ASU students will soon have an opportunity to work on a large-scale project that could bring Tempe Town Lake’s economic benefits to the rest of the Valley.
The Rio Salado Project 2.0 aims to build similar bodies of water in towns from Mesa to Goodyear, in order to bolster local economies and provide more access to natural resources. U.S. Senator John McCain outlined the University-led initiative at an event in the W. P. Carey School of Business on Friday.
The event was McCain’s second ASU stop of the week; he made an appearance at the Polytechnic campus Wednesday to deliver a keynote speech about cybersecurity.
McCain has been invested in the idea of expanding water access for years, but a similar initiative he pushed 20 years ago failed to gain traction due to a lack of community support. He said that this version of the idea — which will be managed by ASU — will be an opportunity to mirror the success of Tempe Town Lake in other areas.
“Anybody who, as I did, drives by Tempe Town Lake knows exactly what Rio Salado can do,” McCain said. “One of the reasons why it was defeated is we didn’t have the kind of groundwork and the kind of proposal, and frankly, the kind of success stories that Tempe Town Lake represents.”
Tempe Town Lake, built in 1999, continues to attract businesses. State Farm’s Tempe regional headquarters on shores of Tempe Town Lake was completed in 2015 and brought 6,600 jobs to the region.
Construction for the Novus Innovation Corridor near Tempe Town Lake will also start soon.
The Rio Salado Project 2.0 is still in its infancy, but ASU officials said it will offer design, engineering and property development opportunities for students for years to come.
“The work that you do as students can really be impactful on this region,” said event moderator Wellington Reiter, who is Michael Crow’s special advisor for urban initiatives.
Melissa McCann, a W. P. Carey faculty member who is spearheading the project on the University front, said she has already seen enthusiasm from students who have heard about the initiative.
“I’ve been in some classrooms already, sort of talking about the project and talking about some of the student work around it,” McCann said. “The enthusiasm in those environments has been absolutely marvelous. I think there’s a lot of really progressive thinking that’s already coming out of some of the discussions in those classes. I am hoping, personally, that that permeates to the rest of the campus.”
McCain said ASU will play a major role because it has enough resources and talent to quickly execute the planning stages of the initiative, hopefully within two years.
“I am confident that these young people, particularly in these various innovations, are going to be very proud of the product that they have all played a major role in developing,” he said. “... We also have the talent and expertise and innovation here at Arizona State University to work with other entities in order to set up a steering committee to develop a plan to provide the expertise of the various schools.”
McCain said he has spoken with local mayors, state legislators and environmental organizations, most of whom have been supportive of the project.
“I have met with every mayor all up and down from here and Mesa and all the way up to Buckeye,” he said. “I have to go to these people and say here’s a plan that will work.”
One early obstacle that the project will have to overcome is an Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) concern about bird strikes due to the increased water around Sky Harbor International Airport, McCain said.
“We’re going to have a little bit of a tussle with them,” he said. “One thing I’ve learned about the FAA is they are against anything that has to do with progress … but I’m confident that they’re not going to hold out because of the danger of airplanes flying into birds.”
There is enough talent within the ASU community to successfully power through any setbacks the project may face, McCain said.
“I hope that we will be able to do this with your help and your active leadership,” he said. “I am very grateful that you would take the time to spend with us; we’re going to make America great again.”
Editor's Note: The headline was changed from "Sen. John McCain entrusts ASU to spearhead Valley-wide lake project" to "Sen. John McCain details Valley-wide lake project at ASU" to better reflect the article's content.