He’s doing what? Bill Gates invests $80 million in the far West Valley in hopes of building a Smart City
ill Gates is investing a lot of money into the Arizona desert, almost $80 million, as part of a land deal for 20,000 acres just off the Interstate 10 near 339th Avenue, according to reports. In the deal, a division of Gates’s Cascade Investment bought a controlling interest of land known as Belmont. Reports of development plans mention the creation of a smart city, which could deploy a variety of Internet-connected sensors and devices into the area’s developments. The purchased land could be home to tens of thousands of homes and over 3,000 acres of industrial and commercial space. Kuldip Verma, founder and CEO of Vermaland, the largest holdings company of 50-1,200-acre parcels in the Metro Phoenix area, describes the deal as “huge for the West Valley.” His company originally looked at acquiring the land in 1999 when the price was approximately $600 per acre. He says the property’s proximity to I-10 and the lack of large parcels available in the area both played a big role in the decision to acquire the nearly 20,000 acres. The area is also near the planned alignment for Interstate 11, an unfunded highway that could eventually stretch from Phoenix through Las Vegas to Canada. Verma predicts the buzz around a big-name investor like Gates will help attract more outside investment and bring in additional capital for other
16 | January-February 2018
developments, which will be good for the census-designated place in Western Maricopa County known as Tonopah, which is approximately 50 miles west of Downtown Phoenix. The area has less than 2,000 people. Verma says there are currently no parcels over 5,000 or 10,000 acres on the market and even 2,000-3,000 acre lots are difficult to find, which added to this property’s investment appeal. There has been a bigger appetite for development in the West Valley lately, as groups like WESTMARC have worked to reveal the strong labor pool that lives in the West Valley in order to attract more business relocations to the region. In 2016, developers purchased an 11,000-acre master-planned community in Buckeye called Tarteso for $80 million, which could support 40,000 homes. There’s also plans for an innovation campus in Peoria, which tapped Plaza Companies, the developers of South Scottsdale’s SkySong, for the development near 83rd Avenue and Bell Road. In the past year, the Greater Phoenix Economic Council has been working to market the region as a hub for connected technologies, often known as the Internet of Things. These technologies allow various types of devices, from phones to stop signs, become smart, sensor-laden devices that are connected to the Internet or a cloud. This deal could be the source of many jobs and oppurtunities for
local engineers and companies in the Internet of Things world. The Gates deal builds on the momentum the area has been gaining as a smart region, says Ashraf Gaffar, assistant professor and honors faculty at ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. Gaffar is one of many researchers working on autonomous vehicles here. He hopes to one day get in touch with Gates and the developers of this possible smart city to let them know that there are many students and workers in Arizona who are working on the very technologies that can be deployed in a smart city. “You immediately sense the potential here by seeing that Bill Gates immediately decided on Tonopah and creating his own intelligent city here. I think we have a really good potential [with finding local engineers jobs] there,” Gaffar says.