A massive land purchase of nearly 25,000 acres by Microsoft founder Bill Gates last year has helped put the West Valley on the map for foreign investment.
“In the last five to six months we have been getting a lot of interest from foreign investors,” said Anita Verma-Lallian, marketing director for Vermaland LLC, a family-owned real estate business. “Phoenix is getting itself on the global platform.”
Vermaland has 640 acres of land in escrow with a group of foreign investors, most of whom are from China. Verma-Lallian said the investors are most likely looking to hold the land as an investment and wait for values to increase before selling to groups looking to develop in the area.
Kuldip Verma, Verma-Lallian’s father, heads the Arizona land company, which owns 25,000 acres in metropolitan Phoenix.
“Everyone wants to be as close to Belmont as possible,” Verma-Lallian said of the company’s clients. “They all want to be as near to the smart city as they can be.” Belmont is the area west of Phoenix where Gates bought land.
Verma-Lallian recently traveled to China to speak with potential investors about the benefits of buying land in Phoenix.
“Our main goal was to go there and educate people about Phoenix,” she said. “We wanted people to know Phoenix is open to foreign investment.”
Details of Gates’ plans for the land in Belmont have been sparse since the purchase was reported. Gates’ Mt. Lemmon Holdings acquired a majority interest in the land off of Interstate 10.
At the time, it was reported Gates was interested in helping develop a “smart city” focused on autonomous cars, solar energy and high-tech homes.
Prior to the Gates purchase, the market for land in the area near Tonopah, about an hour west of Phoenix, had been slow. In 2006, at the height of the market, land near Belmont was going for $40,000 an acre, Verma-Lallian said. After the crash, it was down to $1,000 per acre, and right before Gates bought the land it was going for $3,000 to $5,000 per acre.
“It immediately jumped up,” Verma-Lallian said of land values after Gates’ purchase. Now, land in the area costs between $15,000 and $20,000 per acre depending on the characteristics of the property.
“Aside from the smart city, Phoenix in general is growing to the west,” Verma-Lallian said, noting Buckeye was recently named the fifth-fastest growing city in the country. “The area will go up in value regardless.”
Many of the international groups Verma-Lallian and her group met with are interested in trying something new, like building with an eco-friendly focus or other high-tech ideas.
“Tonopah is virtually a blank canvas,” she said.
In September, Microsoft spent $48 million on 272 acres of land in Goodyear on the southwest corner of Maricopa County 85 and Lower Buckeye Road in the Goodyear AirPark.