Council retreat generates new economic ideas for Marana - Tucson Local Media: Import

Council retreat generates new economic ideas for Marana

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Posted: Wednesday, October 12, 2005 11:00 pm | Updated: 7:50 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

October 12, 2005 - Town Manager Mike Reuwsaat began an eight-hour brainstorming session this past weekend by showing Marana town officials a short cartoon of Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote.

While the always-efficient roadrunner kept its eyes on the path ahead and traveled along with relative ease, the scheming coyote never did snag the speeding critter. Instead, the coyote repeatedly found himself in the way of large rocks and heavy boulders as each elaborate attempt to catch the elusive bird turned to failure.

"Generally, when a government is doing well, the first and foremost thing that it should be doing is taking care of its basic services and, over time, when you're consistent in doing that well, you do a better job of satisfying your citizenry," Reuwsaat said.

"That's the analogy with the roadrunner," he added. "The roadrunner does one thing very well: It runs. You don't think about the roadrunner doing anything else but running and it's never been caught by the coyote. Similarly, the coyote has tried just about everything it can think of to capture the roadrunner. So, the analogy there is - as a government agency - do you try to be everything to everybody?"

The answer is no, Reuwsaat said, because a government that focuses on too many areas ends up without enough resources to do anything well and loses focus on what's important. Marana, during the past several years, has been somewhat like the roadrunner, finding its niche by focusing on a few key areas: parks and recreation, public safety and transportation.

"That's been the roadrunner map to success for Marana, over many years, and that's something we don't want to lose focus of as we continue to grow and mature," Reuwsaat said.

The all-day meeting Oct. 8 at the Esplendor Resort at Rio Rico was part of the town's annual three-day retreat, which focused on four topics this year: economic development, town branding and image identification, water resources and conservation, and affordable living opportunities for residents.

Reuwsaat said this year marked the first time the entire town council, planning commission and senior staff members had the opportunity to work under one roof.

"Today is really about idea generation," he said. "This is a great thing we're doing for the citizens of Marana because it's here that most of that work is done."

New development concepts that haven't been given public attention before arose during the retreat, including a 4,200-seat "Western events center," which is being planned for development near the Marana Wastewater Treatment Facility along Trico-Marana Road. Reuwsaat said the project would require a land trade with Tucson and the town already has identified a 100-acre site for the potential arena.

Mayor Ed Honea said the town is seeking between $8 million and $10 million from the private sector, and possibly grants, to have the events center built. Meanwhile, the town is asking developers to donate money for the Heritage Park, too, he said.

Another sports facility, referred to as the "Avra Valley regional sports complex" is being planned along the east side of the Marana Regional Airport and involves an intergovernmental agreement with Pima County. Reuwsaat said the town has done a feasibility study, which was submitted to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for review because it's on bureau property.

"We're talking about the human side of what we can do outside of infrastructure to make sure we are economically viable over time, so we can afford to do the streets, the police and the parks well," Reuwsaat said, adding that inducing developers to help build the town's vision is still very important.

Town officials confirmed that developer Wil Cardon, who recently purchased two large swaths of land in northern Marana, is working with one or more of two major shopping mall developers - Westcor and Vestar - to plan a shopping mall on his properties, which are located at the Marana interchange west of Interstate 10 and at the southwest corner of Hardin and Luckett roads.

Reuwsaat said such a development is "prudent" in terms of the future economic viability of Marana. Cardon also has asked the town to consider annexing southwest of the airport to develop more residential property there, which Reuwsaat said might be a possibility in the future.

The town is currently working on specific plans for three master-panned communities that will bring more than 10,000 new homes to Marana: Tortolita Mountain Ranch, Saguaro Springs and Cascada. The town's ability to process such projects "quicker and better" than any other entity is what has set Marana apart from the rest, Reuwsaat said.

"These are special skills our organization brings and we do it better than everyone else," he said.

During the course of the day, town officials broke into focus groups to participate in various study sessions. Assistant Town Manager Gilbert Davidson moderated a session on economic development during which he said the town hopes to generate regional tourism through development of cultural resource centers.

"Our history has been cotton and cows, but certainly I think we're evolving from that," he said. "The key to Marana, looking to the future, is we've got to carve out our niche and do it well."

