Gilbert bringing water sports complex to new regional park in public-private partnership

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Correction: The Strand @ Gilbert is not associated with The Strand water park in Australia.

A 25-acre water sports complex will be built on three lakes at the Gilbert Regional Park under construction in South Gilbert.

The $35 million water park will be a public-private partnership between Gilbert and The Strand @ Gilbert, a locally-formed company.

Town Council approved the agreement by a 6-1 vote Feb. 21, with Vice Mayor Eddie Cook voting in dissent.

John McLaughlin, Strand Resorts President and CEO, said the park is in the design phase and expects to begin construction in 90-120 days. He expects the park to open in summer of 2020.

Amenities

The Gilbert park would be unlike other American water parks, according to town officials.

Amenities will include:

o a surf lagoon that can have surfable waves of up to 10 to 12 feet created, making it suitable for inland surfing competitions;
o a cable wake park that would use a cable system to pull riders so they are able to do wakeboarding and jumps;
o an aqua park water obstacle course suitable for all ages;
o a sand beach with swimming areas;
o a restaurant;
o a pro shop;
o cabanas; and
o a floating stage.

Town Manager Patrick Banger said the town expects the park will be a draw for people coming from around the state.

“A place to bring your family, to enjoy a day on the water and eat and recreate—it’s just going to be a wonderful amenity for the community,” he said.

That is in line with the vision of McLaughlin, who called it a passion project for him that he feels fortunate to be in position to pursue.

“My purpose has always been to create safe environments where family, friends and communities can thrive,” he said.

Financial terms

According to the agreement, the town will bear no costs in construction, maintenance or operations. The Strand @ Gilbert also agreed to build a 400-space shareable parking lot.

The company and town agreed to a 50-year lease with options for three 10-year extensions. Gilbert would be paid a lease and a percentage of gross sales from a revenue-sharing program.

Gilbert would receive a minimum annual payment of $253,191.24, excluding the revenue share, for which it anticipates receiving between $450,000 and $750,000 annually, according to projections from the town.

That projection is based on getting 3 percent of the gross revenues of between $15 million and $25 million annually. However, Brown said the company actually expects revenues between $25 million and $36 million annually.

Council Member Jared Taylor noted he frequently scrutinizes such deals but is excited about this one.

“With the revenue-sharing opportunities, the thing that excites me is some of that is by contract, so we know that’s going to be built into it,” Taylor said. “No cost to the taxpayer is very important to me as you know. All of us want to see how this will reduce the costs basis from the other parks.

“I think this regional park is going to be one of the most creative projects here, and this [the water park]is going to be one of the most exciting elements.”

The town also expects the park will create 180 jobs and have an annual economic impact of $317 million.

Making the deal

The water park has been several years in the making, Banger said.

It started when the town put together a parks plan five years ago and the residents identified an aquatic center as their No. 1 desire to have in Gilbert.

However, Banger noted such facilities are among the most costly to build and maintain.

When the town was able to put together the land for Gilbert Regional Park, it set aside 47 acres of “high and dry” area and divided it into three parcels, with council directing staff to put out requests for proposals on public-private partnerships.

The town evaluated the proposals and the companies behind them before narrowing the field and ultimately choosing The Strand. In all, the process took about a year and a half, culminating in the Feb. 21 vote.

Water concerns

The Strand will be bringing its own water rights into the deal and won’t be using Gilbert water.

Nonetheless, concerns about water were what made Cook vote against the deal. Cook also is vice president of the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association.

“For me with the drought issues that we have in Arizona, it’s really hard for me to look at this as a good use of drinking water,” Cook said. “I love the project. I look forward to its success. You know, I will be a user with my wakeboard and my family. I just have a hard time for me personally and for protecting our water supply.”

The terms of the agreement call for The Strand @ Gilbert to obtain no less than 1,000 acre feet of Long Term Storage Credits on groundwater and maintain that throughout the lease.

The annual usage of water for recreational usage is expected to be between 150-200 acre-feet, except during the initial fill and first year of operations, which may require up to 260 acre-feet of water. An acre-foot is a measure of volume equal to 1 acre in area that is 1 foot deep.

Mayor Jenn Daniels said the town was concerned about the use of drinking water and analyzed its usage against other high-usage facilities like hotels and resorts.

“I will tell you this is much less, much less, than a golf course, and this is much less than what you might find in a lot of other regions of our state where they’re developing hotels and those types of amenities,” Daniels said.
“I’m just really thrilled that we have this opportunity in the town.”

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Tom Blodgett
Raised in Arizona, Tom Blodgett has spent 30 years in journalism in Arizona and is the editor of the Gilbert edition of Community Impact Newspaper. He is a graduate of Arizona State University, where he now serves as an instructional professional in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and editorial adviser to The State Press, the university's independent student media outlet.
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