Lacking any serious history from a period generally referred to as the Old West, Scottsdale is still a good place to put a Western museum.
Tombstone, Wickenburg, Show Low, Prescott, all have a far richer history that actually stemmed from this time, roughly between 1870 and 1890 and which was complete with gunfighters, gamblers and cattlemen who never were found in Scottsdale.
But none of them is close to the airport.
Tourists are willing to travel to Arizona to get some flavor of the Old West, of course, but after landing in Phoenix too many are averse to having to drive two or three hours to visit where it actually took place.
Enter the proposed Scottsdale Western Museum. Proposals for it have failed twice, but with apologies to Tombstone’s famed nickname, it is apparently the museum that is too tough to die.
That’s good, because it would be quite an attraction to hundreds of thousands of people annually.
It would be located in the heart of downtown, only six or seven miles from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. Of course, not only tourists would visit it.
Locals could enjoy the 42,000-square-foot facility’s collections as well.
The idea of another downtown museum in addition to the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art goes back many years.
In 1999, city officials had preliminary discussions with the Smithsonian Institution over a branch museum as part of the now-defunct Canals of Scottsdale project along the south side of the Arizona Canal. Voters turned down the sales-tax recapture proposal for the Canals that year.
Just like the Smithsonian branch, when the Western museum was first proposed in 2002, it was seen as a vital means to bring tourists and local residents back to a downtown that had been slowly losing visitors for some time, but more noticeably so when leisure travel significantly suffered after Sept. 11, 2001.
Now downtown has reenergized without it. So rather than as a resuscitator, the Western museum should be seen as another important element of a full-service arts, entertainment, dining and nightlife district.
Some longtime residents lament about how high-rise condos and nightclubs aren’t the Scottsdale they remember and that life would be better if things reverted to the past.
Yet these same folks wouldn’t want the freeway system to be torn up so travel around the Valley could take longer, or the tax base to shrink if all of the businesses that opened here in the last few decades just went away.
As life has been too good here to keep it a secret, Scottsdale is destined to grow and move forward. It was never part of the Old West.
But it sure is a convenient place to display it.