Scottsdale residents are opting for a large Desert Discovery Center with a national profile for the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, but the planned nature center's focus should remain on the local environment.
That's the response consultants for a design firm said they received after unveiling two proposed alternatives for the center, which is slated for the Gateway Access Area under construction on 543 acres east of Thompson Peak Parkway between Bell Road and Union Hills Drive. The site will be the main trailhead and parking area for the planned 36,400-acre preserve.
"People tend to vote at the 'I want the big one' end," said ConsultEcon's Robert Brais.
The firm recently completed a marketing and feasibility study on the nature center at the city's behest. The plans received a public airing at a joint meeting Tuesday of the city's Tourism Development and McDowell Sonoran Preserve commissions.
The consultants have also asked residents to rank artists renderings of several proposed exhibits. William Baird, of Exhibit Design Associates, which worked with ConsultEcon on the center's designs, said that one notable suggestion - to have visitors walk through the digestive system of a giant rattlesnake - received a lukewarm response.
"Some people loved it, some people hated it," he said. "The people who didn't like it didn't like the snake."
The most popular exhibit would involve a large-scale model of the McDowell Mountains. Visitors would be able to use laser pointers to access information about the panorama, Baird said.
Baird said that means residents want the center to zero in on the local landscape.
"What we heard was, 'Focus on what's here in the Preserve. Focus on Sonoran Desert ecology,'" he said.
Rachel Sacco, Scottsdale Convention and Visitors Bureau president, said the center should attract locals and tourists.
"It must be interesting, it must be unique, and it must be something that can't be seen elsewhere," she said.
Two options - a smaller "McDowell Portal" version and a larger "Exhibition Sonora" version, twice the size - have been floated for the Desert Discovery Center. The smaller option would be geared toward local and regional visitors, according to the consultants' report.
"It sounds to us like the community wants a fairly significant facility," Baird said.
Brais said the smaller option could cost about $23.4 million, while the larger could cost about $56.8 million.
Scottsdale City Councilman Wayne Ecton said there is public support for the nature center.