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Eye on Sedona Cultural Park


This Eye on Sedona Cultural Park article was written by Mayor Rob Adams and submitted by the City of Sedona staff.

Sedona AZ (May 21, 2013) – The Sedona Cultural Park – rising from the ashes?

One of the most frequent questions that I have been asked during the last several years is, “What is the status of the Sedona Cultural Park?” In order to answer that question, I would like to provide you with a brief history.

Originally the 50.2 acre Cultural Park property was National Forest. It was designated as “Open Space Preservation/Conservation” on the Community Plan Land Use map. In 1993, the Land Use Map was amended to “Public/Semi-public” for the Sedona Cultural Park, specifically to accommodate community cultural facility amenities. At that time, the Sedona Community Plan supported USFS land trades only for public/semi-public uses, parks or open spaces. Following a Community Plan amendment, a land trade was subsequently completed.

In 1995, the Cultural Park property was rezoned to Planned Development to accommodate the proposed uses for the Cultural Park. These uses included an outdoor amphitheater, a festival grounds and parking. In a future phase, other amenities were to include an Arts Village, a Performing Arts Facility and Exhibition buildings. In 1997 and 2001, the Park sold 6 acres of land to Yavapai College.

The Grand Opening of the Cultural Park was held in May of 2000 and the first concert season began. The Park was operated as a non-profit and managed by the Sedona Cultural Park Board of Directors.

Concurrently with the opening of the Park, a combination of events spelled out the Cultural Park’s demise. First, there was not a plan for the financial sustainability of the Park. There was no economic engine, and the Park had to rely on constant fundraising and philanthropy for revenue. The board had a substantial loan to service and a cost/revenue analysis of the operations of the park had not been done. Second, the large and cumbersome Board of Directors had difficulty reaching consensus in a timely manner on critical issues. Third, a restrictive operational plan was formed to accommodate the concerns of the surrounding neighborhoods. This plan included restrictions on sound, lighting, traffic and the number of events that could be held at the Park. The Park could only hold a specified number of events per year that had to conclude by ten in the evening. There were problems with controlling the noise and lighting that musical events produced. Additionally, the parking areas were on a dirt surface and dust control became difficult.

The Cultural Park was open from 2000 until 2003 and was finally forced into bankruptcy. Since that time, the Park property has been in escrow on three different occasions. Each of these escrows has failed to consummate and the Park property is now controlled under the original ownership of SATHCUPA (Save the Cultural Park).

I have been advocating for the development of the Cultural Park for the last seven years. The City Council approved a Community Plan Amendment for Fitch Industries, who had the property in escrow at the time for the southern half of the property in 2006. That developer filed for bankruptcy in 2008 as a consequence of the economic downturn and the Cultural Park property has fallen into disrepair.

On April 30, (2013), I finally had the opportunity and the pleasure of facilitating a meeting between Mr. Mike Tennyson, owner of the Cultural Park property; Dr. Penny Wills, President of Yavapai College; Tim Ernster, Sedona City Manager; and myself. During this meeting, we discussed the challenges that Yavapai College faces with parking for their present Sedona campus and the difficulties of expansion. Mr. Tennyson was very receptive to working with Yavapai College to resolve their challenges.

We also discussed the future of the Cultural Park. Mr. Tennyson expressed willingness and a desire to work with the city to create a new development plan for the Park property. The meeting was extremely productive and a number of exciting ideas were discussed. Mr. Tennyson will be meeting with Community Development staff in the near future. He is also in contact with local architects and civil engineers to begin the process of creating a development plan.

At this point, we do not know what the specific components of the future development might be. The process will take time and many negotiations will take place. The good news is the iconic piece of property called the Sedona Cultural Park may be rising from the ashes.

This SedonaEye.com article was written by City of Sedona Mayor Rob Adams and submitted 
by city staff with the following disclaimer: The views and comments I have made are
mine and mine alone. They do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the
City Council or the City of Sedona.
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  1. Dear Mr. Mayor,

    As you know I’ve oft times, in my articles about the City, mentioned that the City is in dire need of a new, or at least a modified, business model. I’ve always felt that redevelopment of the Cultural Park should be step one. For what you’ve done so far relative to this issue and reported here, I have to applaud you. Thank you for making this a top priority.

  2. Get a great start to the Memorial Day Holiday by attending the Grand Opening of the newly constructed Sedona Military Service Park at 9:00 a.m.! Located at the southwest corner of the intersection of SR 89A and Northview Drive (near Bank of America), parking for the Grand Opening is available in the BoA lot. The park honors all brave Sedona men and women who honorably served their country in times of peace and during war. Over eighty Sedona veterans have come forward so far to have their names engraved on the granite walls. Inscription applications are still being accepted through the Parks and Recreation Department and physical inscriptions will take place on a quarterly or as needed basis. Veterans and families of veterans wanting to have their names or the names of their loved ones inscribed on the granite walls should contact the Parks and Recreation Department at 928-282-7098 to receive the Inscription Application. This form is also found on the City’s website at http://www.SedonaAZ.gov/Parks.

