Video Showcases Italian Developer Stilo's Ambitions for the Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon National Park.
Grand Canyon National Park. Elizabeth Whitman
This story has been updated to include the fact that after the story originally published, the video it linked to was taken down. We have replaced it with an edited copy of the video.

Recent viral tweets warned that an Italian company was about to build behemoth developments at the Grand Canyon. Local and federal officials scrambled to assure the public otherwise. The information that had spread so rapidly on social media was outdated and inaccurate, they said.

True, some tweets had outdated links and gotten details wrong. For example, one tweet said the town of Tusayan was holding a council meeting the following week to discuss plans to build 17 houses that, if begun, would "[open] the door” to Stilo’s development. No such discussion was happening.

But the big picture that the thread tried to impart was correct: Italian development group Stilo really does want to put hotels, shopping, restaurants, and “edutainment” centers in two areas within Tusayan, a town near the south rim of the Grand Canyon. 
The developer has hit obstacles preventing it from realizing those visions, but it's not giving up.

Its own marketing materials show the full scope of those ambitions. A video on Stilo’s own website explains how the company, whose development resumé includes casinos and luxury fashion villages, envisions “a world-class, fully implemented destination” on hundreds of acres "of underdeveloped potential, waiting for the guiding hand of experienced developers such as Stilo."

It's not clear when exactly the video was produced; a spokesperson for Stilo said it was from 2012, although the video used figures from 2014 and 2015. After the original version of this story published, the embedded video, sourced from Stilo's website, was taken down. Phoenix New Times subsequently embedded a previously downloaded copy of the video.

Coconino County property records show that the company owns 175 acres of a parcel that filings with the U.S. Forest Service label Ten-X Ranch. Stilo gave a separate, and very generous, 20 acres of the Ten-X development to the town of Tusayan to develop for housing; residents view this lot as Stilo's foot in the door to develop its own larger parcel.

Stilo also owns the 140-acre Kotzin Ranch, within Tusayan boundaries, and it owns hundreds more acres in as-yet unincorporated Coconino County.

It wants to develop those parcels into massive commercial, retail, and residential complexes with hotels, restaurants, and shopping districts. The video compares that vision to Epcot, a theme park at Walt Disney World in Florida, or Red Rock Amphitheater in Colorado.

Stilo, the narrator intones, been given stewardship over 375 acres “of natural beauty to move it into maturity.”

Get ready for dining, shopping, and entertainment at the Grand Canyon’s doorstep. Imagine a conference hotel and "high-energy food and beverage menus.”

Last fall, Stilo’s project manager Tom DePaolo was captured on a hot mic admitting to then-Vice Mayor Becky Wirth that the video wasn’t advertised in the United States because “It may be a little more commercial than you might even be comfortable with.” He did not want to show the video to the town of Tusayan, DePaolo added, asking to share it with Wirth via her personal email address, local news site Grand Canyon Watchdog reported.

Andy Jacobs, a spokesperson for Stilo, declined to comment for this story.

That video, which is littered liberally and brazenly with dollar signs, explains, “We at Stilo find ourselves in an enviable, exceptional position to advance the use of the only significant private land that is available at the Canyon.”

Its narrator lamented the Grand Canyon’s dearth of cultural activities and entertainment venues. There were, he said, “no compelling reasons to relax.” And so Stilo intends to revamp “older, outdated buildings and amenities … to take advantage of the billions of tourism dollars which are currently leaving [the Grand Canyon], finding their way elsewhere for lack of high-quality amenities and attractions tourists expect.”

It's long, jaw-dropping, and worth watching in full. (Note: To comply with YouTube terms, the embedded version has been edited to remove a copyrighted song and trimmed to less than 10 minutes in length, though it still includes the relevant parts about the company and its plans in Tusayan that are in the public interest.)

In their responses to the most recent viral tweets, leaders in the town of Tusayan have insinuated that Stilo's plans were misunderstood, or that they were nixed years ago.

But several of the town's council members work for companies owned by Elling Halvorson, who is one of Stilo's business partners. Mayor Craig Sanderson, for example, is a pilot with Grand Canyon Airlines, owned by Halvorson; Wirth, now a council member, works for Halvorson's Papillon Airways. Stilo helped incorporate Tusayan in 2010.

Eric Duthie, town manager for Tusayan, told New Times via email that the tweet referred to a development that was “actually the Town of Tusayan trying to build houses for Tusayan residents to own (which is not a STILO project).” People in Tusayan, he said, faced serious housing challenges, because residents live in employer-owned housing.

The last major setback for Stilo was in 2016, when the Forest Service rejected Tusayan’s application for an easement that would have expanded access to the two parcels it planned to develop.

“This news is 3 years old. Stilo’s application was returned in 2016. And as of now, have not [sic] provided plans to the Town to develop their land at Ten X further,” Vice-Mayor Brady Harris wrote June 3 in a mass email to people who called the town after the viral tweets.

The U.S. Forest Service, which holds the authority to grant easements necessary for Stilo to develop its precious parcels, has been vague on the issue, but its statements suggest that Tusayan — and by extension, Stilo — are still trying to advance these developments.

“We are aware that the Town of Tusayan has continued to pursue action on this topic," Jackie Banks, spokesperson for the Kaibab National Forest, said via email. She added, "[Tusayan] may at some point submit a new application.”
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Elizabeth Whitman was a staff writer for Phoenix New Times from March 2019 to April 2020.