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Alliance studying costs of four sites for university

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The Rim Country Educational Alliance has hired the Tetra Tech engineering firm to provide a detailed analysis of four possible university sites, including the preferred 253-acre Forest Service-owned parcel on which the Alliance will get an appraisal in the next few weeks.

The preliminary work by the project architect revealed that only about 22 percent of the Forest Service site is flat enough to build on without substantial grading. This prompted the Alli­ance to enter into a $20,000 contract with Tetra Tech to take one more look at the alternatives, including a rough estimate of infrastructure costs.

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Steve Drury, Rim Country Education Alliance chairman, said of the Forest Service site, “We were shocked to find it’s only 22 percent — not 50 percent — buildable.”

Alliance Chairman Steve Drury said he didn’t think it would delay the project to shift sites even at this late date. The Alliance is in final negotiations with a new primary developer, who would front an estimated $2.5 million in pre-development costs. The Alliance also has detailed specifications from Arizona State University on the square footage of the buildings and dormitories and other facilities needed for the 1,000-1,500 student phase one of the 6,000-student campus.

The negotiations with a developer represent a major step forward, since the original proposed developer — the Winners Group — dropped out about a year ago.

The three alternative sites include about 23 acres of land between Gila Community College fronting Tyler Parkway, the land now occupied by a golf course at the end of Main Street, and about 75 acres on the Beeline and also fronting Tyler Parkway.

“We were shocked to find it’s only 22 percent — not 50 percent — buildable,” said Drury.

The effort to again evaluate alternative sites comes just weeks before the Alliance seemed likely to wind up the years-long process of buying 253 acres next to the Payson Ranger Station that Congress earmarked for sale more than a decade ago.

The Forest Service required the Alliance to pay for a $140,000 environmental assessment of the property, which delayed the project for about a year, but revealed no significant issues except for a handful of sites with 600-year-old pottery fragments.

If the Alliance completes the purchase of that site, it will likely have spent up to $230,000 excavating the areas around the pottery scatters.

The effort to win approval of a direct sale of the property delayed the project for another six months. Getting the Forest Service to write the rules for the appraisal took another eight months and the appraisal itself about four months, although an appraisal would normally take about a month.

The appraisal is due on Aug. 18, about the same time Tetra Tech promised to finish its estimates. However, the Forest Service plans to have several other forest officials review the appraisal.

News of that additional level of review prompted the Alliance to postpone an August board meeting until sometime in September.

If the Alliance shifts to a different site with more buildable land it would represent a blow for the Tonto National Forest, which hoped to use the money from the land sale to rebuild crowded and outdated Payson Ranger District facilities, including the staging area for firefighters in the region. Congress passed legislation that would allow the Tonto National Forest to keep money from the sale instead of turning it over to the treasury. Few private developers could afford the upfront costs and long delays imposed by the Forest Service process. The Alliance has invested nearly $1 million in the site already.

Payson Mayor Kenny Evans has long been a prime advocate for the Forest Service site, but said he welcomed the evaluation of alternative sites. He said the Alliance board had a financial responsibility to evaluate the pros and cons of any possible site and to consider all the building and infrastructure costs.

Evans’ vision of the campus revolved around the hilly, forested terrain and the desire to create a unique, forested campus with multi-story dorms and classrooms connected by bike paths and trails, with the presence of cars and parking minimized. But he said the Alliance board must make the decision based on many factors, in consultation with ASU.

Drury said the relative costs of developing the sites remains crucial.

“ASU made it clear they would prefer the least expensive site possible,” said Drury.

The Alliance would build phase one of the campus and give ASU essentially rent-free facilities for the first three years. The Alliance would also provide a $10 million fund from donations to ensure ASU will at least break-even on operating a campus to accommodate the first 1,340 students.

The Alliance hopes to also develop a commercial area, dorms, a conference hotel, a research park and other spin-off facilities to offset the costs of developing subsequent phases of the campus, Drury said. However, ASU would ultimately take on the cost of building out the campus, which gives the university a strong interest in the costs of building on a particular site.

Drury said the ultimate infrastructure costs for the hilly Forest Service site could total $25 million for grading, streets and water lines. The Tetra Tech study should provide detailed estimates for each of the four sites, allowing the Alliance to prepare a development spreadsheet before deciding whether to buy the Forest Service land.

Drury said each of the four sites has advantages and disadvantages, making the decision a complex juggling act.

The golf course site is flat and probably more than 90 percent buildable, he said. The developers have also expressed an interest in acquiring a chunk of Main Street and undertaking a commercial project, which would potentially contribute to Payson’s years-long effort to develop a viable, pedestrian shopping area along Main Street. However, the site has potentially serious problems in dealing with drainage, since much of it lies in a federally designated flood plain of the American Gulch. The site would require involvement and approval by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The site would also require substantial off-site street work, perhaps completing Green Valley Parkway or McLane Road to the casino light at Highway 87.

However, Drury noted that solving that drainage problem could actually play into Payson’s effort to further develop a water recharge project using water from the Blue Ridge pipeline.

Drury said the developers could potentially create a long, narrow lake that would provide an amenity and also let untreated Blue Ridge water soak into the water table.