  3. More Sedona insanity. Very wise people predicted the Cultural Park would never fly, and that was even before the entertainment venue at Cliff Castle Casino was in the picture to compete.

    Even to expand with Yavapai College when school funding in general is at a premium is at best shaky and putting Sedona residents (taxpayers) in more financial jeopardy.

    That land exchange was conditional in that it would NEVER be used for commercial purposes. The idea of city joint-venturing with developers (who are only in it to hit a Sedona jackpot $$$$ and then take their money and run) will be yet another future blunder as the greed mongers will have won again. Just wait and see.

    The land should go back to the Forest Service as perhaps was the true “blessing” bestowed by Apache Elder Vincent Randall on opening night when he ceremoniously did his thing!

  4. Sharlett says:

    In reading the Mayor’s words: Find it very interesting how easy it is for the Mayor to dish everyone who attempted to make a go of a viable concept and who gave millions of dollars – regarding the Cultural Park (as if he even lived here then and knew the reality of those times – or that in his great wisdom “bank” he would have done better?) – and find it more interesting that under our Mayor’s watch, he had a major failure with the Barbara’s Dome Project. Also find it interesting that he continues to push forward to spend money on some sort of a venue… at the Wastewater Treatment Plant or where ever he can find a place!

    Does he even know where he wants a venue, or is it a deal where he throws out a dart to see where it will land? All in order to gain votes?

    Let’s get real: if a Venue would work here – well it would already be in place! What a simple concept.

    Let’s get back to basics and our real health, welfare and safety needs. Call me Crazy, but I’m thinkin that a “Venue” will NOT take care of our basic needs. Good Luck Mayor – but could you, Mayor and Council, now get back to the business of basics?

    Am almost ready to agree with J Harrington that this land should revert back to USFS -minus the Yavapai Collage lands. If that happened wouldn’t the land owner get a good gifting tax deduction?


    PS: I do understand how the Mayor’s/Councils flowery words and concepts bring folks emotions to the surface and causes citizens to ask for pie in the sky. Please, make mine Cherry and do add some vanilla ice cream.

  5. Freaked-out1 says:

    As we know, the Mayor and his wife, a real estate agent, own a real estate development company, Prasad Investments.

    In addition to the major failure of Barbara’s Dome, there was the resounding defeat by the voters with regard to the Mayor and Council’s approval of the turn-around from ADOT of Highway 89A through West Sedona.

    And what about the Mayor collecting campaign funds even though he was running for re-election unopposed during the last election?

    I agree with James about development of the Cultural Park: “More Sedona insanity.”

  6. Jordan says:

    As was originally promised, this sacred land was NOT to be exploited for financial gain. Return this property to the U.S. Forest Service!

  7. Smaller venue OK(300-500) and none built at Posse Grounds. Work with Yavapai College for shared parking. Turn rest of land back to Forest Service where it actually belongs.

    However, a major point is that a solid construction design, business and operations plans are needed -AND of course solid construction.

    Remember the dome failure at Posse grounds was due to multiple factors: original bad design of arch, change of plans/bad supervision, and deceptive criminal subcontractors’ construction throughout. Otherwise another failure at all levels.

  8. J.B. says:

    As a former Cultural Park employee, I seem to remember the past a little differently than our Mayor.

    First of all, the Cultural Park had turned a corner, and the season it closed was the first that we were “in the black.” It came as a complete surprise to all employees that it was closing – we found out it was closing on a Tuesday, and it was shut down the following Friday.

    The Cultural Park was built to seat 5,000 people. Many on the board of directors wanted to have Tony Bennett play Sedona, but he does not book a show in venues that hold less than 5,000. There were fewer than 400 parking spaces, and those parking spaces were hodge-podge all over the desert surrounding the park.

    With a venue of that size, we ran into issues booking talent due to “non-compete” clauses. We could book no one who was playing Phoenix or Flagstaff.

    The time-share next door was an albatross around the Park’s neck. The CP had to be more quiet than the traffic on 89A. A timeshare manager would sit on the balcony closest to the park with a noise meter. Each time a cymbol would be hit, or a car horn would blast, etc, the Cultural Park received a $500 fine. There were many times the park would have make A LOT more money during the show, but these petty fines really bit into any profit.

    No mention in the informative piece about Georgia Frontiera, who was very generous with the park. As mentioned, there was supposed to be parking, an arts center, a restaurant, and gift shop. The Cultural Park box office shared space with Park Rangers – and future plans included a really nice USFS visitor’s center (which was later built, not in Sedona, but in the Village of Oak Creek).

    Georgia wanted to build a parking garage. I personally talked to her about this. She wanted to buy the land in front of the high school for that purpose. But the city council did not think it was appropriate to “see a parking garage the first thing coming into Sedona.” Obviously, they had no problem with building more times shares though.

