By Sierra Poore
GLENDALE – A new resort and water park planned for the city’s sports entertainment district can help anchor economic development and keep West Valley residents spending time and money closer to home, city officials and developers said.
Officials said Crystal Lagoons Island Resort, scheduled to open two years, is expected to draw Arizonans and tourists to an area that includes professional football and hockey stadiums, an outdoor outlet mall and the restaurants and shops of the Westgate Entertainment District.
Glendale officials said the development is part of a continuing move to keep residents shopping, eating and playing in the West Valley.
West Valley cities have long competed for business with counterparts in Tempe and Scottsdale, which have high-end resorts, upscale malls, entertainment districts and a slew of restaurants and other businesses.
The resort will replace an IKEA that had been planned near Loop 101 and Bethany Home Road, City Manager Kevin Phelps said. The Danish furniture maker has packed parking lots at its only Arizona store in Tempe, and West Valley residents were disappointed when it pulled out of the deal.
City officials positioned the resort deal as a better one for the area.
Brian Friedman, the city’s economic development director, called Crystal Lagoons a “game changer” for Glendale, which has been trying to become “the premier sports entertainment district” in Arizona for nearly 25 years.
“This project, particularly, is the bow on top of everything,” he said. It “unequivocally sets us apart in the nation and in our area.”
Friedman said the resort contributes to the West Valley’s mission of slowly ticking off one by one “all of the experiential things that the West Valley had to travel to the East Valley to have.”
The resort will open just as Super Bowl LVII comes to Glendale in February 2023, the third to be played at the home of the NFL Cardinals.
It’s part of a trend toward “experiential retail,’’ Glendale officials said, adding they wanted to protect the land for commercial development after IKEA canceled plans for a store there in 2018.
Friedman said the city has spent years “protecting that freeway frontage and making sure it absolutely did not go to single-family housing.”
Instead, officials turned to experiential retail, which – unlike most brick and mortar malls – provides entertainment, Phelps said.
At Dave & Buster’s, for example, it’s not about “just going there to get a hamburger. You go there and take in other experiences,” such as arcade games and bowling, he said.
The resort, designed around an 11-acre turquoise lagoon with sandy beaches, will be open to the public for a fee, Phelps said. The resort will feature three hotels, a laser light show at night and a bar that elevates guests 135 feet into the air and back again.
The lagoon, he said, will use about the same amount of water as a typical golf course.
Glendale also is touting job creation, saying the resort will provide about 1,800 jobs, according to a news release.
The City Council last month granted Crystal Lagoons a Government Property Lease Excise Tax, which means Glendale will have possession of the property for 25 years and the company will lease it without having to pay property tax.
It isn’t clear what percentage of the construction jobs will be top positions or those at minimum wage levels, Friedman said, adding that the resort will bring more jobs than IKEA’s estimated 300 permanent jobs.
Glendale’s entertainment district launched in 2003 with the opening of the home of the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes, now known as Gila River Arena. The Cardinals stadium opened in 2006, followed a few months later by the Westgate Entertainment District.
The football stadium, now called State Farm Stadium, hosted Super Bowls XLII in 2008 and XLIX in 2015. The last game generated $719 million in total economic impact for the Phoenix area, according to the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.
Tanger Outlets opened in November 2012, followed by the Desert Diamond Casino and Top Golf in the area along Loop 101 south of Bell Road.
Sintra Hoffman, the president and chief executive of Westmarc, a business advocacy coalition, said the resort will shine a national spotlight on the West Valley, and she hopes it becomes a magnet for other businesses.
“I think it will be a national attraction for larger companies and headquarters that would like to move their office operation to Arizona,” Hoffman said.
It will allow “folks to come in here, have a good time, spend money locally and increase our sales tax revenue,” Hoffman said.