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Mayor: Oro Valley not just for retirees anymore

The town of Oro Valley has long lost its status as a retirement community and now aims to be a family-friendly town for people of all ages, Mayor Satish Hiremath said Thursday.

After giving his seventh state of the town speech, Hiremath, a dentist, said 85 percent of residents in 2005 were retirees and today, about 75 percent are non-retirees. And out of about 40,000 residents, about 8,000 are 18 or under.

"It's a shift unlike any that I have seen in a community. That is a short time frame," he said.

He said it is apparently the result of the town's effort to attract bio-science companies. Its largest employer is Ventana Medical Systems, wth about 1,000 employees. Bio-tech firms often hire people from abroad and those employees and especially their spouses and children like natural beauty, culture and recreation, he said.

So Oro Valley set out to attract families by creating good schools, a strong police force and smooth roads and, more recently a music festival and Fourth of July festival. It has a year-old aquatic center that had 97,000 visits over the past year and in 2017 will host a national synchronized swimming championship.

A recent survey showed that residents, for the first time, said they want "family friendly" as one of the city's goals. Residents will be asked to vote on a new 10-year general plan in the Nov. 8 election.

Residents also have said they want a downtown, a place where people can congregate. So the town aims to create two, at Oracle Road and 1st Avenue and Lambert and La Canada roads.

Oro Valley also attempts to promote sports tourism and has been hosting tennis and golf tournaments. While parks and recreation centers have to be subsidized by taxpayers, they can bring in revenues when competitors from out of town stay in hotels and patronize local stores and restaurants, Hiremath said. One-third of the town's sales taxes are paid by non-residents.

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In addition to Ventana, the town's other large employers are the Hilton El Conquistador Golf & Tennis Resort, with about 700 employees, and Oro Valley Hospital, with 400-450 workers, Hiremath said. Ninety-five new businesses came to town last year, and 40 of those opened brick and mortar stores or restaurants and the rest were home-based, he said.

When Oro Valley was incorporated in 1974, the original goal was to create a large retirement community. Today, Hiremath said his goal is to create memories for every age "from one to 100."

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