Land purchase for ASU Payson campus delayed

The proposed ASU campus in Payson, 90 miles northeast of Phoenix, has encountered a small setback delaying the final decision from the end of the year to early spring.

The campus, which is expected to be completed in two phases, is requiring land adjacent to the Gila Community College campus off of Arizona State Route 260 just outside Payson for Phase I. Town Councilwoman Su Connell said a Tucson company appraised the land and an estimate for sale was proposed to the GCC Board of Supervisors, which decided to move the decision to sell until its next available agenda.

“We feel the assessment is fair and equitable, but the GCC Board feels it’s worth more than we're offering,” Connell said.

Not all purchased land will be usable for building because of uneven terrain, Connell said. She believes this should lower the price of land, as well as buying the acres in bulk.

ASU University Planner Richard Stanley also said the decision for the campus could take longer than the expected date of the end of this year.

“We are still trying to sort out the financial issues on how to pay for the campus in Payson,” Stanley said. “It’s complicated and not something you want to do in a sloppy or half-hearted fashion.”

Payson and ASU officials have been actively pursuing the project for about two years and it has been a slow yet steady process, which Connell said has over 150 different steps to complete.

Dean of Students at Payson High School Anna Van Zile said while the town’s overall opinion is supportive, they are hesitant to believe in a project that has yet to take off.

“I think we as a community are so conditioned to wait to see it being built before we know it's going to happen,” Van Zile said. “We don't accept it to be a done deal until they start laying the brick and mortar.”

Connell said the project needs to move forward by spring in order to keep private investors on board.

“Investors aren’t going to wait forever,” Connell said. “We can’t dangle the carrot.  The sooner we can flip that first spoonful of dirt, the happier they’ll be.”

Should ASU decide to back out of the deal, Connell said the town has discussed the project with two other prominent universities, but she could not give the names.

Stanley said while ASU is taking its time to research the potential campus, results of several studies to date have shown significant interest in placing a campus in a small rural setting like Payson.

“Launching a new set of programs and a new campus away from the Valley is a huge undertaking,” Stanley said.  “None of us want to go into it without knowing the elements that go into that. But I think we’re getting more and more comfortable that the campus is feasible.”

Approval from the Arizona Board of Regents does not hinge on the acquirement of land for the project, but the decision must be made soon if the Town of Payson and ASU want to stay on the original timeline of opening Phase I for the fall semester in 2013.

The decision will depend on approval from the GCC Board, ABOR as well as ASU and the U.S. Forest Service, which owns the land for Phase II with a projected completion date of fall 2015.

Despite the many conquests ahead, Connell remains very optimistic of the project, one way or another.

“If I were a betting woman, I'd say with 99.9 percent confidence there will be a four-year university here, despite the hurdles,” Connell said.

 

Reach the reporter at lbartoli@asu.edu

 

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