Sunbelt Holdings bought one of the Valley’s hottest pieces of real estate on July 15, getting the rights to develop 31 acres of land on the south bank of Tempe Town Lake.
Five days later, a dam burst and the blue lake turned into a bed of gravel and mud.
So much for location, location, location.
The lake’s reopening on Tuesday restores a centerpiece of tourism and an amenity that has created some of the East Valley’s most valuable real estate.
The lake was restored quickly enough to avoid any long-term harm, company vice president Heidi Kimball said. Still, Sunbelt was eager to see the lake filled.
“It was quite a shock,” Kimball said. “But once we got over the initial surprise and understood the process, we really weren’t concerned.”
Tempe rushed to fill the lake for a flurry of water events that occur from fall to spring, including the Arizona Ironman on Nov. 21. Some events have been cancelled or rescheduled. Adult and youth sailing classes were among the casualties, said George Tingom, an instructor with the Arizona Sailing Foundation.
The group was forced to merge its fall and spring class for high school students into one session, he said.
Tingom said he’s eager to get back in the lake during the best time for sailing. The Scottsdale resident has two sailboats and has sailed there since Tempe opened the lake in 1999.
“Instead of having to drive an hour to Lake Pleasant, I can drive and launch in 20 minutes,” he said.
Tempe filled the lake quickly after what could have been a lengthy dry spell. One rubber bladder burst a day before crews were to start replacing the four inflatable dams at the lake’s west end. Crews were already mobilized and new sections were in Tempe or on their way. The city had been planning to replace the dams since it and manufacturer Bridgestone learned in 2007 that the dams were aging faster than their expected lifespan of up to 30 years. Bridgestone replaced the dams for free, but the city is already studying replacement options because Tempe can use the dams for only five years.
The refilled lake includes a new boat rental vendor, which opens Saturday. Tempe Boat Rentals has 50-plus boats, with a wider variety than the previous vendor. For the first time, fishing boats can be rented. Anglers can also let a license, gear and tackle when renting a boat, said Clint Gregory, general manager of Tempe Boat Rentals.
“You can just spontaneously decide to go fishing,” Gregory said.
Visitors who return in the next few days could find one unwelcome guest — swarms of midge flies. The insects thrived in puddles over the summer, but their numbers should drop as larvacide is put in the lake in a few days, said Rick Amalfi, vice president of Aquatic Testing and Testing. The bugs live only three days and don’t bite.
Also battling the insects are 70,000 Israeli carp that eat insect larvae, though Amalfi said it could take time for the 2-inch fish to grow and keep bugs in check. Trout will be stocked in November, and a small number other species flowed into the lake as it refilled with water from Roosevelt Lake.
While Amalfi expected nothing would survive in the hot, shallow puddles this summer, he spotted large bass and catfish jumping out of the water.
“We were really surprised at the end, when we were still seeing fish in there,” Amalfi said.