Maricopa may be a young city, but it's made a name for itself as an epicenter for development in Pinal County in the last two decades.
In just under 20 years, the community has gone from a rural portion of Pinal with under 1,500 total residents to a bustling urban area that's home to a population now exceeding 60,000.
To mark Maricopa's 20th year of incorporation, we are taking a look at the developments — past, present and future — that have helped, and continue to, make the city the prosperous and thriving community we now know.
1. Rancho El Dorado
First up on our list is Rancho El Dorado. This subdivision was part of the concept that El Dorado Holdings founder and Chairman Mike Ingram envisioned for Maricopa in the early 2000s.
Rancho El Dorado brought together six different home builders to construct homes in the area. Because Maricopa was not incorporated at the time and zoning requests were put through Pinal County, there weren't any requirements for home builders to implement elements like asphalt, sidewalks, signage and the like, said Ingram.
"None of that was required at Rancho El Dorado," said Ingram. "But I adopted the same principles and the same criteria that's in Phoenix and Chandler. A lot of the builders wanted to do roof-mounted air conditioning, they wanted to do composite instead of tile, they wanted to build carports instead of garages, and I said, 'No, we're not going to have any of that.'"
Going into the construction, Ingram said that he wanted to have homes in the development with high-quality products that people were accustomed to finding in Phoenix-area communities.
"Some of the builders wanted to be able to do curtains on the closets instead of doors," Ingram said. "And they said, 'The only way you're going to sell something down here is for a lower price.' And I said, 'Oh no.' I said, 'If we build quality, people will drive for quality.'"
He got plenty of pushback from others, ranging from close family to utility companies that simple refused to come into the area to service the Rancho El Dorado subdivision.
"Everybody in the world said I was crazy, said I would never sell a lot there until Casa Grande was completely built out," said Ingram. "They reminded me that in Casa Grande you had doctors, you had dentists, you had car dealers, you had movie theaters."
It was El Dorado Holdings that had to help implement the water company and wastewater management. Cable was also an issue, as major providers refused to come into the area, so El Dorado had to work with a local cable provider to establish cable service in the subdivision.
Those challenges, however, were just the start.
"The darkest day of my life was when Arizona Public Service would not bring me electricity (to Rancho El Dorado)," said Ingram. "They said it would never go, I'd have to put up a $50 million deposit to bring electricity down there."
Seeking out a work-around, El Dorado Holdings approached Southern California Edison to serve as a joint-venture parter with the rural co-op Electrical District 3, which at the time provided power to area farmers.
Though major phone companies had initially refused to bring fiber-optics into the area, Qwest eventually agreed to the project after the formation of the new electrical utility in the area.
"I took my mother there (to Maricopa) on Thanksgiving Day back in 2000 and told her what we were going to do — she has now passed away — and she begged me not to do it," Ingram said. "She said, 'there's nothing down here. There's absolutely nothing — don't do it.'"
In the end, however, Ingram's assessment of the situation was right; the first 1,100 lots in Rancho El Dorado were sold in the first six months.
The additional residents that moved into the development also helped the city meet the population requirements to pursue incorporation.
Looking back, Ingram said he knew the community stood a chance given its relative closeness to the Phoenix and Chandler areas.
"(Maricopa) was so close to Phoenix, it was so close to the big employment area on the Price corridor in Chandler. Motorola was a big employer at that time, Intel was coming on — all the tech industry was growing there in Chandler and (Maricopa) wasn't far from the employment around Sky Harbor (Airport)," he said.
As Ingram recalls, Maricopa had very few amenities at the time, which amounted to a Circle K without gas pumps, Headquarters Restaurant, a bar and a NAPA Auto store.
Years later, Maricopa is now one of the fastest growing cities in the country. It is home to thousands of residents, features multiple groceries and an abundance of amenities, restaurants, stores and the like.
The city has grown so much that Ingram said it has even surpassed his expectations.
— Rofida Khairalla
2. The first supermarket: Bashas'
There was a time when the city of Maricopa did not have a supermarket.
Residents would often drive to Casa Grande or Chandler to shop for food.
