August 24, 2005 - The Oro Valley town council will soon begin discussing how to pay for the Naranja Town Site regional park.

But discussion of the park site is nothing new for the town, which has been working toward developing a park in the area since the mid-1990s. And while town council members say they want to get the ball rolling with the project, there are still years of work to be done before people will be able to use the park, according to projected time lines for completion.

The Naranja Town Site began as two separate properties.

The 40-acre Copper Creek Ridge Park was purchased first by the town in 1996, and was planned as a recreational park. The site was described by staff as a difficult place to locate a park because it was on a ridge.

The town also recognized that 40 acres was not going to fulfill its needs for parks and open spaces, and as vacant land was being snatched up fast by the 1990s housing boom, Oro Valley leaders realized they needed to secure more land before it was all gone, according to Community Develop-ment Director Brent Sinclair.

In 2000, the town bought an additional 173 acres that would complete the town site at an auction of state land.

Prior to the town purchasing the land, a large area of the site had been leased to Calmat Industries for use as an asphalt and concrete mixing plant.

With the purchase of the state land, the mayor and council realized they had a 213-acre site on their hands, making Naranja one of the biggest regional parks in the area. At that time they decided it was a good idea to look at the sites as one and start over with any plans for use of the land.

In 2001, the Naranja Town Site task force was formed to explore all the possible uses of the site.

"We invited everyone to participate in the planning," Sinclair said. "Anyone who had, in any organized fashion, the need for recreational facilities, parks or a place to hold cultural events."

"When you invited that kind of participation, you get all sorts of requests," Sinclair said

There were public meetings held for months as the town worked toward generating a park plan. Different potential groups of park users were invited to brainstorm their needs as well as their wants. Sports leagues, dance classes, theater groups, skateboarders, dog owners, walkers and just about anyone else with an interest in the park had a chance to give their input, Sinclair said.

"They had a hands on opportunity to plan their park," he said.

What resulted from that, Sinclair said, was a very long wish-list, which then needed to be prioritized. Some items were eliminated after being discussed for a number of reasons, including cost factors and a low potential for use.

Then, 10 to 12 designs were drawn up with the elements that were prioritized combined into one master plan, which was then presented to the council.

"It was a good process," Sinclair said.

Controversy settled over the plan for a time when alternate uses for the site were proposed which included locating town facilities such as a public works yard somewhere on the 200-plus acres.

"That has gone away now as an issue," said Bob Kovitz, community relations director, because the town found another site for a new municipal service center, which will be located off Rancho Vistoso Boulevard.

Once the planning was complete and accepted by the council, the Budget and Bond Committee was then asked to look at the possibilities for funding the multimillion project and together with the community development department, the committee began figuring out the costs.

Then, last year, the town council tasked Town Manager Chuck Sweet to bring forward a proposal for how to fund the site so that the council could begin discussing it. The final report was completed in July and will be discussed by the council at an Aug. 31 study session.

The next step down the road to park completion is to program the site, explained Sinclair.

Programming is the phase of a project where space and equipment needs for every feature of the park will be identified, including planning its architecture, engineering costs, construction and operations costs.

"It's the next logical step if you really want to know the bona fide cost estimates," Sinclair said. "We can say we want to have a community center, but how big is that community center going to be? That will be determined through programming."

Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars was allocated from this year's budget to begin programming. Town Finance Director and Assistant Manager David Andrews said the total costs to program is generally estimated at 1 percent of the total cost of the project.

Right now, the park is estimated to cost $55 million to build and another $4.2 million each year following completion to maintain.

Estimates for the cost of construction and maintenance of the park may change after the site is programmed, Sinclair added.

For example, the master plan for the site had originally called for a 5,000 seat performing arts amphitheater. However, after contracting with a consultant to study what type of performing arts facilities would be appropriate in Oro Valley, it has been suggested that a much smaller facility be built. Last year, the council was presented with a report from Webb Management Services that indicated that the region around the future town site would not support such a large facility and suggested the town consider something closer to a 500 seat amphitheater, as well as studio and classroom spaces for use by arts programs.

The final decision on what to do with those and other facilities will need to be made by the council, but if it chooses the smaller arts center, the overall construction costs, and likely the operating and maintenance costs, could go down considerably, Sinclair said.

He added that the council will need to provide the final direction on how to proceed with all the elements of the park, but that in a situation such as this, the town would generally stick to the master plan that was developed and include all of those elements, at least to a degree.

"A public trust has been established through the planning process and you don't want to break it," Sinclair said.

A majority of the council members, in recent interviews, have indicated their wish to stick as close as possible to the original master plan for the park and to include all of the features that were determined to be important through the public outreach process.

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