The parcel north of the highway adjacent to Gila Community College is small, but has other advantages. The initial chunk of land is already owned by Payson and Gila County, so the project could move forward quickly. The site is cramped and doesn’t have room for all the hoped-for spin-off businesses. However, the site sits right next to Gila Community College, which would provide advantages in meshing the degree programs for the two-year college and the four-year university.

The other Tyler Parkway parcel represents one of the last large, privately owned parcels in town. Some of the landowners have so far set unrealistic prices, said Drury, which makes the site less attractive.

Comments

don evans 4 months, 3 weeks ago

So, it appears all is not giggles and smiles between where the Mayor wants a college location to go and the RCEA? As for buying and building it on the Payson Public Golf Course property, you might want to take a survey of the surrounding homeowner neighborhoods about that. Now, some might suppose that this was the location intent all along, to keep commercial developers happy and clean up Main street? Can you see some light through the secretive cracks in this developing fiction novel....And didn't the town already front the costs for a major water line to be installed along Hwy 260 to facilitate a college being built at that location???? HMMmmmm.....

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John Naughton 4 months, 3 weeks ago

Shhhhhh... Don, you are going to awaken every conspiracy theorist from Strawberry to Gisela.

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don evans 4 months, 3 weeks ago

Yes, the call is going out to all "thinking" people who are not easily controled. The Payson Municipal Golf Course property has been for sale "for the right price" for years. A previous idea, several years ago, was to subdivide it for a large residential development. As for the pending college/forest service property purchase with only 22% buildable current land; sounds like somebody could have saved their $1 Million dollars with a little common sense at no cost, if they did due diligence before jumping at it. Some might also suppose that the RCEA put off their scheduled August board meeting on their important college decisions to see which way the winds are blowing after the Payson primary vote. HMMmmm.....

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Susan Daniels 4 months, 3 weeks ago

A build out on the existing public golf course would not make me happy. Country Club Road already has traffic from homeowners, workers, etc. heading to and from that area. I can only image the raceway develop after thousands of students go barreling toward Main Street where kids, families, walk their dogs, fish, geese/ducks crossing the road, etc, heading right through the Green Valley area. And....expanding Green Valley Parkway to Rt 87!! That would just be horrible for the peace and quiet of the area making a dead end side street into a thoroughfare.

A college should be isolated (the HWY 260 Forest site) where all that goes with it being a college campus doesn't negatively impact the community. The golf course site would certainly do that. It's a flood zone to boot which could effect the surrounding area.

After just moving here, this is the first I've heard of the golf course being a possible build site. Would Not make me happy!

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H. Wm. Rhea III 4 months, 3 weeks ago

You're right about the raceway that Country Club will become and can you imagine the accidents with people speeding up Vista toward Airport? They should keep it out on Hwy 260 where they originally planned to build it.

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Meria Heller 4 months, 3 weeks ago

anything on Main St would be an improvement. What about that big empty land right next to Walmart? Since they are going to put apartments up behind walmart, this could make walking everywhere easier for the kids.

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scott mccleery 4 months, 3 weeks ago

the golf course gets my vote. yes it would be busy down there, as it should be it's main street. we could have our own lil version of mill avenue in tempe. that would absolutely transform this town to put a high tech campus adjacent to the park. the interest in main street would explode. it's about time.

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Pat Randall 4 months, 3 weeks ago

Sure take away the only public golf course in Payson. The private ones are already advertising for $600,00 a month you can join them. Seems evans wants to help the rich get richer. Probably was the plan all along. A good contractor could probably level the F.S. land in less than a week. Why didn't evans look over the land before and could have saved all the B.S and money that has already been spent? It has been going along for how many years now? ASU was supposed to have enrollment in 2013 and here it is halfway to 2015. I don't think the people living N. of the golf course would like it, and there is to much traffic on Main and on down to the golf course and up Vista to the Airport now. Does anyone on the council get out and drive around, or even look at a map of Payson?

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Pat Randall 4 months, 3 weeks ago

Scott, Why don't you buy the Oxbow and open up the bar, dance floor and restaurant? That has to be done before anything else is going to happen on Main St. except junk stores, car repair and veterinarians. There aren't any places to eat or drink on Main or anything to see. The so called historical places are a joke. The park on the corner of Mclane and Main is nothing like the store that was there. There is no place to park no water fountain no shade. Nothing but a $300.000 joke. I remember when Main had a lot of things on it. Places to eat, grocery stores. A store like the old Woolworth stores called the Racket Store. 4 places you could dance on Sat. night. Two dance halls were attached to restaurants and bars all one building but separate with no drinks allowed in there so kids were able to dance. Now all they do is sit in front of a computer or walk around with a phone stuck in their ear. Dancing is good exercise for everyone.

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H. Wm. Rhea III 4 months, 3 weeks ago

I have to agree with Pat on not taking the only public golf course. Build it out where the plan calls for it to be. It's best over on HWY 260 by GCC since both schools will have crossover students.

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Meria Heller 4 months, 3 weeks ago

Thought the article said that golf course has been up for sale forever? better a school than apartment buildings...

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Pat Randall 4 months, 3 weeks ago

Why over by the GCC, because some of the investors have already bought some land over there?

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