The Marana Town Council is moving forward with a $5 million plan to develop the 163-acre Marana River Heritage Park with a rodeo arena, splash park and more.
The Town Council unanimously approved the plan at a study session Tuesday.
The town already has spent $285,000 on planning, design and construction. The $5 million will be part of the capital budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
Town leaders still are evaluating options for paying for the park improvements. The options include spending general-fund reserves, borrowing with bonds, or setting up a lease-back agreement or a public-private partnership.
Most of the cost, $4.3 million, would be for the arena.
Plans call for an arena with lights and covered grandstands, stock pens, stables, parking, concession stands and restrooms on 28 acres at the southwest corner of West Tangerine and North Postvale roads.
Construction would begin this summer for an opening next year.
“Once this is built and underway, this is going to be a very successful thing, and I think it’s going to put Marana on the map in a whole different way,” Town Manager Gilbert Davidson told the council.
He estimated annual operating costs to be $550,000. The town would subsidize part of the cost. About $220,000 could be covered by arena usage fees, event admission fees, property leases and facility rentals, Davidson said.
“We are setting out to run this like a business, and we want it to be successful, and we want it to be an asset to the town and to the community,” Davidson said.
Mayor Ed Honea said the arena could operate as a “loss leader” to boost the tourism and retail sectors.
“If people come and stay in our hotels, eat in our restaurants, shop in our stores, we generate a certain amount of money indirectly from that,” he said.
Local business leaders already are pleased with the prospect.
“This will provide a destination for Marana,” said Ed Stolmaker, CEO of the Marana Chamber of Commerce.
Jo Anne Westerman, owner off Firehouse Subs and a Marana Chamber board member, said many local businesses would benefit when equestrian groups use the venue and also fill hotel rooms and visit restaurants.
In a future expansion, the town would lease space for restaurants and shops to private-sector partners, Davidson said.
In addition to the arena, plans call for a farm-themed splash park near the existing baseball fields, playground and restrooms at the Gladden Farms community park. It will cost $785,000.
The water-play area would be 4,500 square feet, with capacity for up to 200 splashing kids, and would be the largest such park in the region. Construction would begin this summer and be ready for kids to play there next summer.
A future phase would add a performing-arts amphitheater, a soccer field, more green space, new restrooms and extra parking.
Also under construction is a community garden facility and a demonstration garden with exhibits that show how water is used in farming and how to grow food at home.
Restrooms, ramadas and parking will be finished this summer.
In a future phase, a silo will become a concession stand; more exhibits will be added to the demonstration farm; and a plaza would be built as a venue for farmers’ markets.