First the good news: For the first time in the history of the effort to buy a piece of land for a 6,000-student university campus in Payson — the Forest Service beat its own deadline.
The Tonto National Forest this week awarded a $24,000 contract to Tucson-based appraiser Barry Weissenborn to put a value on a 260-acre parcel of Forest Service land on which the Rim Country Educational Alliance wants to build a university campus, most likely in partnership with Arizona State University.
The contract award beat the original Forest Service timetable by about five days.
The bid award puts the project on track for buying the property by the end of the year and moving toward construction next spring — in hopes of offering the first classes in the fall of 2016.
The Alliance is also in talks with a new developer for the project, after a previous deal with another developer fell apart in the course of long delays in getting the project underway.
Now the bad news (you knew there was gonna be some bad news): The appraiser says he can’t promise he’ll be done setting a value on the empty land until Aug. 18, according to Alliance chairman Steve Drury.
“If this is the best they can do, this must be the busiest bunch of appraisers in the state,” said Drury.
The Alliance put up the money for the appraisal, but never got to see the bid specifications the Forest Service spent about nine months developing. Forest Service officials assured the Alliance that the specifications would make speed more important than price. A similar parcel on the other side of the highway took about a month to appraise — but Forest Service officials told the Roundup that the bid package would put a maximum of 75 days for completing the appraisal — but that the Forest Service would consider who could get the job done fastest in making the bid award.
If the appraiser really does take until Aug. 18 to complete the bid, it would total about 96 days from the award of the bid.
Drury said the appraiser had several other projects he had to complete before he could start on the Forest Service parcel here.
Still, the prompt award of the bid allows the project to lurch forward once again, after the frustrating nine-month delay consumed by the Forest Service preparation of the bid package.
Drury said he has met repeatedly with a major developer in Pittsburgh. The developer has built many major complexes all over the world. The Alliance had a contract with a developer, but the development group fell apart during the years of delay trying to get Forest Service approval of the direct sale of the land.
The Alliance will use the wait for a land value to negotiate a development contract and then prepare a site plan based on specifications ASU provided some two years ago. ASU has said it would start with a 1,500-student phase one, then develop three more phases to reach a build-out student population of 6,000 over a period of years. ASU had already provided detailed estimates as to the buildings, square-footage, classroom space, parking lots and support facilities it will need.
The developer will prepare a land use plan starting with the necessary university facilities, then adding rough placement for things like the proposed convention hotel, an incubation center to turn research into products and a research park.
The site plan will work out placement of the various elements on the roughly 40 percent of the 260-acre site level enough for buildings.
ASU this year hit a record enrollment of 76,000 — a 5 percent increase from the year before. Some 56,000 students attend classes on the main campus, with the rest at various branch campuses.
A study by the Arizona Board of Regents predicted the state will need to double the number of degrees it can offer by 2020 to keep up with projected growth.