July 27, 2005 - Several spectators showed up for a highly anticipated auction last week during which The Cardon Group of Mesa purchased a 205-acre University of Arizona farm site in northern Marana for $16.5 million.
The property west of Interstate 10, known as the Marana Agricultural Center, sold for the minimum bid price of $80,000 an acre, but developers remain tight-lipped about any potential uses for the property.
"I don't have a lot to comment on the piece other than we're excited about Marana and excited about that piece. I think it's going to be a good thing," said Wil Cardon, president of The Cardon Group.
Mitch Stallard, vice president of development for Phoenix-based Westcor, the well-known shopping mall developer that built La Encantada at Campbell Avenue and Sunrise Drive, also was in attendance. Stallard said Westcor has been planning to build a regional shopping mall in Marana for the past four years. Prior to the auction, many speculated that Westcor was going to purchase the property, but Stallard was only a casual observer.
Founded in 1964, Westcor is known for its regional shopping centers throughout metro Phoenix, including the Arrowhead Towne Center, Scottsdale Fashion Square, Chandler Fashion Center and the Desert Sky Mall.
Jim DeGrood, executive assistant to the town manager, said in a recent interview that the town has been approached about the possibility of a regional mall somewhere along Interstate 10 in northern Marana. DeGrood has played a lead role in planning how Marana will meet the infrastructure demands of such developments.
"If all this started happening along this corridor, then all of a sudden it could change dramatically the time frame of things if you're attracting people from Oro Valley to Marana for a regional shopping destination," he said.
"We also understand there's a desire to see another auto mall somewhere in this area," he added. "People are talking to us about what would make some sense - who's going to do it, when they're going to do it. All we know is Detroit is saying, 'You need something.'"
Town Manager Mike Reuwsaat said he expects to sit down with representatives from The Cardon Group this week to discuss possible uses for the land, which is directly adjacent to the town's future main core, at the northeast corner of Trico-Marana and Sanders roads.
Acquired by the university in the early 1950s, the property has been used to conduct large-scale field research for many years, but university officials say the town's continued development of residential subdivisions inhibits its research activities.
The prime piece of real estate went up for auction April 6 without any bidders, as some of the top developers in the area squawked about high prices. A Northwest Medical Center spokeswoman said her company was seriously considering the land as a potential site for a full-scale hospital.
The area has been discussed as a good location for institutional development including a medical campus or a higher education facility, Reuwsaat said. Architect Vern Swaback, in his consultations with the town regarding the Town Center planning, has even said it would be a good spot to have a hospital that's near the town's future main hub.
The Cardon Group is working with Swaback Partners to develop a 5,000-acre community near the Maricopa-Yavapai county line northwest of Phoenix near Lake Pleasant. Swaback Partners started design work in early 2004 for a community with 8,000 to 12,000 residences, featuring a mixture of housing products with a possible Arizona State University branch campus, or another academic institution, included in the design.