University advocates on Saturday with much fanfare unveiled a custom-designed, carved sign to mark the site of a future campus in Payson.

Payson Mayor Kenny Evans at the unveiling of the $3,000 sign designed by a local artist and carved by a Pine sign shop said, “What makes all this possible is the good people of Payson.”

Rim Country Educational Alliance board member Jon Cline said, “We have a group that is absolutely capable of taking this project to the next level. I’m a newcomer to the board, but the site is part of a cattle ranch my dad had for 30 years.”

About 150 people attended a lunch at a ramada in Rumsey Park to get a look at the sign designed by Donn Morris, a local artist. Ed Farnum, with Westwood Products, carved the sign using a high-tech, computer controlled router.

The event included no concrete announcement of additional progress in the years-long effort to buy 253 acres from Tonto National Forest for the proposed 6,000-student campus. Reportedly, the Arizona State Historic Preservation Office has signed off on the work of a consultant to study and preserve artifacts from several sites on the land.

Tonto Forest Supervisor Neil Bosworth has previously said it would take two weeks to finish the sale once that happens.

The MHA Foundation has provided the $4.1 million to buy the land and additional money to pay for the archaeological work and some of the pre-development costs. The MHA Foundation created the Rim Country Educational Foundation, which will share title to the property with the Alliance.

However, backers still don’t have a signed commitment from Arizona State University to actually operate a campus here.

The project has taken another turn after years of effort in the direction of a “multiversity,” that could include programs by both ASU and the University of Arizona and perhaps others, say backers.

But the prospect of having several universities involved has further complicated the long and complicated negotiations.

Backers hope that setting the sign on the property near the Payson Ranger Station will rekindle enthusiasm for the project, with the land sale now imminent.

The sign is built of a polyurethane/wood mixture, which should last for years, said Farnum. The sign doesn’t mention a specific university partner.

The Central Arizona Board of Realtors underwrote the cost of creating the sign.

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