who have spent years investing in infrastructure upgrades are slated to get a big return in 2023, when three long-awaited and likely “transformative” projects are scheduled to come online.
Combined, the upcoming improvements are worth well over $100 million. They include the construction of about a dozen new “tournament-level” sports fields and a fix for one of the city’s least efficient roadways that has long been a thorn in the side of Scottsdale residents.
But the most anticipated project may be the “complete overhaul” of Scottsdale’s Civic Center. It sits on a 14-acre lot behind city hall that’s long been home to a rotted-out park with crumbling infrastructure.
In 2023 the renovated civic center will be able to host major concerts with up to 3,000 attendees and other community events, becoming a much-needed event hub in the “core” of Scottsdale that’s bound to boost entertainment options in the city.
“That was our number one priority bond project … Everyone prioritized that one as the highest,” said Scottsdale spokesperson Erin Walsh, who added that “there’s professional sound and light equipment, the sloped lawn provides seating, and it is absolutely an outdoor concert venue.”
The civic center’s revamp was one of the dozens of city initiatives funded through a ballot proposition called Bond 2019. Voters agreed to throw $319 million at projects ranging from the expansion of senior services to the construction of new swimming pools that year.
The city’s upcoming Bell Road Sports Compound was one of the priciest projects on the Bond 2019 ballot. It’s made up of three separate sites built around its namesake street between Loop 101 and Thompson Peak Parkway.
It will house a total of 11 new sports fields, doubling the city’s capacity to host big-time soccer, football and lacrosse tournaments. Such events are part of an ever-growing market in the region that Scottsdale hasn’t been able to get a sizable piece of in previous years.
Staffers expect it to generate $250,000 in annual revenue, as well as produce a much larger, but unspecified, amount in economic impact.
“They're addressing a shortage of fields in Scottsdale,” said Parks and Recreations Director Nick Molinari. “These fields are at a different level that attracts a different level of play. This collection of fields will have the ability to attract major, major national tournaments.”
Aside from the Bond 2019 projects, tens of thousands of Scottsdale Air Park employees will get some relief in 2023 thanks to an extension of Raintree Drive between Loop 101 and Scottsdale Road.
That route may be the city’s most obnoxious. Scottsdale Airport prevents any sizable east-west roadways in the area, meaning residents and local workers have to trudge through a series of stop-and-go side streets during their infuriating commutes.
It’s been that way for more than a decade, according to staffers, but 2023 is the year when Scottsdale is expected to make a major dent in the $41 million effort to fix it. The project is expected to slash traffic congestion across the entire area before the new year is through.
“When this is all done, you're going to get off the 101 at Raintree Drive and you're going to feel like Raintree Drive goes all the way through the Scottsdale Road,” Walsh said about the road extension.
‘Top priority’ project to bring big concerts, events to Scottsdale
Scottsdale’s Civic Center stood out among the massive Bond 2019 project package, according to Walsh, who said both officials and residents had long prioritized its revitalization.
It’s a big chunk of land in the heart of downtown Scottsdale, surrounded by restaurants and bars, and managed by the liquor-licensed organization Scottsdale Arts.
The ground was ripe for big events, ranging from Oktoberfest-style parties to culinary festivals, but the site was rotten. The “infrastructure failure” was so severe that it even became a safety hazard.
“We actually had to close (an on-site bridge). We couldn't let cars drive under it because we were worried about the structural integrity,” Walsh said, adding that vendors had to “spend thousands of extra dollars to hold an event” there because it wasn’t “wired for lights and sound.”
Voters approved more than $27.2 million in 2019 to fund the total revitalization of the center once and for all. Scottsdale officials then threw in an extra $6.2 million from the general fund to cover inflation hikes — bringing the entire project cost to about $34 million.
Scottsdale officials believe the city got its money’s worth. The long list of civic center upgrades include:
Event-ready technology, such as sound and lighting.
Multiple stages that accommodate audiences of 2,500 and 3,000 people, respectively.
A new children’s playground.
Water fountains and other water features.
A wide range of infrastructure upgrades, ranging from ground-leveling for visibility to drainage improvements.
“Our main stage is big enough for us to present major national touring acts. People like Lyle Lovett....groups like Lake Street Dive. Bands that sort of play in that vein,” Scottsdale Arts CEO Gerd Wuestemann said.
