Tacked up in an impeccably furnished boardroom with a conference table the size of the expanse of land outside is a vision for the future Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.
One poster shows the demographics and buying power of nearby Scottsdale neighborhoods. Another shows a river of water flowing along Loop 101, snaking through a bustling business corridor. A third shows northern, central and southern gateways, areas clustered with everything from telecommunications centers to golf courses and resorts surrounding the tribe's two casinos.
“This is valuable land here,” said Claire Miller, spokeswoman for Salt River Devco, an agency recently established by the tribe to look for ways to grow the freeway corridor. “The potential is there for high quality development.”
For decades the community has sat on some of the most prime real estate in Scottsdale and the East Valley, creating a massive ribbon of untapped desert on both sides of Loop 101 along the reservation's western edge between the freeway and the Scottsdale-Tempe border.
While some development has taken place mostly along Indian Bend and Chaparral roads, rush hour drivers and economic experts continually wonder when the community will sprout millions of square feet of office, retail and commercial space instead of hundreds of acres of cotton. The walls of the Salt River Devco boardroom are the tribe's first attempt to create a cohesive plan along the busy highway. Dubbed Generation Seven, it is as flashy and ambitious as any development plan in Valley.
If the posters come to life in the next three decades, the slumbering, mostly agricultural area with a population of 7,000 would become an economic giant that could rival every neighboring city in tax revenue and wealth thanks to sitting at the interchange of Loops 101 and 202. “We have a lot of groundwork to do,” Miller said. “We're working fast, but we've really only been doing this for the past 16 to 18 months. We've come a long way in terms of getting the concept together and getting the landowners educated. We can't really do much until we take it to the community and until we have the Tribal Council put their stamp of approval on this. It's not set in stone. It's flexible. We want to be able to let all landowners be aware of it. There's nothing that says Devco has to do the development of your property, but we want to at least have some way to say there's a proper master plan.”
It's a blueprint Scottsdale is watching closely.
“In my crystal ball, things are going to happen over there,” said Dave Roderique, Scottsdale's economic vitality director. “It's likely to continue to be fairly slow and methodical. The community has not rushed into developments. They have taken their time, and for the most part, done them very well. Right now, with the state of the industry and the economy as whole, you're not going to see much development even if they were changing their mind-set and throwing open the door and saying ‘come one, come all.’ ”
There are many challenges for the reservation, including persuading as many as 1,500 tribal allottees, or landowners, the development plan is in their best interests.
“There are legal issues we have to look at because all the land is tribal land and federally held in trust so we have to work with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and see what the regulations say,” Miller said. “There's a whole lot of background research that we have to continually do. The landowners are willing to look at the possibilities, so we're just looking to bring that to them.”
Developers trying to do business in an Indian community are subject to tribal laws, meaning some won't build unless the tribes give up its sovereign rights relating to legal remedies, Roderique said. Also, tribal lands can only be leased, he said. “There are some tenants out there who will only go into owned property,” Roderique said. But there are already examples where the rules didn't get in the way.
Vestar Corp. planned the Pavilions mall on 146 acres just off Loop 101 even before the freeway opened that far north, working with 47 Salt River community members to secure land leases. More recently, the tribe developed a major commercial office center at Chaparral Road and Loop 101 that houses Fender Musical Instruments, Western International University and some tribal offices, including Devco. The Chaparral Business Center is currently 100 percent leased. Phase IV, will be a new 75,000-square-foot office building to be built beginning in March for Scottsdale-based Wireless Retail. When construction is completed in spring 2003, the center will have 280,000 square-feet of office space. To the north of the center, between Chaparral and McDonald Drive, about 30 members of the Santeo family are planning to commercially develop 83 acres on the west side of the freeway.
Called Lincoln 101, the plan calls for a mix of uses including office, light-industrial and retail space and a business hotel. A letter of intent, which began the land use and development process, was signed on Dec. 5, 2001. After two subsequent public community meetings, the Tribal Council approved a 65-year lease that it is currently waiting BIA approval. Ground-breaking is expected by late summer.
While some community members prefer to hold onto their allotments, the Santeos realized by pooling their individual land interests, they were able to attract larger projects, thereby creating greater value and returns, said Donald Santeo, whose father's land is part of the development. The family had previously attempted developing the area before without fruition, he said. Roderique predicts some of the community's land will always remain vacant.
“Many of them are not willing to give up the land and allow it to be developed,” he said of tribal members. “They call it the Generation Seven Plan. They're really looking at a very, very long time to get through this whole process. A lot of that simply reflects that value system.”
Former tribal councilman Tom Largo said the majority of residents are in favor of developing the corridor because it is expected to be well planned.
“You don't have what's occurring in other municipalities where just all kinds of things are popping up,” he said. “If that vision (Generation Seven) could be put into place, and it all takes education to everybody with in the community, those that own land and those that don't, it could really put this community on the map.” One of the difficulties will be getting families to agree on land uses, Largo said.
“As time goes on and those allotments become more saturated with ownership, it does make it a challenge,” he said.
In the future, the tribe plans a large resort hotel near its smaller casino on Indian Bend. Adjacent to the casino is the tribe-owned Talking Stick Golf Course.
“The market's been soft so they're just looking at the right time,” Miller said. “They're at least planning it at this point. I think we're looking at that as a good entertainment venue.”
On the northern end of the community, at 90th Street, the tribe envisions a cluster of bio-medical companies that would be an asset to health facilities on Scottsdale's side of Loop 101.
But the tribe insists there is a limit to growth.
“The community people are real concerned. . . . we don't want development to just creep and creep and creep,” Miller said. “There has to be something that says ‘no development past Dobson Road or 92nd Street.’ The majority of people are saying 92nd really ought to be . . . where you stop development and leave our community in tact. We're not interested in it creeping all the way to Alma School Road. There's a group that says keep it west of the freeway . . . but that's not very fair to the landowners that have land just east of the freeway. They have a right to develop commercially.”
Whatever becomes of the community, it will be in tune with nature.
“We thought maybe we could create a greenbelt or waterway because the Pima culture is that we are river people, we're water people,” Miller said. “We want to keep our culture in this corridor in some way, shape or form and let people know you are in Indian country and this is no longer Scottsdale. The thought is some kind of river or a canal or some kind of waterway that would be nice like the Indian Bend Wash with walkways and bike paths.”