Tourism leaders from around the Valley and the state showed up to hear about Nashville, Tenn.-based Gaylord Entertainment’s plans to build Arizona’s biggest resort and conference center atop an east Mesa car test track.
The Gaylord resort would make Mesa a destination of choice for visitors to the Southwest, said Debbie Johnson, president of the Arizona Hotel and Lodging Association and chairwoman of the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority.
The city hasn’t to date earned the kind of respect and national recognition Scottsdale and Phoenix get from the traveling public.
“Now people will have a great reason to come to the East Valley,” Johnson said.
Margie Emmermann, executive director of the Arizona Office of Tourism, said Gaylord will attract a whole new crop of leisure visitors to the destination and, most important, it will draw droves of first-time-in-Arizona meetings attendees, who will bring their families and tour the state from Tucson to the Grand Canyon.
“They are exciting properties, and they have their own following,” Emmermann said of the upscale resort owner-developer.
Part of that following consists of nearly 250 regular corporate accounts that typically book 200 to 600 room nights each annually and rotate meetings among the now-four Gaylord properties, said Colin Reed, chairman of the Tennessee company.
“We go after a select group for meetings, and our goal is 50 percent of our room nights are booked for multiple locations,” Reed said. The newest Gaylord, in Washington, D.C., had 1.5 million room nights on the books by the time it opened, he said.
Robert Brinton, executive director of the Mesa Convention & Visitors Bureau, said Gaylord’s plan to build its fifth mega-resort in Mesa will “take us to a whole new level” of tourism. And he said by “us,” he means Mesa, the Valley and the whole state of Arizona.
Gary Levine, general manager of the Hilton Phoenix East/Mesa, said despite the competition, he welcomes the new and influential travelers who Gaylord will bring to the city.
“This is not just another hotel. It’s a large convention hotel that will create its own demand,” Levine said. “It will attract masses of people who otherwise wouldn’t come here.”
The plans for a major upscale destination resort in the south East Valley even prompted prolific retail developer Westcor to show up with the company’s top honcho, Arthur Coppola, chief executive officer for Westcor parent Macerich.
Coppola said he had been talking with Scottsdale-based upscale developer DMB Associates about teaming up on a retail complex for Mesa’s General Motors Desert Proving Ground long before the two power players decided to partner at upscale urban complex One Scottsdale.
Westcor officials left the spotlight to Gaylord on Wednesday but hinted that Westcor, too, has big designs on a portion of the 3,200-acre DMB development.
Westcor and DMB should have retail plans firmed up within six to 12 months, said Garrett Newland, Westcor vice president for development. He would not divulge the size or scope of those plans, but Newland would not rule out a San Tan Village-sized development. The proving grounds site is at least six to eight miles from both the San Tan mega-retail complex in Gilbert and the Superstition Springs-centered commercial corridor in Mesa, he said.
Newland said the compact urban-style residential and commercial office center planned by DMB plus the expansive resort will generate a lot more people to shop and dine in the area than expected when Westcor bypassed southeast Mesa in its ring-the-Valley-with-retail plans developed a few years ago and dubbed Phoenix 20/20.
Other East Valley business leaders say the value of Gaylord’s resort and convention center reaches far beyond just adding a million or so more visitors a year to spend time and money in Mesa.
“It’s a real boon for us from an image standpoint,” said Charlie Deaton, president of the Mesa Chamber of Commerce. “Anytime you have a convention center resort, you are in a position to bring businesses in that might otherwise go to Phoenix or Scottsdale.”
And the high-powered corporate types who come to the Gaylord for meetings may decide to come back and open a branch of their business in Mesa, he said.
Roc Arnett, president of the East Valley Partnership, said DMB and Gaylord will “turn Elliot and Ellsworth into the next 24th and Camelback,” alluding to the ultra-upscale commercial office, dining and retail corridor in east Phoenix.
“This will be a catalyst for high-quality growth, high-quality employment for many years to come,” Arnett said.