In what at times seemed a dizzying display of global knowledge and detailed plans for the future, Maricopa’s senior economic development consultant simultaneously wooed the Maricopa City Council and out-of-state developers with information on Maricopa’s potential and promise.
The CEO of her own consulting company, IO.Inc, Morfessis rolled through an hour-long presentation during a special meeting of the council at the Global Water facility, Sept. 25. Responding to what Mayor Kelly Anderson described as a desire by the council to exhibit the behind-the-scenes work of various departments in advancing Maricopa, Morfessis talked the council and crowd through a number of global trends that will impact the job market locally.
Morfessis detailed the achievements of the department, the near misses and plans for the work ahead.
“We want to create a distinct market niche and build pillars of an economy that will give us a competitive advantage,” said Morfessis, who is focused on expanding the city’s economic development tool kit as one of her major goals for the next 12 months. “We need to level the playing field. We need to be extremely responsive and be able to deliver infrastructure... making sure we rapidly process permits so these developers can mitigate and minimize the risk factors.”
Morfessis also detailed the failings and shortcomings of the city’s efforts to date, saying the city must do more to attract that first business park development to Maricopa.
“Our state is not an incentive rich state, so we need to go above and beyond to make the first business park happen,” said Morfessis, again reemphasizing her belief that the council should purchase land to entice that first major business development to the city. “Until we get the first one, we won’t be proven.”
Morfessis said Maricopa’s future was in the key positioning of its city in the so-called Sun Corridor. That corridor, which stretches from Prescott to Nogales, is one of 10 projected megapolitan areas that will encompass a population of 10 million or more in the next 20 years.
“There is strength in numbers by being a part of the Phoenix-Tucson megapolitan region,” she said. “Nobody knows where Pinal is outside of Arizona, but almost everyone knows what greater Phoenix is. Knowledge reigns supreme. Maricopa is so well positioned because we have a highly-educated worker base.”
Old Town plans materializing
While talking up the benefits of the new Shea power center on the Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway and emphasizing the vital need to continue the fight to add quality-of-life benefits to residents in both the retail and entertainment sectors, Morfessis said perhaps the greatest failing of the city to date is the lack of a unified vision and plan for a downtown.
“We don’t have a downtown and we need that icon. We need to designate and create a distinctive downtown core that will make us stand out and is a live, work, play environment.”
Morfessis’ comments paved the way for Councilman Will Dunn and Planning Director Amy Haberbosch to unveil a portion of the work being done on planning Maricopa’s downtown in Old Town. The initial plan has been to break up Old Town in special planning districts with unique facets to each and to incorporate a loop system to divert some of the traffic from the main arterial, State Route 347, around the district.
“I want you guys to catch a vision for how we can stop spinning our wheels,” Dunn told his fellow councilmembers. “We needed to finally aim at something... where Maricopa is not just a bunch of houses but a community with something for everyone.”
“We’re talking about providing basic services so we can move on and grow up,” Murphree added.
Dunn introduced Dave Fackler, who was responsible in part for the development of Rio Salado. Fackler helped the task force draw up initial plans for how the special planning districts could work, and could play a key role in any move forward for the city as his development group controls more than 160 acres in the proposed Old Town planning area.
“The downtown is the living room of the community. Without it, the city does not have a place where it can come and celebrate its community,” Fackler said. “I’ve lectures many city councils on making sure they keep their city services in the downtown. The downtown needs to be a place to live, work, play and learn.”
Fackler recommended high density zoning unique to only the downtown area to create a branded identity to a project he estimated would take 15 to 20 years to reach full build-out.
“There are tremendous opportunities here. We are willing to work with you... and we can build out your city facilities and the rest of your downtown.”
Dunn said the project is still in the very early planning stages and that more information would continue to become available as ideas are brought to the table from citizens and Old Town landowners.