The desolate site of the former Mesa Proving Grounds was supposed to spring to life in a dramatic way, with an $800 million Gaylord resort that would in turn lure other projects to the area.
More than three years after the Gaylord announcement, not a shovel of dirt has been turned on what would be Arizona's largest hotel.
Instead, a First Solar factory was the first to rise from the property last year. And this month, it was announced an 800-home development will become the second development next year.
Despite other projects jumping ahead of Gaylord, Mesa City Manager Chris Brady said he's still expecting the resort will materialize.
"I think we're still a couple years out," Brady said.
Tennessee-based Gaylord announced the Mesa resort in September 2008, just days before some of the most harrowing events in the global financial crisis began to unfold. Gaylord was under a deadline to break ground by December 2011, but Mesa extended that to 2015. That establishes an opening date of no later than 2017.
Gaylord focuses on the leisure travel market and needs that sector to improve more before it can justify the resort that would host an estimated one million guests a year. Hotels are beginning to raise rates in a sign that demand is growing for the kind of guest Gaylord caters to, Brady said.
"From what I can tell, just like the rest of the economy, there seems to be a little good news out there," Brady said. "It seems to be getting a little bit better."
Another factor in Mesa's favor is that Gaylord has pledged to meet customer demand by opening its first resort in the West. The company is also considering a similarly-sized resort in Aurora, Colo.
Gaylord plans to build on 100 acres within the 3,200-acre proving grounds site owned by Scottsdale-based DMB Associates. The developer began marking the property last week under the name Eastmark.
DMB communicates with Gaylord quarterly to review Arizona's economic conditions, DMB senior vice president Dea McDonald said. DMB doesn't know the exact conditions Gaylord seeks before moving forward but believes critical factors are growing more favorable.
"Based on what we see and read in the paper about occupancy rates here in the Valley, it seems there's a tendency that things are getting better," McDonald said.
A Gaylord representative did not respond to an inquiry for comment.
Mesa voters approved a $51 million incentive package for Gaylord in 2009. Under the deal, Mesa would rebate bed taxes that would otherwise be used to promote tourism.
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