting student athletes to a campus still in the making.

“Bringing those students on campus was no easy task,” Mr. Tyner said. “We were selling dirt and air and a singular building that we we’re sitting in here. And a vision for what the future would be.”

He said of the inaugural cohort, 55 percent of students were from Arizona, while about 35 percent were recruited from California. And 38 came from Surprise.

Having launched the campus with 21 varsity sports programs and recruiting only athletes, officials will now expand future recruiting efforts to draw non-athletes to the campus as well. To that end, additional staff members have been hired and are currently in training ahead, he added.

“We’ve built up our staff and our admissions department. Last week, on Friday, we hired three new enrollment advisors,” Mr. Tyner said. “We started them Monday this week and we had a four- day training that just ended, literally, an hour ago. Those members of our enrollment staff will be largely responsible for recruiting non-athletic students.”

The administration plans to bring in another 375 students, including 150 additional athletes and 225 non-athletes. Over the next decade, the university aims to serve 3,000 students at the Surprise campus as it grows in the City Center. Meeting that goal will require long-range planning, but officials have immediate development plans, he said.

“The short-term goal for us is to build out three additional buildings within the next year to a year and a half,” Mr. Tyner said.

The first will be an athletic facility with both indoor and outdoor components, which will be constructed to the west of the existing campus building, adjacent to Dreamcatcher Park.

The indoor portion of the complex will include three gymnasia with basketball and volleyball courts. Adjacent to the existing athletic field, the outdoor portion of the project will include a press box, athletic offices, locker rooms, training rooms and weight rooms.

The second project will construct a building to include a kitchen, dining hall and recreation facilities. It will rise to the south of their current location on the eastern portion of the campus and will include enough space to seat 1,000 people.

The third building would be the university’s first residential hall.Though officials have been  planning the campus expansion over the past three months, the transition from planning to building may accelerate due to recent developments, Mr. Tyner said.

“I am pleased to tell you that today I got a phone call from our president with regard to a gift from one of our wonderful alums, who has served on our board of trustees for many years, that is going to make our very short-term building almost a reality,” he said. “A few more things have to happen, but were area delighted to tell you this because we have been working on investing in this project for quite some time.”

With the future of OUAZ’s campus coming into focus for city officials, talk turned to what may become of the remaining land at City Center. The mayor shared some suggestions and ideas she has received from constituents for future development of the site.

“We here up on this panel, the council and the planning commission, we work for you,” Ms. Wolcott said. “We’re here to try and make your dream come true and that’s why it’s so important for us to engage you publicly, so that we know what you’re interested in.”

The entrance sign to the Surprise Civic Center (Independent Newsmedia file)

Ideas shared with and by members of the panel, as well as those put forward by residents who spoke during the meeting, ran the gamut from arts venues to shopping centers.

Suggestions included: a performing arts center, such as that at the Civic Center complex in Scottsdale; upscale and boutique dining; an enclosed shopping mall; below-ground parkingstructures; mixeduse, multi-level buildings with loft- over business slots; small-scale public transit and driverless car service; and professional offices, to name only a few.

Vice-Mayor Todd Tande stressed the value of developing a master plan as a tool to include the ideas and input of various stakeholders and prevent missteps, wasted time and misspent resources.

“Because this is such a big area and so complex, it really calls for a master plan, so we don’t forget anything and so we don’t put something in that doesn’t fit,” said Mr. Tande. “I don’t think it would be a static plan. I’d like to see a working plan.”

Another benefit to putting the plan down on paper is potential regional investors will benefit by that foreknowledge, making it easier to choose sensible sites for development, even before City Center is completed, he suggested.

“I think that will also help the people considering locating here. They all want to know if their investment will do well by what’s next to them,” Mr. Tande said. “They know their business really well. They know what kinds of businesses locate next to them and help service them and complement them.”

Summing up, he reiterated the necessity of involving all interested parties in the process to ensure the final product reflects the needs of the whole community.

“A master plan is very important. Not by the City Council. Not by the planning commission. Not by just the developers,” Mr. Tande said. “This is a public- private partnership. We need the residents and everybody helping to do that.”

Editor’s note: Matt Roy can be reached at 623-876-2528 or Visit

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