Neil G. Giuliano

Outstanding Achievement Award
The City of Tempe and CH2M HILL
An Oasis Returns to the Valley of the Sun:
Tempe Town Lake/Rio Salado Development Project

The City of Tempe and the private engineering firm, CH2M HILL, worked closely to fulfill a long-time vision of turning the dry Salt River riverbed into the "Tempe Town Lake." The idea was conceived in 1966 by a class of Arizona State University architecture students. For years, the concept sat dormant until the Rio Salado (Spanish for Salt River) Commission formed in the late 1970’s. Finally, in 1987, the idea was put to a vote in Maricopa County.

Although the initiative failed countywide, in Tempe the measure was a success. Given the project’s clear aesthetic and economic potential, the Tempe City Council decided to proceed alone with project planning.

The City hired CH2M HILL to study the project’s feasibility. CH2M HILL also provided preliminary and final design, permitting support, operation and maintenance concepts, and other services during project construction.

Now complete, the 220-acre Tempe Town Lake is the centerpiece of the City’s Rio Salado Development Project, a five-and-a-half-mile park and commercial district planned to one day be an internationally-acclaimed attraction larger in scope than the Riverwalk in San Antonio, Texas.

The project will include a 16-story high-rise condominium, resort hotel, amusement park, 66 acres of wildlife trails, and numerous office developments, retail shops, and restaurants. Tempe Town Lake is expected to attract thousands of water recreation enthusiasts annually.

Transforming the vision of Tempe Town Lake into more than a desert mirage took innovative solutions and close communication between the City and CH2M HILL. Among the challenges associated with creating a major lake (220-acres) was providing a technically-sound basis for lake construction within reasonable financial constraints, while integrating environmentally-sound solutions from the perspective of the public and permitting agencies. Another challenge was balancing water conservation with water quality issues. The amount of water used to supply the lakebed had to be carefully considered and managed. Through an agreement made with the Salt River Project, effluent produced and recharged by Tempe is traded for supplies of surface and groundwater that can be delivered to the lake.

CH2M HILL worked with the City of Tempe to achieve the following goals:

  • Provide flood control;
  • Encourage development along the river;
  • Promote recreation;
  • Utilize sensitive environmental planning;
  • Improve regional quality of life;
  • Provide educational opportunities;
  • Maintain regional and historical context; and
  • Achieve optimum economic and social benefits for citizens.

Public-private partnerships, grants, and community participation were necessary to develop this unusual site in Tempe. Density and building heights were increased to maximize land uses. As a result, mixed-use developments and a balance of hotel, restaurant, retail, office, light industrial, residential, entertainment, and commercial recreational venues are helping to create a sustainable economic future for Tempe.

So far, the City of Tempe has invested more than $88.1 million. Another $62.5 million has come from federal and state grants and contributions from CH2M HILL’s many partners in this project. This is an astounding ratio of city dollars to dollars from other sources—all without a tax increase to fund the project.

For more information, please contact:

Melissa Burke, Marketing Specialist
6060 S. Willow Drive
Greenwood Village, CO 80111
Telephone: (303) 713-2688
Fax: (303) 741-4623

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The United States Conference of Mayors

J. Thomas Cochran, Executive Director
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Telephone (202) 293-7330, FAX (202) 293-2352

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