For nearly 70 years, Sunshine Acres Children’s Home has provided long-term homes for children in need on its 110-acre campus on the northeast corner of Higley Road and Longbow Parkway in Mesa.

Supported primarily by private donors, the orphanage – which often calls itself “The Miracle in the Desert” – is eyeing a move that could be a landmark in its history and give it greater financial independence.

In a plan submitted to the Mesa Planning Department, Sunshine Acres proposes to turn a 36-acre strip along the southern edge of its property into a 250-room resort hotel and waterpark with a 30,0000 square foot conference center, 21,000 square feet of retail space and four full-service restaurants.

To the east of the resort there would be another 125-room limited service hotel, and east of that, a 220-room dormitory and training facilities for students of the CAE flight school, which operates at the nearby Falcon Field.

The land now is mostly undeveloped desert. A small part of the site currently has a baseball field and parking lot on it.

The land would be developed for Sunshine Acres by Mesa-based Power Hotel Group, which currently operates Sheraton Mesa Hotel at Wrigleyville West, Doubletree by Hilton Phoenix Gilbert, Best Western Legacy Inn and Suites and Marriott Courtyard Mesa at Wrigleyville West, according to the LinkedIn profile of PHG Director Kevin Thorpe.

Documents submitted to the city say that Sunshine Acres would retain ownership of the land under a long-term ground lease with Power Hotel Group and receive rent revenue from the developer.

“This arrangement is critical to helping Sunshine Acres and their ongoing mission to provide housing, training and resources for homeless children,” project documents state. 

“It will significantly lessen their dependence on fundraising and grants.”

The proposed hotels, convention center and CAE dorms would be a maximum of four stories tall. 

The concept for the large waterpark attached to the larger 250-room hotel envisions many amenities, including a lagoon with beach entry, a lazy river and pool bar.

The children’s home campus was established in 1954 by Rev. Jim and Vera Dingman, who bought a former boarding school on 125-acres of land for $29,500 with the help of the Mesa Optimist Club.

Sunshine Acres’ website states that the home does not receive government funds for the direct care of the children. 

Instead, the Christian organization relies primarily on donations from individuals and businesses, its thrift shop and fundraisers like the annual Shootout for Sunshine golf tournament held at the nearby Longbow Golf Club.

Sunshine Acres reports that it has helped raise over 2,000 children since its opening. 

The kids live in large single-family homes, 10 to a house with “house parents,” and the organization provides numerous enrichment programs.

According to the most recently available 990 form filed with the IRS, Sunshine Acres reported $6 million in revenue in 2020, including $5 million from private contributions and $440,000 in government grants.

The proposed resort and convention center and other projects along Longbow Parkway are currently in the pre-submittal phase, with developers submitting project plans and meeting with city staff ahead of a formal submission.

The land is currently zoned for single-family homes, so Power Hotel Group will seek a zone change to Limited Commercial with a Planned Area Development overlay. 

The project narrative states the CAE dormitory will require a Council Use Permit for part of the site that is underneath a Falcon Field overflight zone. 

CAE Phoenix is a major flight training school that provides cadet programs for American Airlines, JetBlue, Southwest Airlines and Aeromexico. It operates over 80 aircraft in the Phoenix metro area.

According to the project narrative, the dorm and training space on Sunshine Acres would allow the school to consolidate its Phoenix-area facilities and living accommodations into a single location.

The plans also include a new thrift and boutique store on the property for processing and selling donated goods, as well as selling items created by Sunshine Acres residents.

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