A major investment from a company associated with Bill Gates is bringing a “smart city” to the Valley.
The $80 million investment goes towards developing a new city 45 minutes west of downtown Phoenix. Plans include high-speed network infrastructure, autonomous workers and vehicles, reduced pollution and multiple data centers. Arizona Republic reporter Catherine Reagor is in the process of looking through property records, and says many of the plans are incredibly unique.
“They’re really digging in,” says Raegor. “[They’re] not revolving around commuting to Phoenix, not revolving around cars… they’re very high-tech plans.”
Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Tri-west healthcare alliance, a phoenix company that oversees private medical care for veterans nationwide, is looking for a contract extension, this despite allegations that the company overbilled the government by tens of millions of dollars. The VA office of inspector general reports that Triwest and another company collected at least 89-million dollars more than they should have. The companies are accused of billing at higher rates or double-billing for services. A group controlled by Microsoft founder Bill Gates recently invested 80-million dollars for a huge area of land in the far west valley. Plans are for the massive development of what's being dubbed the city of the future. Catherine Reagor of the Arizona Republic is following the story. She joins us now. Good to see you again. How much land are we talking about?
Catherine Reagor: It's called Belmont. The total parcel, 24,000. Gates invested with partners. $80 million is a lot. Next to it last year a developer paid Sacres near there. The deal has been in the works for a while. The owners talked to the governor and Arizona department of commerce.
Ted Simons: Where exactly is this land?
Catherine Reagor: You drive along i-10, pass verodo hit l.a. And then it's farther west than that about 371st avenue.
Ted Simons: It's out there.
Catherine Reagor: So it's west of buckeye, west of the white tanks, west of just about everything.
Ted Simons: Except the palo verde generator plant.
Catherine Reagor: It's not west of the interstate going through Reno to Canada.
Catherine Reagor: Interstate 11, the plans are to go through the area. Interstate 11 got started outside of reno. It is stalled. There is no money for new freeways now. Until that comes back around, the current president talked about freeways. We have not seen it. They are talking about building an interchange with public-private money.
Ted Simons: With that in mind, what is Belmont?
Catherine Reagor: It's the name of the community. Plans for it started in the 1980s. There was a lot of land speculation flipping back and forth and people lost the land and there were issues. One of the current owners partnering bought it and has had it several years and sat through the crash, and has been long-term money watching there. The last two booms and busts, the talk was we are going to the valley, then it stalls with the bust.
Ted Simons: Tumbleweed and desert. No road. There is a road that loops the tanks, but nothing. There are homes going up in tar tessa next door. There are people buying. I don't know if they live there.
Ted Simons: The whole idea, city of the future, what are the development plans? Is it big a town as tempe?
Catherine Reagor: It could be the size of Tempe. Early plans. They are digging in. Microsoft didn't want to confirm this. Bill gates investment group wants to be quiet about it. When someone spends that kind of money, you look into it. High-tech plans, partnerships, not revolving around commuting to phoenix, not revolving around cars. Just very high-tech plans that I don't understand yet.
Ted Simons: Sustainability, solar power, that kind of stuff?
Catherine Reagor: I guess so. It's vague right now. I think it's long term. Grady made it clear, we are not going to sell to home builders anytime soon which is what most do.
Ted Simons: 470 acres for public schools. Does gates know something we don't know? Is somebody coming out there? Is this like amazon? Could microsoft build something out there.
Catherine Reagor: You are not half way to l.a., but you are along the road. I was thinking about it in los angeles. If you knew growth was coming and the forecast for this, affordable land, housing would be more affordable and you wanted to maybe rethink growth and plan a community built with Microsoft automation.
Ted Simons: A company town, why not?
Catherine Reagor: If they are high-paying jobs. You hear from developers, a lot of times they have high-minded plans which is wonderful to hear, but it's hard to do. You have to have deep pockets to hold on. If Bill Gates is behind that money, that makes me more optimistic.
Ted Simons: Has he been behind similar land buys in the past?
Catherine Reagor: Nothing like this. They are a private firm. Their portfolio is not wide open. I looked into other things they have done, and they have done savvy investments. Bill gates and Cascade have done well.
Ted Simons: It looks out in the middle of nowhere. Where is the water going to come from for something like this?
Catherine Reagor: That is a great question. I have to follow up on that question. Tar Tess so, the developers assured me they have a water plan and it's part of this. Our water situation is different than it was 10 years ago or 20 years ago when the plans started.
Ted Simons: The canal is close, isn't it?
Catherine Reagor: Northern tip.
Ted Simons: The timeline -- we could be long gone before this is the size of Tempe, right?
Catherine Reagor: Long term plan. You think of communities like Australia, southwest of the area -- southeast, coming back here. It was started by Charlie Keating in the 1980s. There is still land. They are trying to attract more things.
Ted Simons: This is supposed to be innovative and high-tech and forward thinking. It seems like building out in the middle of nowhere far from everything doesn't sound innovative.
Catherine Reagor: Dell web opened the first sun city, that was in the middle of nowhere. Now it's in the freeway loop. It's in Maricopa county but not in the city yet. If you want to get into it with your company, it's a good, blank slate.
Ted Simons: Good information. Good to have you here. Good to see you again.
Catherine Reagor: Reporter, Arizona Republic