Desert Discovery Center


Project Update

The Scottsdale City Council reviewed the Desert Edge Proposal for a second time at a study session held on Nov. 6, 2017. The council directed city staff do some additional evaluation on the proposal including but not limited to:

  • The exploration of potential alternate locations
  • Further review of all available funding options
  • Continued refinement of the business model
  • Clarify participation opportunities with possible project partners such as the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy, ASU’s Global Drylands Institute and others.

No additional action on the Desert Edge/DDC Proposal is scheduled to take place at this time. Once city staff completes additional evaluation it will be presented to the City Council.

The City of Scottsdale received a complete project proposal for the Desert Discovery Center (DDC) Concept from the consultant team on July 31, 2017. The proposal is available to view in its entirety on the city website. 

Desert Discovery Center Proposal Report

Project Milestones

A schedule of milestones and meetings can be found below. Links to meeting agendas and presentation materials will be available for each meeting on the project website as they become available.

July 31, 5 p.m. DDCS Report Due to City
A link to the full report is available on the City website.
View DDC Proposal Report
Aug. 1, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. and 4 – 7 p.m. Community Meetings
View the Presentation (PDF, 24MB)
View Video of the Presentation
Aug. 10, 4 p.m. Joint McDowell Sonoran Preserve Commission & Tourism Development Commission Study Session (non-action item)
City Hall Kiva, 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd.
Presentation (PDF, 37MB), Presentation addendum(PDF)
Meeting Video
Aug. 17, 1 p.m. Development Review Board Study Session (non-action item)
City Hall Kiva, 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd.
Aug. 23, 4:30 p.m. Planning Commission Study Session (non-action item)
City Hall Kiva, 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd.
Sept. 7, 1 p.m. Development Review Board Meeting
City Hall Kiva, 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd.
Sept. 7, 5 p.m. McDowell Sonoran Preserve Commission Meeting
City Hall Kiva, 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd.
Sept. 13, 5 p.m. Planning Commission Meeting
City Hall Kiva, 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd.
Sept. 19, 8 a.m. Tourism Development Commission Meeting
City Hall Kiva, 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd.
Sept. 26, 4 p.m. City Council Study Session (non-action item)
City Hall Kiva, 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd.
Meeting dates, times and locations are subject to change as the project moves though the hearing process. Please refer to the project website for the most up-to-date information.

Nov. 30 Desert Discovery Center Community Workshop

Thank you to everyone who attended the Nov. 30 Community Workshops. We had over 300 people participate and give their input.

For those of you who are interested in learning more about the Desert Discovery Center Concept, but were unable to attend, we recorded the presentations given at the workshops. Participants in attendance moved through a series of experiences represented by each of the three presentations.

After watching the videos, you can submit thoughts and ideas via the comment button below.

Project Introduction

Designing the DDC Experience

Evolving the Plan - Moving Beyond Phase 2

Submit Comment about the Proposed Desert Discovery Center Concept

Project Definition Report

The experience design firm, Thinc Design, has completed its Project Definition Report, which presents the concepts currently being explored. Thinc Design proposes that the Desert Discovery Center’s story of living in the desert be presented through a series of four questions: 

  1. What is this place?
  2. What don’t we see?
  3. What can we learn from living in the desert?
  4. What future do we want to create?

Experiences would focus on the distinctive features of the Sonoran Desert and would “peel away the layers” to uncover the “mysteries” of the desert that cannot be seen in one day or on one hike. Native American traditions and current research would give a perspective on how the community “lives well” in the desert and would motivate visitors to contribute to a sustainable future.  The  experience designer is currently developing its Interpretation Plan to hone in on the conceptual details of these experiences. 


Public Meetings

Various public and stakeholder meetings to present ideas and gather comments have been held throughout 2016. These documents contain the feedback gathered during that process:

Additionally, a Municipal Use Master Site Plan process was initiated Jan. 11 to amend the current site plan for a Desert Discovery Center element at the Gateway Trailhead. The majority of this process is anticipated to take place in 2017.

Community Presentations

The DDCS team is available to speak with residents and business owners by presenting to local community groups. Please let us know if you would like to schedule a presentation to a group in our community.

Project Overview

Scottsdale’s Desert Discovery Center (DDC) is envisioned as an interpretive, education and research center intended to complement the McDowell Sonoran Preserve experience and be a focal point for understanding human interaction with arid environments. The City of Scottsdale is in the project planning phase for the DDC concept and in the process of determining what elements should be included, how large it might be and how much it would cost to build and operate.

The current planning effort has three major elements as a result of the January 2016 City Council Meeting:

  1. Create a business plan and feasibility analysis for the Desert Discovery Center. This work will be done by Desert Discovery Center Scottsdale (DDCS), a nonprofit entity hired by the City. In addition, the DDCS is conducting public outreach and exploring the fundraising potential of the project with the goal of offsetting the need for public dollars.
  2. Begin the process to amend the City site plan at the Gateway Trailhead, which would be necessary if the Desert Discovery Center is built there.
  3. Hire an architect to create conceptual site and floor plans and preliminary building designs.

The current planning phase of the project will be complete in August 2017. Upon completion, it will be up to the City Council to determine if they want to move forward with the project.

The Project Team

Desert Discovery Center Scottsdale, Inc. is currently under contract with the City of Scottsdale to create a business plan and feasibility analysis for the proposed Desert Discovery Center; to conduct public outreach; and to explore the fundraising potential of the project. This 18-month contract was awarded on Jan. 11, 2016 and the Notice to Proceed was given on Feb. 1, 2016.

Desert Discovery Center Scottsdale hired Thinc Designlinks to external site to create conceptual exhibits and educational programs that would be central elements of the proposed center. This work is a cornerstone of the evaluation process – once it is clear what sorts of things could happen at the center, conceptual designs and layouts to support that programming can take shape. After interviewing five of the 18 firms that applied, DDCS chose Thinc because of its sustainability ethic and expertise in community collaboration; the firm is best known for designing the 9-11 Memorial experience in New York City.

The City of Scottsdale hired Swaback Partnerslinks to external site as the project architects. They will head up preliminary design and help determine the look and profile of the proposed facility. Initial work is under way, including a traffic analysis by Kimley-Horn & Associates. The team is led by John Sather who is using the feedback gathered from the initial planning phase to begin formulating initial design parameters.

Project Information

Budget: $1,696,900

Sponsoring Division: Tourism & Events

Funding Source: Tourism Development Funds

Project Location: 18333 N Thompson Peak Pkwy

Contact Information

City of Scottsdale - Capital Project Management             
7447 E. Indian School Rd., Ste. 205
Scottsdale, AZ 85251
P: 480-312-7250
F: 480-312-7971

Alison Tymkiw             
Senior Project Manager
P: 480-312-3481                

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