Spa, dude ranch part of new controversial Grand Canyon development

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK -- Every year, close to 5 million people visit Arizona’s crown jewel, Grand Canyon, but a proposed development of five-star hotels, high-end stores, affordable housing and other amenities just outside the south rim, could cause that number to sky rocket.

Summer is the busiest season at Grand Canyon, and last Friday, Mather Point at the South Rim was no exception.

"There's of course a lot of tourists, so it kind of plays a role in how you see the canyon and how you experience it," said Mikkel Rasmussen.

Rasmussen was visiting from Denmark. He’s part of what developer Tom De Paolo told 3TV News will be an international tourism boom in the US over the next several years.

"Some of them will want to come to Grand Canyon, so this is to prepare,” said De Paolo. “They're going to come, and how do you deal with them?"

De Paolo is the managing director of an Italian company called Stilo Development Group. He’s based in Scottsdale and is spearheading several projects just outside the South Rim of Grand Canyon in the community of Tusayan.

The developments would include residential areas with more than 2,000 homes and commercial areas that could be sites of a dude ranch, spa, water slide, cultural center for performing arts and other amenities that would butt up against the South Rim park entrance.

“One of our greatest concerns has to do with water,” said Martha Hahn.

Hahn is the chief of science and resource management at Grand Canyon National Park.

She says all of the water supplied on both the South and North rims is dispersed by a pipeline from just one source called Roaring Springs.

When Tusayan installed wells to help supply their community water usage of 175 acre-feet per year, Hahn said the flow from the springs in the Canyon dropped.

Hahn said her research shows water usage would quadruple with these new development projects, which could dry up the springs entirely.

“Water is a critical issue in Northern Arizona, and when we look at that kind of water use increasing, it’s not going to just affect here at Tusayan, but it’s affecting everybody,” said Hahn.

De Paolo told 3TV News there’s a solution.

"We're looking at a variety that range from a ground transportation, to pipelines, to other alternatives, but it's important to realize that how you use water is as important as where it comes from,” said De Paolo.

Another concern for the Park Service is a rise in tourism.

“Right now, we are over capacity in terms of being able to provide the type of experience that the visitor is looking for,” said Hahn.

Back at Mather Point, park-goers had mixed emotions about the projects.

“I think that private development is a good thing for our economy. It drives the economy. It creates jobs. How could it be bad for Arizona?” said Eric Monroe, a geologist on vacation from Florida.

"You've got animals that walk across your path right now. If you start building homes, those animals are going to be uprooted,” said Dawn Gallagher, a mom visiting from Chandler.

"Get involved. If you care about the Grand Canyon, attend the meetings and share your thoughts," said De Paolo.

A series of meetings on the Tusayan development between the forest service and interested stakeholders will be held, but De Paolo said the sights and sounds of construction may not begin for a number of years.

Related: Controversial gondola could soon take visitors to Grand Canyon floor