Parks & Hypergrowth, Part 1

“We created a PRL department along with other city services for a number of reasons,” Buss said. “First, the citizens demonstrated strong interest in PRL activities. Of the six transitional committees established, the PRL committee received the greatest number of applicants by far. Second, our demographics showed a large percentage of the population to be under the age of 17. Third, the geographic nature of the city is somewhat of an island and PRL-type of activities are roughly 30 minutes away in other cities. That is, the citizens desire PRL activities to be within close proximity. Fourth, there is a strong correlation between quality of life amenities and services (like PRL) and economic development.”

The chance to build a department from scratch and construct facilities from the ground up is unique and an opportunity of a lifetime. It sounds like a cliché, but when someone hands you a blank sheet of paper it’s exciting and the possibilities are endless. It’s also very challenging.

As a new city, we currently do not have any facilities. Our local Rotary Chapter constructed a cement pool during the late 1950s adjacent to an acre-and-a-half green belt located next to a highway. Aside from the local school, these were the only two recreational elements available to residents of Maricopa for decades. Both facilities are still in use today.

“We wanted to create a parks and recreation department for two reasons: demand and timing; we didn’t want to be behind the eight ball in terms facility and open space planning,” Councilman Haddad commented. ”

If we had waited any longer we would have spent a few (and unnecessary) years playing catch-up. I am so proud of this department and the accomplishments they’ve made over the past year.”

Help the Builder Help You

Sometimes the public sector tends to point the proverbial finger of blame at the development community for building thousands of new homes, which can create an inverted relationship. The increase in population quickly raises the demand for quality recreation facilities. However, the funding available does not meet the need.

We incorporated with a limited job and tax base, which impacts our ability to provide quality of life amenities on the short-term basis. The City recently completed a development impact fee study and will begin collecting one-time revenues later this fall.

My belief is that parks and recreation directors and other key administrative personnel must embrace the developers. By establishing a clear cut and fair policy up front, developers can help reduce the cycle time of bringing a new park or facility on the drawing board to reality a lot faster.

That being said, let’s not forget that development greatly benefits from these quality of life amenities. It raises the value of their product.

“It is important for developers and homebuilders to understand the potential impact of growth on municipalities and work proactively to assist municipalities in hypergrowth situations,” noted Mike Jesberger of Element Homes. “It is equally important for the municipalities in these situations to do everything they can to get ahead of the development curve and set fair and consistent development policies to ensure that the builders are able to understand the scope of their responsibilities.”

The City of Maricopa has spent the past year working with Mike Jesberger and Element Homes to possibly build the city’s first park. It’s a truly unique deal and indicative of a future trend in municipal finance/construction: public-private partnerships, which we’ll highlight later.

Our first park will be approximately 18.8 acres in size with a 2.25 acre lake, two lighted ASA championship caliber softball fields, the first pair of lighted tennis courts in Maricopa, basketball courts, two playgrounds and a dedicated soccer field.

The park has an estimated price tag of $5.1 million when factoring in land acquisition costs, amenities, lake construction, mass grading and plan (architectural, engineering and landscape) work.

“Early on we identified the site as a potential public park site and felt it was our responsibility to explore this option with the city,” Jesberger commented. “Its size (large enough for public amenities like softball) and location, (both within our project and within the greater boundaries of the city), were well suited for a public park. We were prepared develop it as a private park, but floated the idea to the city early on and found there was a high degree of interest because of the lack of public parks in the area. The big question was how to get a win-win deal done, given all the other needs of an emerging municipality.”

The concept of a win-win deal is significant because it establishes a sound base for a good business relationship between both parties.

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