That changed in July 2004 when Bashas' opened the doors to its 77th store in the newly built Maricopa Fiesta Marketplace near Smith-Enke Road and State Route 347.
At the time, Maricopa was in the midst of a population boom with new residential developments and master planned communities bringing in new residents, including families and retirees.
The new supermarket was one of several Bashas' stores to open in Arizona that included the chain's "new features in an upscale store interior," a Maricopa Monitor article from July 2004 said.
Store Director Barb Delfino told the Maricopa Monitor at the time that the chain was excited to serve the community.
"We know our new neighbors have been anxiously anticipating the opening of our store. We hope they come in and enjoy the variety, service and quality they can expect from Bashas'," Delfino said.
The store was about 54,000 square feet and featured a Cub House child care center for children ages 2-10 to spend up to 90 minutes while their parents shopped.
As well, it had a United Drug pharmacy, Wells Fargo in-store banking, a cappuccino bar, fresh Mexican food at the Taco Grill, a Natural Choice department offering nutritional supplements and natural and organic food and products, a full-service meat department featuring corn-fed Angus beef, a made-from-scratch bakery and a full-service deli offering Boar's Head brand meats and cheeses, as well as chef-prepared hot entrées.
A few years later, to enhance customer comfort, the parking lot was updated with 60 new canopies to provide some covered parking, the Monitor reported in March 2007.
"The new amenity is part of a program by the grocery store chain to improve the shopping experience of Arizona customers, who have to deal with blistering heat during the summer months," the Monitor article said.
In 2015, Bashas' celebrated a grand reopening, adding a self-service doughnut station, a Blue Bell ice cream counter, mix-and-match six-packs for liquor items and a bulk food aisle in the natural food section.
Bashas' was founded in 1932 in Chander. The chain now has 130 locations and various brands within the family of stores, including Food City, AJ's Fine Foods and Bashas' Diné.
The opening of the Bashas' supermarket in Maricopa was the start of a new wave of development in the growing community.
The shopping center that housed the Bashas' soon became home to Subway, H&R Block, Postal Shipping Specialists, Great Clips and Water and Ice Superstore.
In 2008, a new Fry's Marketplace also joined the Maricopa business landscape.
— Melissa St. Aude
3. Copper Sky Regional Park
Drive around Arizona long enough and you’ll inevitably come across a community that just exists to sell cheap houses. There’s nothing wrong with a cheap house, of course, but drive around a bit and you won’t find a lot of energy coursing through those streets.
Without a lot of effort, Maricopa could have seen that fate, had it not been for the concerted effort to bring in amenities to make it stand out from the rest. And chief among those is Copper Sky Regional Park.
Maricopa was six years into its time as a city when its residents were asked to vote on a $65 million bond issue to fund improvements to the city’s parks and recreation. At that point, they already had Pacana Park to enjoy, and it was a favorite for families and athletes alike. But the city was growing fast, and it was becoming clear that Pacana wasn’t going to hold up as Maricopa’s premier park.
The voters seemed to agree. Even though the Great Recession was just hitting the world, and Maricopa especially, they committed their tax money to the idea of creating a crown jewel for the city to showcase to the entire state.
Christian Price, who wasn’t mayor when the bonds passed but was as the park was being built, said the lesson for governments as bonds like these fail more often than not in recent years is to make sure voters know exactly what they are going to get.
In the case of Maricopa, residents knew that if they committed their money to this bond issue, they were going to get a great park.
He compared, for example, Pinal County’s Proposition 469, which just narrowly failed to fund major road projects, to Maricopa County’s Prop. 400 that passed in 2004 to fund freeways for the next 20 years. In Maricopa County, each voter got the sense that they were going to get something out of it, whereas in Pinal County only certain areas thought they’d see their lives improve. In those places, like Maricopa, the voters approved it. But in more places, they didn’t see the point and rejected it.
When it came to Copper Sky, Price said, voters thought to themselves, “‘I live in this great community, I want it to be better, and we need more things to do.’ The people said we want this and we want to pay for it.
“You have to educate them on what they’re paying for and how they’re going to get it,” Price said.
Now with $65 million at their disposal, the city had to figure out what to do with it, which turned out to be harder than it seemed.