The first event hosted at the improved site will be an antique car show in January called Arizona Concours d’Elegance. Wuestemann added that ESPN is slated to broadcast from the civic center during the Super Bowl, which will be open to a public audience.
The western two-thirds of the civic center will be completed late next month. The other portion of the project, which houses the large event stage, will open in mid-March.
Bond 2019’s priciest purchase
The $40 million Bell Road sports field project was among the most expensive items approved during the Bond 2019 election.
It’s broken into three separate sites: D.C. Ranch Neighborhood Park, Bell Road Sports Complex — also called Bell 94 for its cross streets — and West World Sports Complex.
Construction on the former two locations wrapped up in 2022 and brought six multi-use sports fields to the city. Each of those were located in Bell 94, with the D.C. Ranch park being largely used as an irrigation facility to send reclaimed water to the new fields down the road.
The West World complex is the final piece of the pricey effort that will be completed next month. It’s expected to add five additional fields for youth sporting events that can be played on a gridiron, including rugby and soccer.
Molinari said the demand for “destination-based” tournaments in Arizona has boomed, but the city previously had just 10 fields that were high-quality enough to host those high-level sporting events. Scottsdale simply couldn’t meet the need and was missing out on the opportunity.
“The inventory that we now have provides Scottsdale with an opportunity to meet a demand for destination-based tournaments,” said Molinari, who added that Bell 94 “filled up” immediately when it was opened.
The parks director said Scottsdale will not be able to partner with nearby complexes such as Phoenix’s Reach 11 to become a regional mecca for youth sports tournaments.
The project has an added benefit. The fields are built to withstand heavy wear and tear, so they can double as massive parking lots for special events in the area such as the Phoenix Open.
The tournament revenue and parking fees are expected to generate a combined $225,000 for the city each year, while also making it possible for Scottsdale to host events that could bring millions of outside dollars into the community annually.
“The fields are very, very impactful for Scottsdale regionally,” Molinari told The Arizona Republic. “There is that indirect economic impact where they serve the most significant events that are held in Scottsdale… And then the remainder of the year they’re tournament-level sports fields.”
The end of a hellish commute for 43,000 drivers
City staffers have been working “for generations” to fix a traffic disaster in Scottsdale Airpark. The area is a “major employment center” for the city where nearly 60,000 workers — a figure that equates to a quarter of Scottsdale’s total population — clock in and out each day.
It’s home to 85 major companies and thousands of smaller ones, but has lacked an efficient way to move east-to-west. Scottsdale Airport makes it impossible to push the current street network much further than North Hayden Road.
The massive amount of employees in the area instead need to do a “stair-step motion” through residential streets when they’re on their way home. It’s an infuriatingly slow and inefficient route.
Thousands simply turn onto Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard to avoid the stop-and-go, adding the 43,000 drivers on that stretch every day and jamming up one of the city’s main roadways.
“That's where everybody goes to get around the airport because we don't have those consistent one-mile east-west corridors,” Walsh said. “Everybody winds their way around the airport differently, doing a jig-jag, stair-step motion through the Air Park area.”
By this coming fall, Scottsdale staffers plan to make serious headway in transforming the route between Loop 101 and North Scottsdale Roadinto the wider commuter street that it has needed to become for decades.
Their list of changes includes installing traffic signals, adding a roundabout at Redfield Road and 76th Place, and widening the road — much of which currently only has one lane in each direction — through Acoma Drive to 78th Way and onto Raintree until it hits Hayden.
Scottsdale officials have bought-up nearby properties to make the transformation possible. In all, they’ve shelled out at least $41 million worth of city dollars and funds from the Maricopa Association of Governments, which doles-out Proposition 400 sales tax money for these initiatives.
“This has been a long project. It's gone through a lot of generations way before my time,” said Scottsdale Transportation Director Mark Melnychenko. “It has taken us probably 10 to 12 years to get to this point.”
The final phase of the project includes the same type of construction from Hayden to Loop 101, as well as another roundabout between Hayden and Raintree.
That won’t be completed until at least 2024, but officials said the first phase of the project alone is expected to make a big dent in the traffic issues that have long plagued thousands of Scottsdale residents.
“When this is all done, you're going to get off the 101 at Raintree Drive, and you're going to feel like Raintree Drive goes all the way through the Scottsdale Road,” Walsh said.