Scottsdale Schools community rise up over Phoenix Rising

Posted 5/20/21

The hardest position to play in soccer may be goalkeeper, and that is what the Scottsdale Unified School District had to do during a contentious community meeting to discuss Phoenix Rising’s proposal to redevelop the 68th Street and Oak campus.

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Scottsdale Schools community rise up over Phoenix Rising

Property that has sat vacant after the Tonalea Elementary School, 6801 E. Oak St., closed to students at the end of the 2013-14 school year.
Property that has sat vacant after the Tonalea Elementary School, 6801 E. Oak St., closed to students at the end of the 2013-14 school year.
Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey
Posted

The hardest position to play in soccer may be goalkeeper, and that is what the Scottsdale Unified School District had to do during a contentious community meeting to discuss Phoenix Rising’s proposal to redevelop the 68th Street and Oak campus.

A packed May 13 meeting held at the Coronado High School Governing Board Room, 7501 E. Virginia Ave., also had real-time comments on another forum to get feedback from the community about Phoenix Rising FC professional soccer franchise seeking to develop the 68th Street and Oak campus as a multifunctional community facility to house its youth soccer program.

The organization reportedly has offered public amenities to neighbors and the south Scottsdale community as an added benefit for allowing the franchise to dribble the ball in the school’s district with a possible long-term lease agreement between the two entities for no more than 20 years.

“It is really good to see such a large turnout this evening,” Dr. Scott A. Menzel said. “It is nice to be in a room where we have people to have an important conversation about the future of the 68th Street property.”

Despite what he described as a “sequential process” and beneficial proposal for local youth and the community as a whole, the idea was met with plenty of opposition as people yelled in the two-hour public forum, talked over representatives and did not wait to be called on to speak.

Officials tried to solicit feedback on such things as design and uses for the complex and take a vote compiled from community feedback “to know the road we are taking,” so that information could be presented before the Governing Board.

“Hold on folks. Folks, we will get to you but the more we have the outbursts, the slower it’s going to go,” said  project manager for SUSD bond construction projects, during one audience outburst.

Dr. Menzel explained how the district came to entertain the offer from Phoenix Rising and that the district is still collecting community input before a decision is made.

“That’s the goal of the conversation, and so that is why we are here this evening to gather the input that will help inform the next step in the conversation,” Dr. Menzel said, adding if the community sentiment is not to move forward, then the Governing Board will need to decide what to do with the property.

And, he said if the board decides to sell it, then voter approval is still needed from the community.

Dr. Menzel mentioned there were different viable options for the property that has sat vacant after the Tonalea Elementary School, 6801 E. Oak St., closed to students at the end of the 2013-14 school year.

Mr. Collinsworth, Dr. Menzel and other district and Phoenix Rising officials present were faced with a room full of people mainly against the notion of the Valley soccer franchise using the property but said it was not in the best interest of the community to leave the site unattended.

“I appreciate the fact that people feel passionately about the conversation, but that doesn’t mean we won’t be civil and respectful in the conversation. That’s what we are asking for. We have people who have opinions on both sides of this discussion and we are going to respectfully ask that people share your opinions and we will take that into consideration as we consider next steps,” Dr. Menzel said.

The city of Scottsdale reportedly suggested the franchise contact the district about using the property after being approached by the organization. A visioning committee of community, neighborhood, district and soccer club stakeholders initially met to develop the Phoenix Rising idea proposed.

First presented to the public in December 2020, details of the Phoenix Rising project include:

  • Two professional-grade, lit soccer fields;
  • Constructing a new parking lot to minimize neighborhood congestion;
  • A health and fitness path around the property’s perimeter available 24/7 for community use;
  • A new playground for neighborhood children and families’ use;
  • Renovating and preserving the remaining Tonalea school building and mosaic for community use;
  • Phoenix Rising FC paying all costs to improve and maintain the property.

Seeking feedback on possibilities for the neighborhood, Mr. Collinsworth noted the community’s opinion is the top considerations for the property development that included a possible dog park, playground, garden, walking path, community park.

One person, he said, even suggested a five-story townhouse. Maintaining open space, green space, no traffic, doing nothing to the vacant property were among primary concerns voiced.

“Thank you all for volunteering your time to be here and consider our proposal for the neighborhood. I can visually see that there are people with differing opinions,” said Phoenix Rising co-owner and board member Tim Riester, recognizing the virtual comments as well as the in-person commotions.

“I just want to say this upfront: We very much respect you all and it’s OK if it turns out you don’t want us in your neighborhood. That’s OK with us. We don’t want to force ourselves in anywhere. We want to be somewhere in the neighborhood where the majority of the people will appreciate what we are trying to do for the kids.”

Mr. Riester, who is CEO and founder of the Phoenix advertising firm bearing his name, said what they wanted to do during the meeting was share the club’s intentions for the children and why the city of Scottsdale recommended that SUSD neighborhood when the organization approached the city.

The organization wants to pay 100% of any costs “to come in and create a place for the kids to use,” Mr. Riester noted.

“So we’re going to do it somewhere. Your neighborhood is actually perfectly located for us. We are hopeful that is a possibility,” Mr. Riester said before detailing the plans.

“If it turns out that the majority of the people in the neighborhood and the Scottsdale Unified School District would like us to stay and develop this area, we’re going to use all the input that we are gathering not only from the vision committee that met with us on multiple occasions but also from all of you here.”

Recognizing “a lot of passionate opinions” expressed from previous meetings, Mr. Riester added he understood it was their neighborhood and they loved each other.

“This is a very important conversation, and we know that people have really strong feelings,” Dr. Menzel said.

As district officials and representatives from the soccer organization presented slides on proposals, attendees became more agitated and put a soccer “block tackle” move on the district.

Concerns of being hit by cars, parking problems and more were yelled at the presenters.

Dr. Menzel said he appreciated the feedback since the governing board was elected to ensure that “as stewards of taxpayer resources” the provide opportunities for SUSD students.

The decision made in 2014 to tear down the building was made by a different board, and the current administration is faced with deciding “what’s in the best interest about the young people that live in the neighborhood.”

“That’s part of the conversation that was included in the proposal for Phoenix Rising that made us interested in that conversation. It’s perfectly relevant to raise the concerns about traffic, about parking about the implications of the conversation, but the genesis behind this was how do we create opportunities for young people in the community,” Dr. Menzel said.

He pointed out the district’s obligation to charge fair market rate for the property and have any other conditions necessary specified to be detailed if any agreement ensues.

“It was a standing-room only meeting and very contentious with a clear majority of the room in opposition of the project’s over-reach,” stated Mark Liebner of the Tonalea Community whose son and grandson are products of SUSD.

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