From a “raw, blank slate” to a “forward-thinking community.” That’s the plan for a desert tract 45 miles west of downtown Phoenix.
But instead of this being part of a flashy pitch to get just anyone to sign on the dotted line for a home in the middle of nowhere, consider that a company formed by the man who helped make possible one of history’s most disruptive technologies — the personal computer — is behind the idea to give birth to the community of Belmont near Tonopah.
Bill Gates purchased just over half interest in the investment of nearly $80 million for 25,000 acres west of the White Tank Mountains. Gates is co-founder of Microsoft and with partner Paul Allen provided the MS-DOS operating system used to run the earliest versions of the personal computers.
The plan for the land is creation of a “smart city.” A smart city comes alive when information and communication technology tap into the Internet of Things (IoT) to link components ranging from those that control the infrastructure down to the devices that can help doctors monitor their patients’ health.
But if you think this is the stuff of decades to come, consider that a recent National League of Cities survey revealed 66 percent of U.S. cities already are investing in smart city technology while a quarter of the remaining cities are exploring implementing some type of smart city application.
Developers of the Arizona project already can envision what their community will be. “Comparable in square miles and projected population to Tempe, Arizona, Belmont will transform a raw, blank slate into a purpose-built edge city built around a flexible infrastructure model," according to a release from Belmont Partners, the Arizona real estate investment company involved in the deal.
As for the entire 25,000 acres, 3,800 acres is earmarked for development of office, retail and commercial space. Another 470 acres will be used for public schools. The rest of land will provide enough room for 80,000 residential units.
“Belmont will create a forward-thinking community with a communication and infrastructure spine that embraces cutting-edge technology, designed around high-speed digital networks, data centers, new manufacturing technologies and distribution models, autonomous vehicles and autonomous logistics hubs," according to the release.
Although anything more specific than that description isn’t being offered at this time by developers, people know the name “Gates” carries a great deal of potential for both the city and the state. “Bill Gates is known for innovation and those kind of things,” says Ron Schott, executive emeritus of the Arizona Technology Council. “I think he picked the right location.”
That’s especially true with autonomous vehicles since no place is hotter right now than Arizona. Waymo, formerly known as the Google self-driving car project, and Intel already are working together to perfect full autonomy for vehicles in city driving. Uber and Lyft are testing autonomous vehicles that could make commuting more of a pleasure. General Motors has been putting its self-driving Bolt EVs through their paces on Arizona streets.
Proximity to future ground transportation options likely will be important for Belmont. The proposed Interstate 11 as designated by Congress would run through the community as it offers a direct path between the Phoenix and Las Vegas metropolitan areas. The I-11 corridor is expected to offer cross-border economic integration for Arizona and Nevada.
“(Belmont Partners’) goal is to try to make this the most positive state to do business in and advocate for the technology industries,” Schott says. “Finally, Arizona is getting recognized for being a place for innovation.”