Business/Conservation agreement

It probably doesn't look like it driving down Interstate 10, but the area near I-10 and Avra Valley Road is an important wildlife corridor linking the Tucson Mountains on the West with the Totolita Mountains on the East.

The county has been looking for ways to preserve it for years and especially how to pay for it.

It seems to have found a solution.

A national outlet mall developer, AWE Talisman, has signed a development agreement with Pima County to develop the 100 acres between I-10 and the Santa Cruz River at the Avra Valley exit.

"it's still in the early stages," the marketing director Ann Ackerman says. "It's still in the planning stages."

But if it goes as planned, it could contain as many as 100 outlet stores and possibly some hotel space.

The county says the two have been working together for about a year to get to this point.

In the development agreement, AWE will pay a 2% tax on certain sales which the county estimates will total $89 million over 20 years.

That money will be used for preservation of the area, including a 30 acre park for wildlife and potentially hiking trails.

"So the money being collected frankly, is going to go to mitigate the effects of having it be there," says District 5 Supervisor Richard Elias.

Elias says common sense dictates that business must grow but how to balance it with nature is the key.

"One of the most important economic drivers in our community is the environment, the desert that we live in," he says.