Scottsdale City Council approves 23-acre museum site and Pinnacle Peak Park; a privately-funded Conceptual Site Plan and Programming Study for a “desert discovery center” is also completed.


City hires ERA & Associates, using bed tax funds, to produce a Destination Attraction Study evaluating the feasibility (from a tourism perspective) of a desert center attraction.

PDF Version of Our Timeline

City of Scottsdale’s Desert Discovery Center Project Historical Timeline Highlights [including Narrative in brackets by City Preservation Director, Kroy Ekblaw]


Mayor Herb Drinkwater and Council appoint McDowell Mountain Task Force to begin implementation of Preserve; the September 1993 Task Force Report cited uses that may be in the Preserve including “ramadas, picnic areas, nature trails, visitor centers, interpretive or educational centers, restrooms, park ranger offices, limited museum facilities and ancillary uses such as parking.”


City creates McDowell Sonoran Preserve Commission and establishes initial Preserve area.


1st public vote authorizes .20% Preserve Tax for land only, cash pay as you go.


McDowell Sonoran Preserve Commission begins drafting the Preserve Access Area Report; in the Report approved by the Commission on March 4, 1999, the Gateway is identified as the location for the broadest range of public amenities within the Preserve including potentially “a transit stop, picnic areas, ramadas, a visitor center, displays, an amphitheater, Preserve offices, restrooms, drinking fountains, telephones, concessions, maps/signage, displays (sic), trailheads, ADA trails and a Preserve gate. Picnic and ramada areas may be provided to accommodate corporate picnics and other large user groups.”


City retains Langdon Wilson to prepare a bed tax-funded concept study for a Desert Discovery Center (DDC) at the Gateway, which is the location selected by City staff after a thorough analysis of three sites: the final report presented in 1999 states it is to be “a place that is exciting, fun, educational, welcoming and accessible, a center of activity and which is a gateway to the McDowell Sonoran Preserve;” the Report’s suggested amenities include a café, shop and evening hours.


The City Council Action Report of April 14, 1997, authorizing the agreement with Langdon Wilson for Desert Discovery Center Planning stated: “The residents of Scottsdale will benefit from the project through the addition of a major attraction designed to both entertain and educate visitors and residents about the uniqueness and value of the Upper Sonoran Desert. By adding a new visitor attraction, the residents will benefit from additional taxes and other economic contributions by the visitor to Scottsdale.” The Council Report also recommended the Gateway site in the Preserve as the DDC location and the subject of all “analytical and planning work.”


City establishes Desert Discovery Center advisory committee.


City Council adopts the Preserve Ordinance, allowing amenities to be built in the Preserve, as well as uses and activities for education, recreation, research, tourism and activities that serve or further a legitimate public, civic or educational purpose.


City authorizes negotiations with Toll Brothers to purchase Gateway parcel, stating in the June 18, 2002 Council Report that the Gateway will serve “as a major passive recreational and tourist experience, a major staging area for exploration of the Preserve and a focal point for educational activities and programs…” The Report also said that, “The Gateway is the area where the proposed desert discovery (center) would be located.”


Public vote authorizes .15% Preserve Tax that could also be used for Preserve amenities.


City approves contract with Weddle Gilmore to conduct a master plan for the Gateway, including the DDC at the Gateway as part of the master plan.


City retains Nichols Tourism Group and Weddle Gilmore Architects to update (with bed tax dollars) the 1999 Desert Discovery Center Study; both the RFP and final report identify the DDC at the Gateway.

The McDowell Sonoran Preserve Commission subcommittees reach consensus: “The mission statement for the Desert Discovery Center and the vision for the Preserve are consistent and compatible with each other.”


City Financial Services Department conducts a Business Plan Refinement for the DDC.

September 18 – Council approves Municipal Use Master Site Plan for “Preserve access and interpretive center,” establishing the DDC use at the Gateway in the Preserve. According to the project narrative: “The Phase 2 for the Desert Discovery Center will include an interpretive center, support offices, café with outdoor dining terrace, and a 400-seat outdoor amphitheater.” The Policy Implications Section of the Council Report states: “This facility is in support of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve as established through previously approved actions, including public votes, that have established the location, financing and planning of the Preserve and the ancillary functions intended to be provided in it.”


City retains ConsultEcon, Inc. to evaluate the interpretive and market opportunities for the DDC (funded ½ by bed tax and ½ by the private sector). The November 6, 2007 Council Report authorizing the ConsultEcon study stated “Positioned in the Gateway to the McDowell Sonoran Preserve east of Thompson Peak Parkway between Bell and Union Hills Roads, the Desert Discovery Center (DDC) was envisioned as a key recreational and educational experience as well as a destination for tourists/visitors to the Valley.

A jury resolves the issue with Toll Brothers and the City pays $81.9 million ($214,000/ac not including legal fees) for the 383 acre Gateway/DDC site.


The Gateway to the McDowell Sonoran Preserve opens, with infrastructure planned and in place to accommodate the DDC, as part of the Gateway master plan design. City Resolution No. 8079 creates CIP project “Desert Discovery Center”
(Oct 6, 2009).


City retains Swaback Partners for the Preserve tax-funded Desert Discovery Center Feasibility Study: Phase II; the RFP identifies the Gateway location and describes the project as a “larger, destination, attraction-type facility.” The January 26, 2010 Council Action Report for the awarding of the Swaback contract reiterated the consensus of the Joint MSPC/TDC Subcommittee: “Subcommittee members further agreed and recommended that Phase Two should focus on the development of a single concept to be located at the Gateway to the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, one that matches the magnificence of the Preserve and will draw visitors to Scottsdale.”

November 9 Council accepts the Phase II Report identifying the DDC location at the Gateway.

City Resolution No. 8469 authorizes proceeding with the recommendations as accepted and creates CIP project Phase III (Nov 9, 2010)

City Resolution No. 8540 establishes the DDC Phase III Feasibility Committee and transfers Bed tax funds to DDC CIP Project (Dec 13, 2010)


City issues an RFQ for the Desert Discovery Center operations, identifying the location at the Gateway; there were no respondents.


City retains Swaback Partners to test other sites for flexibility in use/activity and/or lower construction costs; after review of six sites for the DDC, the Gateway site was reconfirmed as the best location. The Desert Discovery Center Advocates group forms to privately continue the work recommended by the Phase II and Phase III studies.


ConsultEcon’s final report reviews the Operating Potential of the Desert Discovery Center and Wallace Gardens at Alternative Sites; City Website identifies the DDC location at the Gateway.


On March 24, the City Council authorizes the issuance of a new RFQ for the DDC, and on September 8, the City council authorizes contract negotiations with DDCS, Inc. for the initial phases necessary to implement a proposed DDC. On Dec. 15, Scottsdale’s Tourism Development Commission authorized $1.7 million in bed tax funds for the DDC project.


On Jan. 11, the Scottsdale City Council voted 6:1 to approve a contract with DDCS for further planning and study; to issue an RFQ for an architect; and to initiate an amendment to the Municipal Use Master Site Plan.

For information regarding the current City of Scottsdale Desert Discovery Center Project, including information on upcoming public meetings, please visit: scottsdaleaz.gov (search Desert Discovery Center).