The first issue was finding the land. Price said the city got a “smoking deal” on 120 acres that were in the floodplain. That meant spending money to get it out of the floodplain, but the city had its spot secured.
Then it came to what the park would look like. When a bond passes, there is a very specific set of things the money can be used on. In this case, it was to build new recreation facilities, whether it be parks, pools, fitness centers or libraries.
More important is what that money can’t be used for. Not one dollar of that $65 million could be spent on the maintenance of the facilities or on the wages of the people who are necessary to staff them. When deciding what would be included in Copper Sky, understanding how the funding worked became important because the city had to prioritize services that wouldn’t add a lot to its maintenance and staffing bills.
“It’s one thing to build a park, but it’s a whole 'nother thing to maintain it,” said Price. He initially had his eyes on including racketball courts only to later discover that they would require a lot of air-conditioned space to make them realistic for the number of people who would use them.
So the city brought a bunch of people together, including the Youth Council, to figure out priorities for the park. They used a process called “dot polling” where everyone had five dots to place among the many different options, and those options were then sorted by the number of dots. The city then took that list and determined how much each would cost.
“It was a lot of fun, but it took a lot of time,” Price said. “People got angry wondering where everything (was), but we told them we have to make sure we’re doing this right.”
Some things were more likely to pay for themselves than others. The fields, for example, needed a lot of money because they needed to meet certain standards to bring in the major youth sports tournaments that would then bring money back in. That then, in turn, would become the money that paid for the maintenance and staffing.
The other big decision was to save plenty of frontage road space for mixed and commercial use. It proved to be a good decision, as the city has already been able to reap those rewards after La Quinta purchased some of the land to build a hotel. Money from that land purchase went toward paying off the debt from the bonds.
And, an even bigger fish is potentially coming with the Maricopa Innovation Campus, which would take over the land currently used for the area dog park and some soccer fields. Not only will that bring in some significant revenue, but also the developers will need to build equivalent fields somewhere else in the city before they use up that space.
But above all, city officials knew that Copper Sky had to look special. Price said some wanted the park to be built in phases, with the city “eventually getting around” to the second half of it. But Price saw where the Ak-Chin Indian Community was going with its hotel, casino and entertainment district — located almost across the street from where they were building the park — and he knew it wouldn’t be a mediocre park.
The result is what hundreds of Maricopans now enjoy every day, with a multistory fitness center, a competition-level aquatic center, top-tier Little League fields, a skate park, courts for almost every sport imaginable, a beautiful lake and plenty of green space.
Price remembers when it opened on March 15, 2014, when they held the grand opening for the facility. It was one of the coldest days in Maricopa, but hundreds, if not thousands, of people showed up to walk around the facility.
“I just remember so many smiling faces, and thinking this is a new dawn for the city of Maricopa. It really established us as a city that’s here to stay,” Price said. “It’s the park itself that kind of mesmerizes me the most. Every time I go there, and I go there a lot, there’s always something new.”
— Joey Chenoweth
4. Medical and Innovation Campus
More changes are also likely in store for Maricopa, with more growth on the horizon thanks to the possible Medical and Innovation Campus planned for North John Wayne Parkway and West Bowlin Road.
The large campus, proposed by S3 BioTech LLC, includes plans for a five-story hospital with helicopter pad, a three-story medical office building, an eight-story hotel building as well as a 136-unit multifamily residential complex. The entire development will sit on about 9.4 gross acres.
On Dec. 12, the Planning and Zoning Commission approved the project's development permit, with commissioners expressing that they were impressed with the overall design and detail of the project that will likely serve as a capstone for the Copper Sky area.
The innovation campus also included in its preliminary proposal a behavioral health and sports psychology facility, startup office space, research labs, an approximately 350-unit apartment complex, housing for students and staff, an auditorium and cafeteria, a fitness center and gymnasium, and a film production studio and makers’ shop.
The project would have the potential to be a destination for athletes at all levels to come to Maricopa for rehab and physical and mental improvement while also providing service for anyone looking for help with their mental health. It would also provide space for upstart entrepreneurs and creative types through the office and makers’ building.
— Kimlye Stager and Joey Chenoweth