Two dozen Gilbert officials sat in a minitheater Monday night in Tempe, wearing 3-D glasses as they viewed their downtown on a wide screen.

It is the start of what will be the future of town planning, Gilbert spokesman Greg Svelund said.

The town paid about $6,000 to Arizona State University’s Decision Theater so officials could look at a three-dimensional virtual image of the town’s Heritage District as they plan how to design parks and what kind of buildings to approve.

The officials, as well as downtown business owners, sat in cushioned chairs as they took turns using video game controllers to maneuver as if they were driving or flying through the town, viewing images made from photos of buildings and lots already there.

In the future, they will be able to include proposed buildings or structures in the image and “drive” through the virtual town to see what it would be like.

On Monday, the group discussed what kind of water fountains or features they wanted at the planned water tower park. Most agreed they’d like something kids can play in, such as small jets of water shooting from the ground.

They reviewed images of a variety of trees, bushes and flowers for the park, and selected their favorite colors for the park.

And for several minutes they sat in the darkened room, listening to five different water fountain sounds, from a soft bubbling brook to loud water jets shooting into the air.

“I like the idea for a child to get barefoot and get wet,” said Councilman Don Skousen, as the group focused on what water feature to have at the park.

Kathy Langdon, president and CEO of the Gilbert Chamber of Commerce, said she was thrilled with the idea of interactive fountains, such as granite balls or rings suspended on water that kids can roll.

“Boys would be especially fascinated,” she said, “that they can see it move.”

Decision Theater has offered the service since 2005 and works with other government agencies and municipalities, including Tempe, to help make planning decisions.

Town officials will continue to use Decision Theater to plan downtown, including a trail system with parks, sidewalk improvements, and buildings taller than current structures.

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