For years, Flagstaff and Williams have billed themselves as the gateways to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon – the conduits through which tourists must stop, rest, eat and, most importantly for local businesses, spend money. However, as the tiny town of Tusayan gears up for a big residential and commercial development that will place hotels and restaurants mere minutes away from the park, those roles may be set to change.
Stilo Development Group USA, an Italian real estate firm, has attempted to get approval from Coconino County to build near what was then the unincorporated settlement. Zachary Smith, a regent’s professor at NAU specializing in Arizona state and local politics, says this initial setback prompted the community to incorporate Tusayan into a town within the county.
“They wanted to have a development similar [to what they are building now], but the difference was that because they were an unincorporated city, they had to get approval from the county,” Smith said. “That meant there had to be a vote on it, and they lost that. Subsequently, they’ve incorporated, and now that they’re incorporated, they don’t have to get the county’s approval.”
Smith says businesses throughout Northern Arizona fought the original push to develop next to the Grand Canyon.
“I know, if not now, at the time, the development was very much opposed by the business community all over Northern Arizona,” Smith said. “I suspect it still is.”
In the Planned Community District Zoning Submittal delivered by Stilo USA to the town, the company plans to develop Tusayan into a tourist-driven economy.
“This development proposal is designed to help promote a healthy tourist economy in Tusayan by providing high-level support services to accommodate both [the Grand Canyon National Park] and Forest visitors,” the submittal said.
In a speech delivered to the Tusayan Town Council on Oct. 26, 2011, Grand Canyon National Park Superintendant David Uberuaga said the large-scale development would radically change the town.
“We do know, from their proposal, that there is potential for up to 2,400 residential unites, over three million feet of commercial and hospitality space, and a possible increase in the residential population from 500 to as many as 8,000 residents in Tusayan,” Uberuaga said.
At the same meeting, the town council took public comments. While most comments either reflected ecological concerns or expressed support for the economic benefits of the plan, some spoke about the fiscal implications on the rest of Northern Arizona. During this input period, Cindy Iniguez, who identified herself as a resident of Flagstaff, was quoted in the meeting minutes as having said she is concerned about the impacts on other Northern Arizona cities.
“As a resident of Flagstaff, I am very concerned about the development proposed,” Iniguez said. “Tusayan is not ready for something of this size, as well as something commercial. I feel that there has not been an economic impact study as to what it will do to your ‘sister cities,’ as well as your neighbors that support your town.”
While he says he understands the fears of hotel and restaurant owners in Williams and Flagstaff over the prospect of competition so close to the Grand Canyon, Smith says he is optimistic that the long-term consequences of the Tusayan development on the entirety of Northern Arizona will be either a draw or a net benefit.
“Most businesspeople think that it will have a negative impact, and I suspect that will be true, initially,” Smith said. “On the other hand, I believe, overall, the development will probably contribute to greater traffic to the South Rim – to the point where, in the long-run, it will work to the advantage of Flagstaff and Williams businesspeople. It might draw some hotel stays when those hotels go in, but if it draws more people here, that just means more people coming through Flagstaff – spending money in restaurants and staying in hotels here.”
Smith also notes that any allure for tourists featured on the South Rim would bring visitors through Flagstaff and Williams, as opposed to the North Rim, where much traffic comes from Las Vegas.
Yet, the development is currently facing a major hurdle: water. At the meeting, Uberuaga said the National Park Service is uncertain if Tusayan’s plans meet with water realities.
“One resource in particular, water, is of great concern,” Uberuaga said. “Future development, especially development with intensive uses such as restaurants, hotels and residential communities, will be dependant on an adequate water supply.”
In the zoning submittal, Stilo said the company is open to having discussions over water supplies in the future.
“While changes to the historical water supply and delivery systems in Tusayan are anticipated, and the applicant is open to participating in any reasonable collaborative effort that ensures a reliable water supply in the area, it is not clear how and when these changes will manifest themselves at this time,” the submittal said.
Smith says the inclusion of hotel and commercial zoning in the development plan may require extra attention be paid to water supplies.
“There is separate zoning for all of those things,” Smith said. “And there are additional impacts to be had on more condensed development, like a hotel.”
Smith expects the development to move forward.
“If the question is whether or not this can be stopped, I suspect – in the long-term – the answer is ‘no,’” Smith said. “Although that doesn’t mean that there might not be organizations that try to throw up roadblocks in the interim.” FBN