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Tractors' Roar Yields to Development : Homes, Resort to Be Built on Former Test Ground in Phoenix

April 26, 1987|HOWARD E. BOICE JR. | Special to The Times: Howard E. Boice Jr. is a Phoenix-based free-lance writer

PHOENIX — Jack Grossman looked over the amphitheater carved from the rocky hills below him.

"This is where they held contests among tractors and demonstrations of new equipment," he said, pointing to a scoreboard across the "playing field," a well-scraped bottom of desert caliche in the foothills of South Phoenix.

"This is where we'll probably put center court (for a tennis complex)," he added.

Grossman is project manager of the $1-billion Foothills development, the largest single development in Phoenix's history.

Former Test Ground

"It is the last large piece of raw land within the city limits that can be developed," said Joseph A. Adams, chairman of the Adams Group, a joint-venture partner with Del E. Webb Commercial Properties Corp., a subsidiary of the Del E. Webb Corp. The Adams Group is a wholly owned subsidiary of Burns International, a Phoenix-based real estate company.

The 4,140-plus-acre tract is a former test ground for International Harvester (now Navistar).

Because of the previous use in certain areas, about 40 developers turned down purchase of the site even though it was being offered at about 50% of the market value, according to Donald M. Miltz, president of Miltz Investment Research Inc., another subsidiary of Burns International.

"Most developers considered the obstacles insurmountable," Miltz said. "There was also some concern about the availability of water, accessibility, hillside development, and so forth. Frankly, what they really lacked was enough imagination."

Hilltop Restaurant

The Adams Group has turned many of those "obstacles" into creative advantages.

Adams pointed to a rocky pinnacle almost in the center of the project. Around its base and rising to the top spirals a road--a road cut long ago by tractor operators testing new equipment and techniques.

"There are plans to put a restaurant on top," Adams said. "It will command a spectacular view. City ordinances would not allow us to do that unless the road was already there. Where else could you find such a wonderful, ready-made opportunity?"

He said that because of the previous use, the city will allow some hillside building that otherwise would be prohibited. And, because of a major road-building program approved by the voters, The Foothills will be only 20 minutes from downtown Phoenix.

Moving Dirt From Canyons

Elsewhere, the company is already moving dirt to "unfill" arroyos covered by tractor-testers and repair other features caused by the site's previous use. Roads that were built to test or demonstrate heavy equipment are being incorporated into the new master plan.

When completed, the community will have about 12,000 residences, a resort hotel, two championship golf courses designed by Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish, with the assistance of LPGA star Jan Stephenson; 184 acres of commercial development, 83 acres of office space and 50 acres of industrial parks, schools, churches, fire and police facilities. Reclaimed waste water will be used for golf course irrigation and green belts.

November Opening

UDC Homes, a Chicago developer, has begun road and common area construction for nearly 300 residential units, which are expected to be priced at about $160,000-$300,000 each. The first homes are expected to be on the market by November.

Nearly 70% of the first phase of the infrastructure, which includes the first golf course, water and sewer lines and an artificial lake, that will eventually recycle treated effluent to water the landscaping, has been completed, said Frederick Niswander, president of the Adams group.

One of the property's features is the clubhouse. Built in 1980, before the tractor-truck company faced its business reversals, the conference center stands as a giant anomaly among the rugged foothills of South Mountain.

Athletic Facilities

It has a grand entrance and huge parking bays once used for large semi-tractor trailer rigs.

"We'll probably put the handball courts and other athletic facilities where the bays are now," Grossman said.

Behind the clubhouse is the amphitheater. Neatly tucked between two low-lying hills, the "arena" likely will become center court for the tennis complex.

"It's a natural," Grossman said with a smile.

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