The direct intervention of Arizona State University President Michael Crow in the long-stalled negotiations over building a 6,000-student university campus in Payson has revived faltering hopes for a deal.
In the past two weeks, Crow has met and proposed alternative ideas for financing and covering operating costs that could revive a plan that for a time seemed stalled, according to sources close to the negotiations.
“This approach has the potential to more effectively meet the needs of both ASU and the Town of Payson and to allow the process to move forward with greater alacrity,” said Payson Mayor Kenny Evans. “President Crow has shown us once again what a visionary leader he is. An aggressive timetable remains in place and I’m optimistic that with this new focus, we’ll achieve the goal of bringing students on site concurrent with the completion of the CC Cragin water project” in 2014-15.
Other universities, colleges and private corporations have continued to be interested in the Rim Country Educational Alliance campus, either in conjunction with ASU or as an alternative to the current proposal, creating a jigsaw of possibilities.
Moreover, the revision of the plan proposed by President Crow would limit the amount of money backers would have to borrow, which would also help lower the proposed tuition levels. Backers originally hoped tuition on the Payson campus would settle at about half the annual cost as ASU’s main campus in Tempe, but that projected figure had drifted upward as a result of a series of setbacks and delays.
Hopes for a deal that would convince ASU to operate a high-tech campus wired for digital learning have repeatedly soared and crashed in the past four years.
Evans acknowledged that the Alliance and ASU have still not agreed on final terms and any deal must be approved by the Arizona Board of Regents.
However, negotiators on the Payson side who had grown increasingly pessimistic prior to Crow’s direct involvement, now sound far more hopeful.
The Alliance has an option to buy about 90 acres north of Highway 260 fronting on Tyler Parkway and continues to also raise money to pay for an environmental assessment to clear the way for the purchase of about 260 acres owned by the U.S. Forest Service on the south side of the highway.
The project also includes plans for a research park and business incubator to turn university research into products, a convention hotel, light retail and additional manufacturing operations that would take advantage of the presence of the university.
Potential partners in those efforts include a Chinese solar cell assembly plant and a medical technology firm, which would likely bring much-needed high-paying jobs to the region.
Those extra elements remain key parts of the overall plan, said Evans. Revenue generated by those spinoff businesses will help reduce costs to the university partner, thereby lowering tuition and drawing enough students to make the project pencil out.
“We have worked long and hard at these negotiations with ASU. President Crow was able to step back, assess the big picture, and propose a design that we believe works for all parties,” commented Evans. “The new model brings with it the things we wanted from the outset, and in some ways, can make the Payson campus even better for the town and the state of Arizona. Both sides acknowledge that much work remains to be done.”