Town officials were given index cards to write answers to the question: "What avenues should the town of Marana pursue in furthering the economic development and long-term sustainability of the community?"

Planning Commissioner Jon Post suggested the development of a power plant in Marana. Town Engineer Keith Brann said he'd like to see an area set aside for clean industrial development along the railroad tracks. Information Technology Director Tony Casella threw out the idea of a theme park, which drew a playful response from other town officials. He also suggested the addition of a large area set aside for a business park, technology infrastructure and new cell phone towers.

Airport Director Charlie Mangum said he hoped to see Marana produce a marketing packet that could be handed to developers, giving them detailed information about what land is available for economic development. Economic Development Director Dick Gear said Marana is "very well positioned" to attract the biotech industry and should look at hosting a biotech campus within the town limits. Police Chief Richard Vidaurri said the town should consider a professional sports complex or amphitheater-style music venue.

Councilman Tim Escobedo said he thinks the town should look at creating an overhead transportation system that would be similar in concept to an enclosed ski lift. With the rising price of gasoline, he said, this could be a cheaper way for large groups of residents to travel to and from various destinations in Marana, such as the Town Center, the Heritage Park and the Western events arena.

Later in the afternoon, Town Clerk Jocelyn Bronson hosted a session during which town officials generated ideas for creating a brand identity for Marana. When asked to think of words or phrases that reflected Marana, town officials gave varying responses: family, education, heritage, opportunity, recreation, golfing, setting the bar, integrity.

"I don't think we have to market ourselves anymore. We've been discovered," Honea said, noting that the average house in Marana now costs more than in Oro Valley. "We don't have to sell ourselves anymore. We just have to identify ourselves."

A collaboration of minds came up with the phrase, "Discover the treasure, live the opportunity," which Honea and several others expressed satisfaction with.

"We have an identity but it's not necessarily the identity, or the set of images, that Marana is becoming," Reuwsaat said, noting that ESPN will be focusing in on Marana in two years when the PGA Tour makes a stop at The Gallery Golf Course in Dove Mountain. Town officials want people everywhere to "recognize Marana for Marana" instead of a bedroom community to Tucson, he said.

"It's important for us to identify images and begin branding ourselves so that we can physically, and through our communication, brand Marana for the future so people come to know us for everything that we have to offer," he said.

During a session on affordable living opportunities in Marana, Assistant Town Manager Jim DeGrood said the average price of a new home in Marana is about $230,000 and continues to grow while the median income for a family is slightly more than $50,000.

When asked to think of ways the town can offer affordable living opportunities, several town officials seemed open to the idea of allowing more manufactured homes and giving incentives to developers who construct a certain percentage of reduced-rate homes that fit within their master-panned communities. Noting the urgency of the situation, Honea told other town officials that his daughter, a college graduate and a teacher in Marana, can't even afford a home inside the town right now.

"I'm sorry, but some people just need some more affordable homes," he said. "We can't walk around with our nose in the air."

"I agree with Ed. I don't think this is something that can wait," Post said. "This is a problem that needs to be addressed within six months."

Reuwsaat said it will be important in the next year to make sure the town's major policy initiatives work effectively. He noted that Marana has raised the bar in the past 12 months and is "leading by example" with new residential design standards, a new municipal complex, water policies, impact fees, Town Center plans, transportation plans, and northwest Marana area plans.

"Day to day in the trenches and long days are really what it takes to sustain at the level we're at," he said. "It's a lot of work yet to finish off what we've done."

During the retreat, Town Attorney Frank Cassidy gave town officials an overview of Arizona's laws on open meetings, conflicts of interest and limits on entertainment for elected officials.

Cassidy stressed that a recent opinion from the Arizona Attorney General's Office has declared that the exchange of e-mails between a quorum of elected officials constitutes a public meeting, which is required to be posted beforehand. He cautioned council members to avoid breaking the law, which he said can easily be done by hitting the "reply all" button when receiving e-mails about town business.

"It's very easy for folks to violate those things without intending to do that," he said. "You send out an e-mail you think is pretty innocuous and somebody responds back with an e-mail that crosses the line and you see it time and time again."

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