Asu, Alliance Agree To University Plan

Final details expected to take ‘weeks’ to iron out, but there’s still no signed agreement

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Arizona State University and the Rim Country Educational Alliance (SLE) have agreed in principle to complete their plans to build a university here, but will continue to iron out details for “several weeks,” according to a source close to the negotiations.

In addition, supporters of the plan to build a 6,000-student university in Payson have raised enough money that the Forest Service has resumed work on the environmental assessment necessary to buy some 260 acres of land for the college.

Backers expect the agreement with ASU to go before the Board of Regents at its next meeting in September or October. Backers also now hope to complete the land purchase from the Forest Service this fall.

The Alliance had set last Friday as a “hell no” deadline, saying that if ASU had fundamental problems with the proposal the Alliance would seek other partners.

ASU negotiators reportedly on Friday replied that they believed they could hammer out a final deal that met the Alliance’s last offer. ASU has reportedly interjected some major potential new ways to secure the financing and both sides have agreed to consider juggling issues to hit an agreed-upon bottom line.

“What they have done is moved off ‘we must have this, or that.’ And the Alliance has moved off ‘we must have this or that.’ We believe we can resolve the outstanding issues in the next few weeks,” said the source.

However, both sides also agreed not to discuss the remaining differences in any detail. “We agreed not to negotiate in the media.”

In previous reports, sources close to the negotiations had said the two sides resolved the pivotal questions about revenue from student housing, but continued to negotiate about the lease payments ASU would make after the 1,000-student first phase and who would end up owning the university facilities in 25 years.

The sources familiar with the latest round of negotiations declined to indicate whether those remain the key issues.

“Both sides have found a renewed interest in finding common ground,” said the source. “The key issues are resolved — it’s how we deal with each one of them that we have to work out. So both sides can do, technically, what they want to do.”

Fund-raising effort

The project also moved forward on the fund-raising front, raising enough money to do away with a hold put on work on the $374,000 environment assessment needed before the U.S. Forest Service would commit to a direct sale based on an independent appraisal of about 260 acres of a 300-acre parcel south of Highway 260 and west of Tyler Parkway.

Congress designated the parcel for sale more than a decade ago.

Lenders and donors who have guaranteed as much as $500 million in loans and contributions to build the campus and a number of spinoff facilities recently balked at providing more up-front money to cover things like the environmental assessment without a show of broader community support through fund-raising, Payson Mayor Kenny Evans has said previously.

The Rim Country Educational Foundation and Volunteer Committee set up to promote the campus project promised to raise the money. That effort recently crossed the $100,000 threshold needed to convince the Forest Service to restart processing the environmental assessment.

The Alliance SLE had promised to not only pay the consultants doing the assessment, but to pay the Forest Service to cover its own staff costs needed to supervise the consultants. The payment in essence allows the project to jump to the head of the line, with the Forest Service struggling to provide the analysis for everything from thinning projects to its travel management plan.

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