University: Slow But Steady

Photo by Andy Towle. |

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Steve Drury

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Mary Kastner

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Jim Scheidt

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Jim Lyon

A wealthy family has offered to give the Rim Country Educational Alliance a $10 million, 78-acre resort if it can convince Arizona State University to open a four-year college in Payson.

Payson Mayor Kenny Evans at a meeting of the Alliance board this week said the family, longtime supporters of ASU, had offered the luxury resort ranch to help the Alliance close the deal with ASU.

In addition, the Alliance on Wednesday welcomed Jim Lyon as its latest board member. Lyon replaces former Alliance Board Chairman Mike Vogel, who resigned for health reasons and moved to Arkansas.

Evans’ efforts to sign ASU now hinge on Forest Service approval of an environmental assessment necessary for the

Alliance to buy some 260 acres for the campus and related facilities. The Alliance has completed the assessment and the Forest Service has promised to determine whether the assessment includes enough information to proceed with the direct sale. Negotiators have said that the Alliance and ASU have resolved almost all the outstanding issues, but that ASU does not want to officially announce the deal until the sale of the Forest Service land is assured.

In the meantime, several other universities have stepped forward, expressing interest in opening a school. Some want to replace ASU as the anchor tenant — others say they would like to operate colleges in the same educational complex as ASU.

The recent donation puts added pressure on Evans to keep talks with ASU moving forward.

“That is the direction we are leaning and I don’t like to be pushed by anybody, but $10 million tends to soften the push,” he said Wednesday, during a board meeting with the Rim Country Educational Alliance Separate Legal Entity (SLE). Evans isn’t on the board, but remains the key figure in the negotiations.

“It puts one more little burden on my back to keep those negotiations with ASU going,” he said.

The Alliance has secured commitments from backers for a combination of loans and donations that total about $500 million. That total includes nearly $100 million in promised gifts, about a third of it contingent on signing a deal with ASU specifically. The backers have managed to hold onto that commitment for more than four years, as complications have repeatedly pushed back the hoped-for conclusion of a deal with ASU. The Alliance had hoped to take a deal to the Board of Regents a year ago, but delays in clearing the Forest Service land for sale and haggling between ASU and the Alliance in crucial financial details stalled approval. The negotiators have reportedly since settled questions about the division of various revenue streams from the university complex, which will include dorms, a convention hotel, a research center, an incubation center to turn research into business deals, possible medical research facilities and even a possible solar cell assembly business. At least two smaller colleges have expressed interest in launching programs here as well, each of them complementary to a larger campus operated by ASU or some other university.

At Wednesday’s board meeting, Evans offered few new details on the progress of the project, but said a recent development might not only bring water to the property, but also more money.

Currently, Evans and the board plan to build a campus on nearly 400 acres that includes about 260 acres of Forest Service land south of Highway 260 and another 100 acres north of the highway between Gila Community College and Tyler Parkway.

Backers continue to work out the details of the campus plan, in hopes they can complete the Forest Service land sale and start construction next spring. Just getting water to the land from the C.C. Cragin pipeline will prove an expensive proposition. The Alliance has already agreed to pay about $7 million in fees.

Evans said he has been in talks with Steve Loy, part owner of the Chaparral Pines golf club, and Crescent Resources to help solve their water problems as well as bring water to the proposed university’s property.

Loy and those groups will pay “sufficiently” to have a pipeline built from Tyler Parkway down to the university’s property and over to Chaparral Pines.

Payson has agreed to provide a share of Cragin water to the golf course at cost for at least 49 years, he said. Evans said the three-party contract, with the town, SLE and golf club, could be stitched up by the end of the year.

The SLE board, including new member Jim Lyon, agreed it was a win-win for all.

Lyon not only fills Vogel’s spot on the board, the town named him the new economic director.

Lyon narrowly beat out a handful of other candidates, said Su Connell, Payson council member. Also at the meeting, the board elected Steve Drury as the board chair.

Evans noted, “with turnover on the board now of two members since we started I think it would be fitting and appropriate for the board to consider maybe holding a retreat where you can come together and talk about where we have been, where we are and where we are going,” he said.

Evans offered the resort for the meeting. He said the ranch features seven homes and is one of the top resorts in the West. The family that owns it is offering the land and buildings “free and clear to the SLE if it will help ASU become our partner,” Evans said.

Evans said the land could help bring in money to the SLE. Three corporate partners have expressed interest in using the land to help mitigate environmental issues. The SLE would deed restrict several sensitive areas of the ranch that house endangered species and this would in effect give those corporations credit with the Forest Service and environmental groups.

He said the corporations would give the SLE at least a $4 million mitigation payment for the deed restriction.

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