The Strand

This rendering shows how the developer imagines The Strand will look like when it gets built in Gilbert Regional Park.

A much-ballyhooed 25-acre water park in Gilbert touting technology that can create ocean waves for surfing in the desert is delayed yet again – this time until 2022.

The Strand@Gilbert in February 2019 inked a deal with Gilbert to build the $60 million project on town-owned land near Queen Creek and Higley roads, adjacent to the Regional Park. 

The developer proposed a summer 2020 opening but later postponed it to the summer 2021. 

With Town Council’s recent approval, the project is now looking to open in August 2022. According to a town staff report, the developer cited “economic conditions arising as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic” for the requested delay. The developer, however, said funding wasn’t the issue.

 “The project has been delayed due to Covid-19 as we await guidelines from the CDC that can be placed on water parks or similar venues,” said John McLaughlin, founder and CEO of Strand Resorts.

 “Until we have more information from the CDC and state health department,” he said, “it is prudent for the project to have this information so if there needs to be additional safety measures that need to added to the design can be added before construction begins.”

McLaughlin, a Gilbert resident, came up with the concept of bringing a large-scale beach experience for the public.

His project also has competition with plans for two similar attractions in the East Valley.

In Mesa, a 60-acre project featuring water, a beach and a surfing lagoon is getting a head start. A developer is planning to start construction next spring near the Phoenix Mesa Gateway Airport on the project, which also includes a hotel and restaurants.

Jerry Lehman, a former nationally ranked surfer, announced he is planning to build two Surf Town attractions – one each in the East and West Valleys. He has declined to provide more details.

McLaughlin said his project is being privately funded that there is no concern by The Strand or the town that the project won’t get off the ground.

“We have invested millions of dollars to date on funding of the project,” he said. “There is still strong support for the project from the Town Council, staff and the community.

“Like most businesses, COVID has hit everyone in the country to some degree or another,” McLaughlin added. “The financial viability of the project is not of concern. It is important to us that the project be built with the safety of each visitor and staff member at the top of the list.”

According to town project planner Keith Newman, the last plans or designs submitted for staff review to the Planning Department were for a pre-application meeting that took place Sept. 30, 2019. 

The purpose of the meeting was for staff to provide preliminary comments on all aspects of the proposed development such as general site design, grading and drainage, utilities, parking, traffic, emergency access, etc, according to Newman.

With Council’s approval, the developer has an Aug. 21, 2021 deadline to begin construction and must finish by Aug. 21, 2022. 

The developer also has been given more time to obtain water credits and obtain a recovery-well permit as it will have to supply its own water for the project.

Town staff worked 18 months behind closed doors negotiating with The Strand to bring the water park to Gilbert at no cost to taxpayers.  

Under the 50-year lease agreement, The Strand will pay an annual rent of $284,841 to Gilbert for use of the land. 

The town also is to receive a 3-percent cut of the water park’s revenue over $2 million, which was estimated between $450,000 and $750,000 annually, according to town staff. 

These funds are expected to help offset the maintenance costs associated with the town’s amenities at the regional park.

At the time the deal was approved, staff said the project will create 180 jobs and have a $317-million economic impact.

The project’s amenities include a sandy beach, a beginner to expert surf lagoon, cable wake board course, restaurants, outdoor cabanas, kids play area and kayak, canoeing and paddle boarding.

The water park is proposed on one of three parcels totaling 47 acres adjacent to the regional park. Gilbert set the parcels aside for the development of recreational amenities through public-private partnerships.