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Gilbert Eyes Plans for Big Regional Park

The future site of a planned 272-acre regional park near Queen Creek and Higley roads in Gilbert. Credit: Jessica Boehm/The Arizona Republic

By Maria Polletta for The Arizona Republic

Plans to transform more than 270 barren acres near Higley and Queen Creek roads into a massive regional park are accelerating in Gilbert, with three options for final designs headed to the Town Council next month.

Residents, business owners and park aficionados helped narrow nearly 30 preliminary plans over a two-month series of interviews, workshops and focus-group meetings.

Here’s a look at how Gilbert plans to make its $120M vision a reality.

The must-haves

Residents’ No. 1 request over the two-month public-input process was a multiuse trail system for walking, running, cycling and exploring. Demand for such amenities in Gilbert mirrors a “national trend toward self-directed activities,” Buchanan said.

Residents also identified ramadas, a fishing lake, an “iconic” playground and splash pads, a recreation center, an amphitheater, sports fields and courts, and an aquatic center as key needs. Each of those asks is reflected in at least one of the final designs.

The coming county basin creates three distinct park areas with differing development capacities. The lower basin, for instance, is restricted to passive uses, such as nature walks and dog parks. The upper basin can house sports fields, but not buildings. The “high and dry” area is unrestricted, meaning the amphitheater, concessions buildings and other permanent fixtures could go there.

All three designs include sprawling lakes, huge swaths of open space and flexible areas for farmers’ markets or food trucks. They also incorporate small commercial plazas, which consultants imagine having a walkable, “Main Street” feel.

Shops and activity spaces ideally would mesh with the park’s atmosphere and users’ needs, according to the town. Suggested tenants include bike and sports-equipment stores, a used-book store, a yoga studio and a coffee shop.

Other possibilities include classroom or co-working space for business owners, entrepreneurs and students; zip line and BMX zones; and a special-events center for weddings or festivals.

The price tag

Now that Gilbert knows what residents and community leaders want the park to look like, it has to figure out how to pay for it.

Preliminary cost estimates for the three designs range from $120M to $170M, with operations and maintenance expenses at $2.5M to $4M annually. Gilbert already allocated up to $732,000 for the public-input process and consultant review of traffic, parking and revenue options.

In-depth analysis of costs and financing options is expected to pick up after a design and engineering team vets the three working plans, according to the town. The Town Council will review the plans at an April 12 study session.

By May or June, the three plans should be whittled down to a final design with a more precise cost estimate. Consultants also will provide a draft business plan for the park for review.

The first phase of the park could open as early as 2018.

Read more at The Arizona Republic

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