The dream is to see Papago Park elevated to the same iconic status as New York’s Central Park, Chicago’s Lincoln Park or San Diego’s Balboa Park as an urban oasis and cultural focal point.
That’s becoming the defining goal of the Papago Salado Association, a joint venture of Tempe, Scottsdale, Phoenix and Salt River Project. The group’s leaders were at work last week fleshing out a vision for the future of the 1,600-acre park.
They convened a forum of local members of the Urban Lands Institute, a national nonprofit group that offers expertise on land use, conservation and economic development.
"The idea is to get a master plan based on what the Papago Park area could be if it blossomed to its full potential," said Debbie Abele, the association’s director.
About 1,200 acres of the park are in Phoenix, and more than 300 acres are in Tempe. Scottsdale’s boundary runs along much the north and east edges of the park. Part of SRP’s canal system runs through the park, and the utility also has a water plant there.
"We expect some conflicting perspectives" about how to improve the area, both among the three cities and at SRP, Abele said.
"Some people will say, ‘Just make the park safe and clean and leave it alone,’ " while others will want expanded amenities, said Jim Lemmon, a member of the association board and the North Tempe Neighborhood Association.
Scottsdale City Councilman Kevin Osterman said he favors forming a regional park authority to ensure the city has an effective voice in its future.
The success of attractions in and near the park, including the Phoenix Zoo, the Desert Botanical Garden and the Arizona Historical Society Museum, is important to Scottsdale’s tourism industry, Osterman said.
Osterman said he would like to see the master plan include designs for linking Scottsdale’s Indian Bend Wash Greenbelt to Papago Park.
Striking a balance between enhancing the area’s economic potential and preserving the natural Sonoran Desert environment will be the biggest challenge, said Don Chatfield, associate director of the Sonoran Institute, an Arizona-based conservation group.
"We need to retain the unique character of the landscape," he said.
John Driggs, a former Phoenix mayor and the current chairman of the city’s heritage commission, wants improvements done for Arizona’s centennial in 2012.