Mesa could soon be home to Arizona’s largest resort and conference center, a project being billed as the steppingstone to greater things coming its way in the future.
Mayor Scott Smith and company chief executives made the announcement Wednesday amid a who’s who of East Valley city and business leaders packed inside the Mesa Arts Center.
The owner of Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry and Gaylord Opryland, the 2,900-room destination resort hotel next door to the legendary home of country music, plans to build a new version of its signature hotel brand in Mesa, which could potentially attract a million visitors a year.
Nashville, Tenn.-based Gaylord Entertainment will buy 100 acres at the General Motors Desert Proving Ground site in southeast Mesa from real estate developer DMB Associates, which owns 3,200 acres of land. Gaylord plans to incrementally develop its fifth resort and conference center project, with other properties near Washington, D.C., Orlando, Fla., and the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
With specifics still being figured out, the Mesa project is expected to rise 10 stories, have 1,200 to 1,500 rooms and 200,000 to 300,000 square feet of indoor meeting/convention space.
“This will be much, much bigger than any convention center hotel in the Valley,” Gaylord CEO Colin Reed said.
Lauding Gaylord and DMB’s “commitment to the community,” Smith underscored the fact that this project would be at a much bigger scale than the usual highend golf course-resort facilities in the Valley.
“Please take that vision and put it aside,” Smith said. Gaylord’s other properties are gigantic, destination resorts with large convention centers combined with entertainment and retail components, all under one roof.
Westcor will be the retail developer at the site, parent company Macerich’s CEO Arthur Coppola announced.
DMB will also kick in a 200-acre, 18-hole desert golf course to be designed by renowned architect Tom Fazio.
A billion-dollar investment notwithstanding, the projects announced are just the beginning, Mesa City Manager Chris Brady noted.
“This sets the tone and quality for future development,” Brady said. Mesa is still crunching numbers on what this means for the city’s coffers. Brady said it won’t quite “reverse Mesa’s economy,” but the benefits will come in branding the city nationally.
“Think about it, our name will be next to Gaylord’s other properties — Washington, D.C., Orlando, Dallas ... Mesa,” Brady said.
DMB’s Chief Executive Drew Brown stressed the importance of the burgeoning south East Valley area to the region, with the massive Superstition Vistas project to the east, access to freeways and the airport. He likened its future to 24th Street and Camelback and Kierland Commons together with a “shot of steroids.”
The newest Gaylord, near the nation’s capital, debuted in April. It had more than 1.5 million rooms pre-booked before its debut.
Mesa Chamber of Commerce President Charlie Deaton said Gaylord will do for Mesa what the failed bid for a stadium was expected to do — raise Mesa’s national profile among the corporate set. District 6 Councilman Scott Somers, where the proving ground is located in southeast Mesa, said the benefits will spill over statewide, as visitors come to the facility, but also are likely to check out area attractions.
Gaylord primarily caters to the large group convention business, especially meeting planners looking to host events at different locations. Reed expects the project to generate at least 2,000 jobs.
To the question of “Why (locate in) Mesa?,” Reed said the company was attracted to the city because of the chance to buy a large, contiguous chunk of real estate. Mesa also was attractive because of its “well-educated work force, communities which are well-governed and a decent community,” Reed said.
The area’s topography and views of the Superstition Mountains to the east added to the attraction, he added.
With the DMB site next to the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, the project is being touted as a major benefit to the airport’s business.
Gateway Airport Director Lynn Kusy termed the project a good land use near an airport. Kusy added that the development would help the airport market itself to airlines looking to serve the area.
Mesa officials and leaders have been pushing for high-quality jobs in the area around Gateway Airport. DMB owns 3,200 acres of the GM property, which it bought for $265 million in 2006.
GM, which is shifting its vehicle testing site to Yuma, is expected to vacate the property by next summer.
Pending city approvals, the Gaylord project could be ready to start digging up dirt within 90 days after GM moves out. DMB has requested annexation into the city and for a major general plan amendment to designate the area a mixed-use community.
Mesa is mulling laying out economic development tools such as a community facilities district designation to the Gateway area, which includes the DMB property.
Such incentives could help DMB build infrastructure, Vice Mayor Kyle Jones said.
“It wouldn’t be the city laying out money, but we’re creating the tools to help develop the property,” Jones said.