hecker pass gilroy gardens tourist development land highway
The City of Gilroy is looking to develop the hillside and surrounding land on Hecker Pass Highway at Gilroy Gardens into a recreational destination. Photo: Erik Chalhoub
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The Gilroy City Council was introduced to two companies March 15 that are vying to develop Gilroy Gardens and the surrounding Hecker Pass property into a tourist destination.

The City of Gilroy received two proposals—one from Las Vegas-based Imagine That! and the other from Select Contracts of Canada—that would transform the horticulturally themed park if approved.

Select Contracts’ proposal would construct a number of hiking and biking trails throughout the adjacent mountainside at various skill levels, as well as four zip lines down the mountain. It also calls for a “surf park” near the entrance to Gilroy Gardens.

CEO Chris Sutton said Select Contracts has been working with Gilroy Gardens to develop the “adventure park” proposal since 2016, which was presented to the council in 2019. That plan has expanded to include what Sutton called the state’s first publicly accessible surf pool.

“We’re five years into this project, and we’d like to keep it going,” he said. “Having all these things in one location will be a world first. This is an incredible opportunity to be able to make this happen in Gilroy, and we’re super excited by it.”

In a 60-page document, Imagine That! outlined its experience in designing theme park attractions across the globe over the past three decades, which includes work on various Las Vegas shows and at parks such as Disneyland and Universal Studios. It did not offer specifics of its plan for Gilroy.

Rick Harbor, president of Imagine That!, said his company took a “slightly different approach” to the city’s request for proposals. Imagine That! proposes an adventure park similar to Select Contracts’ plan, he said, but envisions a heavy investment into Gilroy Gardens itself with major attractions that are centered around a globally recognized brand.

“We believe that with the right strategy, the location has the potential to go beyond the local visitor and become more of a nationally and internationally recognized destination,” Harbor said.

Councilmember Carol Marques asked Sutton and Harbor what their plans are for the already developed theme park portion of the property.

Sutton replied that the “gardens would continue as the gardens,” with some overall sprucing up and possible future attractions.

Harbor said Imagine That! views Gilroy Gardens as the “gateway to something larger,” adding that the company “definitely wouldn’t bulldoze it” but might look at areas that “could potentially be demolished and improved.”

A little more than 20 people spoke during the public comment portion of the virtual meeting, with the majority in support of Select Contracts’ proposal, while others were concerned about potential traffic and environmental impacts of both plans.

Less than half who spoke were Gilroy residents, with many commenters being from San Jose, Aptos and Morgan Hill.

Mayor Marie Blankley reiterated that the council would not be making a decision on a proposal during the meeting, as it was only a “high level” discussion. She said that because many commenters were repeating the same sentiments, she would reduce the time for each person to speak from two minutes to one, so the council could move forward with its lengthy agenda.

She urged commenters to speak if they had something new to tell the council, which led Councilmember Rebeca Armendariz to interject and warn Blankley that it could be violating the public comment procedures of the Brown Act.

“I’m not shutting anyone down,” Blankley said. “I am continuing public comment, but I am saying this is going to be a procedure I will be addressing differently when we’re getting so many of the same comments.”

City Administrator Jimmy Forbis said the evaluation process for the proposals would likely take two to three months.

Representatives from the City of Gilroy, Economic and Planning Systems (the city’s consultant for the project), Gilroy Chamber of Commerce, Visit Gilroy and Gilroy Gardens will now interview the companies on their proposals.

The proposals will later be taken to the Chamber of Commerce Board, Visit Gilroy Board and Gilroy Gardens Board for review and recommendation, and afterward, these recommendations will be presented to the city council, where they will be agendized for further discussion and direction.

At this phase, the council could choose to enter into an exclusive negotiating agreement with one of the companies, where details of the specific proposal would be studied and negotiated to determine if the plan and project are suitable for moving forward, city officials stated in a press release. During this process, an outreach program including council study sessions and community forums will be conducted to receive public input on the specifics of the proposed project.

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Erik Chalhoub joined Weeklys as an editor in 2019. Prior to his current position, Chalhoub worked at The Pajaronian in Watsonville for seven years, serving as managing editor from 2014-2019.


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