July 27, 2005 - A luxury hotel and resort long-planned to locate in the foothills of the Tortolita Mountains in Oro Valley may be on its way to Marana, instead, officials from both towns said last week.

Rumors of a 250-room Ritz-Carlton resort locating in the Marana community of Dove Mountain have risen above whisper level at town meetings and local business gatherings recently. The details are unclear as developers are being tight-lipped about the not-yet-finalized agreement, which could mean increased revenues for either town, but all signs point to Marana.

"The thing everybody is waiting to see is if the Ritz-Carlton is for real, and if it's for real then I think that'll change the way we view Dove Mountain," said Jim DeGrood, Marana's assistant to the town manager, adding that the town will have to carefully look at infrastructure needs in the area to accommodate a large resort.

Dove Mountain, a 6,200-acre development at the base of the Tortolita Mountains, northwest of Tangerine and Thornydale roads, is a stone's throw from the very similar community of Stone Canyon, which is about five miles east in Oro Valley in the Rancho Vistoso development.

Talks of a 320-room Ritz-Carlton resort at Stone Canyon have been on the table for more than five years, while a 500-room Hyatt hotel and resort was once planned for Dove Mountain. The economic downturn after the Sept. 11 attacks of 2001 caused developers to delay plans for both luxury resorts. However, town officials on both sides say the industry is rebounding and a scaled-back version of the Ritz-Carlton could be headed to Marana.

The Maryland-based Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co., owned by Marriott International, operates 35 hotels and 23 resorts worldwide, from the Cayman Islands to Hong Kong to Egypt. With very few cities on the list of those having a Ritz-Carlton, the company has carved out its reputation as the best of the best in luxury hotel service.

The company traces its origins to celebrated hotelier Cesar Ritz, who ran the Ritz in Paris and the Carlton in London. The first in the United States opened in 1927 in Boston.

Phoenix is the only city in Arizona with a Ritz-Carlton, which is at 24th Street and Camelback Road. However, Marriott International recently bought a 120-acre site along Paradise Valley and Scottsdale roads where rumor has it a second metro-Phoenix Ritz may go.

David Mehl, president of Cottonwood Properties, the developer of Dove Mountain, would not confirm rumors that a Ritz-Carlton is headed to Marana, but acknowledged that negotiations regarding a 250-room resort are being worked out.

"We haven't announced anything," he said. "We continue to work toward (a deal). We're looking at a number of different possibilities."

Dick Maes, general manager of Vistoso Partners, developers of Stone Canyon, also declined to comment, but said Ritz-Carlton still owns a 12-acre site in Stone Canyon, where a luxury resort is expected to be built, regardless of whether it goes by Ritz-Carlton or another name.

Jeff Weir, Oro Valley's economic development director, said he hasn't been able to get all of the details, but it's his understanding that there was a "falling out" between Ritz-Carlton and developers of Stone Canyon. "They parted ways and it wasn't comfortable for either party," he said.

Weir said that even if the Ritz-Carlton locates in Dove Mountain, town officials and developers still plan to bring another resort to Stone Canyon, where many of the top names in resorts are still considering locating.

"I'm very optimistic and hopeful that something will get identified to go in there," he said. "The industry is getting back to the 2001 level - it's really starting to recover - and it may be time for new ventures to come forward. Eventually, something of real high quality will be there."

Ever since the arrival of the Tucson Hilton El Conquistador, Oro Valley's only large resort, town officials have long envisioned Oro Valley becoming a premier resort community. Weir said it's been a long wait for new resorts to be built.

"The development community is committed to finding the right resort for this community," he said. "We're not going to stop because we can't get the Ritz-Carlton. It's always somewhat disappointing when we've worked with the developer of the Ritz for three or four years and something changes and they decide to go somewhere else … but sometimes you just don't hit a home run on the first pitch."

Oro Valley Councilwoman Helen Dankwerth, who also said she wants to see Oro Valley become a premier resort community, said she hadn't heard rumors that Ritz-Carlton was considering Dove Mountain, but said either location will be a boost to Oro Valley.

"I think for either Oro Valley or Marana to have the Ritz will be real nice because people will not just be staying at the Ritz. I strongly suspect people will travel east on Tangerine and do some shopping," she said. "We might not benefit by the bed tax, but anything that comes in, in the area, will benefit Oro Valley. And quite candidly, I think the sales tax generated would far outstrip the bed tax."

Oro Valley is in the process of annexing the 244-room Westward Look Resort on Ina Road, which is expected to bring additional sales tax and bed tax revenue into the town. The town council recently doubled the tax that visitors pay to get a room, from 3 to 6 percent, while Marana charges a 3 percent tax on rooms in addition to a 2.5 percent sales tax that Oro Valley doesn't charge. The last time Oro Valley increased its bed tax was in 2000, when it went from 1 percent to 3 percent to provide additional funding for the proposed Ritz-Carlton in Stone Canyon.

Marana Councilwoman Carol McGorray, who lives in Dove Mountain, said the Ritz would not only be a financial boost for Marana, it also would be welcomed by residents.

"People ask me all the time, 'What's the story on the hotel?'" she said. "I think they're all looking forward to it as an enhancement to the whole Dove Mountain area."

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