Surprise banks on private partnerships

Deals with schools, sports teams help handle growth


Surprise Economic Development Director Jeanine Jerkovic can envision Surprise on a growth path much like Gilbert, only a few decades later.

“I believe Surprise is on a Gilbert trajectory,” Ms. Jerkovic recently told the City Council during a presentation on public-private partnerships.

That’s because downtown Gilbert’s mix of restaurants, bars, entertainment and shopping establishments on more than 60 acres of land is what she calls “30 years in the making.”

“It’s easy to become jealous about what Gilbert’s been doing over there,” Ms. Jerkovic warned the Council. “But they’ve been at it a long time. We’re the new kid on the block. We’re still at the starting gate for the potential for the City of Surprise.”

But one of the secrets that helped Gilbert grow over the last 30 years, Surprise is taking a hold of, too, with the public-private partnerships to help get things done.

Surprise officials are defining a “public-private partnerships” as one that involve collaboration between a government agency and a private-sector company to finance, build and operate projects.

The city is hoping the partnerships will continue to be win-win for all sides, and help the city advance its own goals.

Some of the biggest partnerships the city already has established are with schools and sports teams.

The city shares facilities with the new OUAZ campus, has agreements with the Dysart Unified School District to share facilities and, of course, partners with Major League Baseball to bring spring training to the city each year with the Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals calling Surprise their spring home.

For the OUAZ deal, the city has available 8,000 hours of use of the university’s facilities each year. That includes the O’Dell Athletic Center, competition fields and meeting space.

O’Dell is a 30,000-square-foot gym with four basketball courts and includes Faith Arena, where OUAZ plays basketball and volleyball currently.

Councilman David Sanders called the presentation Ms. Jerkovic and Surprise Sports and Tourism Director Kendra Pettis gave the Council last month “very informative.” He asked city staff how they go about valuating the 8,000 hours it receives from the OUAZ deal.

“It’s really simple. We would look at how would we assess the value of our hours and what would that cost be and what is their give?” Ms. Jerkovic said.

“There are a lot of direct benefits that Ottawa brings from a capital and an employment perspective.”

She added OUAZ also was a benefit by helping with the cost of construction as well as  bringing “premiere education” to Surprise.
Partnerships can also bring in new revenues, Ms. Pettis told the Council. That money include sales tax generation, program revenue and employment opportunities.

It also helps brand recognition for the city. Those who don’t believe most people across the nation who have heard of Surprise did so because of spring training baseball has just been living in Surprise too long.

That brand recognition with the city’s partnership with the Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals goes deep into advertising into those cities during the spring training season, drawing in thousands of fans from the midwest and southwest every year.
Ms. Pettis called the partnership with the Rangers and Royals “20 years in the making.”

“It helped transform Surprise’s identity,” she said.

Plus, thanks to the Royals and Rangers’ presence, the Surprise Recreation Campus was built in the first place. The Surprise Recreation Campus includes Surprise Stadium and 12 practice fields.

More than 200,000 fans visit the area each year for spring training games. That’s not expected to change for the 30 games that are on the schedule for this spring.

Ms. Pettis said the Cactus League has an economic impact to the Valley’s economy of about $644 million.

For potential future deals, Ms. Jerkovic said the city first tests out if the partnership is of good value to the city.

“Is there a public benefit? We need to look at that carefully,” Ms. Jerkovic said. “Is this a risk that’s worth the opportunity?”
We ask, ‘would that project happen without the city’s assistance?’.”

Added Ms. Pettis: “We go through all those different projects a litte bit differently and what aligns for each partner and what aligns for the city at that time.”

The City Council indicated it liked what it’s hearing about Surprise’s partnerships and one councilman said the city already has built-in reasons for business to want to partner with Surprise.

“Infrastructure changes that we’re making are going to be attractive all by themselves as an incentive for these companies to come here,” District 4 Councilman Ken Remley said. “And they can see that we have a railplex, that we do have a road that 18-wheelers can get down from the freeway that can access the rest of the nation.”

“I don’t know how you put a dollar amount on that but that’s an incentive in itself.”

It’s also important to note Surprise also needs help with partnerships in the City Center especially since it doesn’t own the land of the remaining 200 acres left to be developed.

“it’s a lot easier to control our own destiny and offer things when we have land in our portfolio,” District 6 Councilman Chris Judd said. “It’s not something that happens overnight. We have to plan.”

Mr. Remley said the city just has to be careful to not offer too much with incentives.

“People say, ‘why can’t you just give things away to get a Costco?’” Mr. Remley said. “We forget some of the other cities have really gone overboard with what they have offered.”

Editor’s Note: Jason Stone can be reached at or on Twitter at @thestonecave. Visit