Ryan Stanton, rstanton@ExplorerNews.com
For those who pass by Marana on their way out of Tucson and know the Northwest town simply by the large swaths of farmland seen from the highway, there's another story to be told.
There's a story of progressive planning, a vision of what the town will look like 20 years from now, and what steps town officials have taken to ensure development happening in Pima County's hottest real estate market leads to a sustainable community.
Marana officials, with the help of the Metropolitan Pima Alliance, told that story to about 350 bus passengers last week during the 2005 Wild Ride Tour: "Meet me in Marana."
The second annual event Oct. 27 gave community stakeholders the opportunity to see the results of land use planning and development decisions taking shape in Marana. Most of the passengers on the four-hour bus tour were bureaucrats, business people, developers and homebuilders.
"Quite honestly, I think Marana has a lot to be proud of," said Bill Carroll, president of the Metropolitan Pima Alliance, who added that Marana has become a hot spot, containing much of Pima County's most developable land.
Passengers loaded into a caravan of buses early in the morning to take a tour of Marana, starting in Continental Ranch. The buses rolled past the Marana Regional Airport and stopped at the new Marana Municipal Complex before heading east on Tangerine Road to Dove Mountain.
After a venture through Saguaro Ranch, a short jog down Camino De Mañana and a swing through Arizona Pavilions, the passengers had seen a glimpse of the diversity Marana offers within its 126-square-mile territory.
"I think Marana is just unbelievable. I'm very impressed with it," said Linda Robbins, an account executive with Stewart Title & Trust, who admitted she wasn't very up to speed with Marana beforehand. "A lot of us who just live on the east side don't come out here and you just see it from the freeway. I'm just very impressed with what Marana has done. This seems to be where everything is moving."
During a luncheon at the Lazy K Bar Ranch after the tour, Mayor Ed Honea thanked several dignitaries for being in attendance, including County Supervisors Ann Day and Sharon Bronson.
Honea said Marana used to be a "three-headed" municipality, the "heads" being Continental Ranch, Dove Mountain and Old Marana. But despite the still obvious distance between those three dominant areas, the town is changing, he said.
"Now we have really gelled into one community," Honea said. "We've worked on a team concept and a family concept."
Honea said there are between 25,000 and 27,000 residents living in the town and about 500 more continue to call Marana home every month. The town expects to have a population of a quarter-million at buildout.
"I believe in another 10 years we'll come back here and say, 'Wow, look at what we've done,'" said Town Manager Mike Reuwsaat.
During the tour, town officials hinted at future large-scale developments in Marana, including a shopping mall, an auto mall and two new upscale resorts. One of those resorts is the world-famous Ritz-Carlton, which town officials said is locating in Dove Mountain.
Councilman Tim Escobedo said Cottonwood Properties is working with the town on developing a trailhead for a new trail system near the proposed hotel. In addition to 200-plus hotel rooms, the development will feature several hundred "signature homes" and will be one of the largest hotel projects in the world, he said.
"We're very proud of what's happening east of I-10. It's really turning into the second Foothills of the Tucson northwest area," said Jim DeGrood, executive assistant to the town manager. DeGrood said interest abounds in developing the privately-owned land between the Central Arizona Project canal and I-10, all throughout northern Marana.
Jack Horner, sales and marketing director for Cottonwood Properties, said Dove Mountain is far from finished with its development. About 2,200 homes of an expected 6,500 to 7,000 are completed, he said during a speech in the backyard of a new sports club in Dove Mountain.
"We have a long way to go," Horner said, later apologizing in case anyone was distracted by the breathtaking view. Horner said Cottonwood Properties was not ready to publicly announce any deals with Ritz-Carlton.
From the 2,500-home development known as Saguaro Springs to the 180-home development known as Saguaro Ranch, town officials pointed out several projects amounting to thousands of new homes in Marana. Those homes will be developed with sensitivity to the environment, DeGrood said.
Butterfly Mountain, north of Moore Road and east of Dove Mountain, has limited environmental disturbance to no more than 17 percent of the land. The nearby Tortolita Vistas project plans to build 155 custom homes on a 224-acre property.
Across the street, Sky Ranch proposes a 365-home community on 512 acres. In 2007, a desert education center is expected to be built there, in conjunction with the Sonoran Desert Museum.
Kitty-corner from Sky Ranch, a 347-home master-planned community known as Tangerine Crossing will be anchored by a new Fry's Marketplace.
About halfway through the tour, buses stopped at Saguaro Ranch where multimillion-dollar custom homes promise to disturb no more than 20 percent of the land. The buses climbed the steep, narrow pathways up the hills to show passengers views overlooking Tucson.
"If you remember Jurassic Park, this is Jurassic Marana," Escobedo said as the bus he was on passed through the 682-foot entrance tunnel to Saguaro Ranch.
During a stop at Arizona Pavilions, town officials pointed out the location of a future In-N-Out Burger that is expected to open in July 2006. Bus riders responded with loud cheers and applause.
"I think there's a significant amount of change that has occurred in Marana and today was a good opportunity to let the public in on what's going on," Reuwsaat said.
One of Marana's hallmarks in the future will be its emphasis on regional recreational amenities, Reuwsaat said, noting that town officials anticipate a 254-acre site east of the Marana Regional Airport as the new location for the largest sports facility in Arizona. The complex will be the site of up to 16 soccer fields and a large special events center, he said.
"It's a lot like the field of dreams," Reuwsaat said, encouraging a crowd full of business people and developers to "build your dream with us."
Another site in northern Marana, two miles west of the Marana interchange, could be home to the region's largest Western events center for rodeos and horse shows, he said.
Ron Ruziska, director of the Southern Arizona office of the State Land Department, spoke at the luncheon, calling Marana's vision "impressive and humbling." The State Land Department opened its first office in Tucson this year to keep up with the development around Pima County.
About half of the acreage in Marana is state-owned land, which means the state will be the largest developer in Marana over time. State land will be "Arizona's oil," Ruziska said.
Ruziska said the state will be planning land uses for tens of thousands of acres it owns - and could be auctioning off in the near future - in Pima County. That includes the state land in Marana, which he said will start in the Twin Peaks area and other areas west of I-10 and then in the Tortolita Mountains.
"Marana represents a microcosm of the issues that have been, and will be in the foreseeable future, addressed by the State Land Department," Ruziska said. "We've had a remarkable experience with Marana."
Shawn Reeder, chief operating officer for Westland Resources, helped coordinate the event with several workers on MPA's Wild Ride Planning Committee.
"It was a success beyond our wildest dreams," he said. "I learned an awful lot today, just how much land is available for growth and development. You can really see that Marana is becoming a responsible community."
A band made up entirely of Marana town officials, known as Los Bureaucrats, performed onstage inside the Stardance Center following the luncheon. Their set list began with a rendition of "Wild Thing" in which frontman Morris Reyna sang, "Wild Ride, I think you move me."