Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates made waves in the real estate world this week when it was revealed that one of his investment firms had spent $80 million to acquire a controlling stake in a large tract of land in Arizona, which will be turned into a “smart city” known as Belmont.
The land, in Phoenix’s West Valley, is on what local agents call the “outskirts of the outskirts” of the city. But given the explosive growth the Phoenix metro area has seen in recent years, it won’t be for long that the billionaire’s community is in the middle of nowhere.
Phoenix agents that Inman contacted universally welcomed the news that Gates and his partners are planning the new housing and commercial development on 25,000 acres of desert, 45 minutes from Phoenix downtown.
Described as “a forward-thinking community with a communication and infrastructure spine that embraces cutting-edge technology,” including “high-speed digital networks, data centers, new manufacturing technologies and distribution models, autonomous vehicles and autonomous logistics hubs,” it is likely to include 80,000 residential units as well as 470 acres for public schools.
Agents said that Gates will be able to create whatever he likes on the desert land near the White Tank mountains, as it is outside any city’s jurisdiction.
Tiffany Drejza, associate broker at Re/Max Desert Showcase in Peoria, who deals with a number of West Valley real estate markets including Buckeye and Goodyear, said: “We are very excited. The exposure will be good, it will mean tech jobs in the West Valley. The area between the end of the valley and where this project starts will grow and fill in, so there will be a residual effect,” she said.
Chuck Disney, a Verrado Realty agent based in the Verrado planned community in West Valley, has already driven out to where the smart city will be built, 15 minutes drive away.
“He’s got an open palette, it’s just desert with beautiful mountains and hills surrounding. It’s a lovely setting,” he said. In terms of what would be built there, Disney said his “hope is the focus will be on solar homes and probably electric cars. I can only daydream.”
With such a strong 55-year-old-plus market living in Phoenix, Disney is hoping the new community will cater to this still active and contributing age group among its housing. He told Inman that West Valley is where the growth is going to be happening in Phoenix in the coming years, with easy access to freeways taking people to Los Angeles and Southern California.
Realty One Group’s Jeff Sibbach and Phil Sexton from the Sibbach Team, two self- confessed techies, meanwhile were looking forward to Gates spending more time in Arizona.
“Everybody in the world would love to meet him,” said Sibbach.
They thought it would be good news for Verrado, where they had just done a deal, a pleasant planned community, with nice tree lined streets.
“You wouldn’t guess it was in the middle of the desert,” said Sibbach.
And for Buckeye, it was likely to help their housing values, added Sexton.
They agreed the West Valley would change enormously in the coming years.
“Where I live was not developed in 1996,” Sibbach said. “Twenty years later North Scottsdale is where we dominate.”
“Innovation in Arizona, we love it,” added Sexton. If the area around Belmont becomes a hot market in the state, they could envisage a Sibbach Team office nearby.