    A few years ago the City Council wanted to get the Cultural Park up and running again – a noble choice – but they wanted to build a senior housing complex next door to the park. Who in their right mind would plan to put senior housing next door to a rock and roll venue? This is the nutso thinking that is keeping the Cultural Park from being brought back to life.

    No one working at the park, besides the manager, even knew the park was for sale. When it was sold to Tennyson for a ridiculously low price, we were all shocked. Had I known about the property being for sale, I am sure I could have spoke with a few of the directors to come together to purchase the park and it would have been kept open. Right away Tennyson wanted to build time shares or some other development, but was declined by the City Council (hooray). He got mad and said he would let it fall into disrepair and give the land to his grand children one day. So, that’s his plan – unless the City, held hostage to his demands, relents.

    I would love to see the Cultural Park open and I would love to see the vision complete as originally planned. I remember seeing the artist renderings and thinking what a jewel we had here. But, like so many other bad-door dealings in Sedona, this too, is cherry pie in the sky with vanilla ice cream.

  9. Lisa says:

    JB’s comment was enlightening & hope that the current city council & mayor takes notice. Where I defer JB and others is in continuing down the path of making the cultural park anything like it was planned. It’s old hat. And if what JB says about Tennyson is true, let him give it to his grandkids. They’ll definitely sell out. Offer Yavapai College to buy it or part of it. Cultural Park Cased Closed.

  10. Sandy says:

    I admire the Sedona Film Festival board. They’re smart and fiscally responsible. Here is the biggest money maker the city has and they redid a small scale perfectly adequate Mary Fisher theatre that if the tourists don’t come, the theatre is still a usable asset that the local population can support.

    The location was ideal to its proximity to supporting film festival venues & it renovated an old complex rather than build an unnecessary new building. Those involved with the remodel concept should be applauded not forgetting the city, architects, designers, engineers, construction crews, interior designers, and more that kept jobs & $$ in the city. Pat S. and the Sedona Film Festival groups are to be applauded. Maybe we should turn the city over to them?

  11. Bob, VOC says:

    Couldn’t decide where to post this. This is as good as any other.

    Mr. Mayor and City Council and the rest of you in Sedona,

    It’s Saturday night on Memorial Day weekend and there’s less traffic uptown and in west Sedona than during a typical weekday. There wasn’t any traffic to speak of yesterday, last night, or today.

    There were no crowds at any of the restaurants. We went into Barking Frog at 7:30ish and it was a moderately busy evening. What I’d call a typical weekend night.

    Every roundabout from the freeway to west Sedona was clear, no back up or string of cars waiting anywhere. Came back through a half hour ago and everything was the same and buttoning down for the night.

    Again, let me ask. Where are the tourists, you remember, the tourists that the Chamber says are here by the millions and being the same group that spent millions getting them here?

    I would ask every single business owner to call the Mayor and council and tell them what percentage of decline in sales this weekend was over same time last year. Consider it your civic duty if you don’t want more taxes.

    Bob, VOC

  12. N. Baer says:

    Wow. Terrific comments.

    From an outsider’s perspective, but one who worked in a turnkey concert hall back East (1900 seats), it appeared that the issue with the Cultural Park venue was strictly managerial in that the acts were not booked far enough in advance to sustain and make it viable in the world of entertainment venues. A professional director could have overcome the booking issue with Phoenix and Flagstaff. I’m sure this was just one issue because it seemed there were so many people involved in maintaining the Park.

    I don’t know the sequence of events surrounding the building of the time share resort and the venue itself but whoever decided that an entertainment center next to a resort (or even neighborhoods) was okay, needs to have their head examined.

    I agree that the Cultural Park should be returned to the Forest Service. We already have the Sedona Performing Arts Center across the street at the high school and since that is not full 24/7, it would appear that Sedona does not need another venue, outdoor or otherwise.

  13. Dave O'D says:

    Looks as if a PZ meeting and the new ownership is scheduled for June 2nd 2015…..Our first look at the “latest” plan.

  14. Richard A Yanez says:

    I was vacationing at the Sedona Sumit time shares this weekend. At check-in I was told that there was an abandon amphitheater up the street to look at stars. The next morning I decided to check this place out. To my surprise I couldn’t believe my eye’s. I walked around the complex wondering what had happen to just leave this place to decay. On my way out I grabbed a flyer that was posted. Soon I had Googled the Park and didn’t want to believe what I was reading. The next morning I decided to have my very own concert there. I arrived at about 9:00am I set up my Bluetooth speaker down in front, and took a seat about a quarter of the way up center stage. I started my private concert, listening to all my favorite artists and enjoying every minute of it. As I was walking out, I felt a strange feeling like the place was thanking me for using it. like it didn’t want me to go. Like it was sad. PLEASE don’t let this Spiritual place go to waste. I didn’t!

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