Phoenix Rising disagrees

Phoenix Rising disagrees with the appraisal of the Tonalea Elementary site, saying the value placed on it by the school district’s appraiser would be justified if it was home to apartments.

The Phoenix Rising soccer team wants the school district to cut the price tag for renting the abandoned Tonalea Elementary site.

An appraisal commissioned by Scottsdale Unified School District officials recently had valued the 10-acre site near 68th and Oak streets at approximately $7.9 million with an annual lease value of $320,000. 

Phoenix Rising co-owner Tim Riester figures those valuations are only appropriate if a commercial developer wants to put apartments or houses on the site.

“To make those kinds of numbers work, a developer would have to put a tower there,” Riester said. “Those are commercial numbers.”

The school administration contacted several agencies to appraise the site but because of the booming real estate market, only one agency actually did the work.

It would cost three to four times less to rent two lighted fields from the city – and the city would provide all the maintenance, Riester said.

So, Phoenix Rising is hiring a couple of appraisal companies to visit the site and see if they can come up with a cheaper number.

“We are not looking to build apartments or homes; we are keeping it open space,” Riester said.

Phoenix Rising wants to rent the site for its youth soccer league program.

 It has proposed putting $3 million to $4 million worth of improvements on the site, including creating two lighted soccer fields, remodeling the existing building on the site as a community center, creating a youth soccer administrative office, putting in 100 parking spots and landscaping the perimeter. Improvements would also include a walking track and a playground.

Phoenix Rising is Arizona’s highest level professional soccer team and plays in the USL Championship League, which has teams in the United States and Canada.

“The good news is everyone is working together to do the right thing, we just need enough data to have the process go through,” Riester said.

The team’s youth soccer league started four years ago and has approximately 9,000 athletes. 

During a meeting with the SUSD governing board last month, Riester proposed a partnership with the district that goes beyond soccer.

He suggested bringing in foreign-language-speaking athletes into Scottsdale Unified’s foreign language classes and having some of the team’s sports trainers work with some of the district’s physical education teachers. He also suggested bringing students to the facility as part of field trips. 

Allowing students to use the facility for field days when the team isn’t using it is a possibility as well.

SUSD Governing Board member Jann-Michael Greenberg and Vice President Julie Cieniawski expressed their support for the project during that meeting.

“I would also like to state my enthusiasm to improve that property, to make it useful, functional for the community that surrounds that property,” Cieniawski said. “Anyone who has driven by that property can see that it’s been a long-standing eyesore in our district. So, I appreciate putting the pride back into that community.”

In May, a sizable group of locals were vocal in their opposition to the project during a community town hall.

Some were skeptical of the community benefit because most local kids currently play in non-Rising leagues and because the neighborhood’s predominantly elderly population wouldn’t benefit from the fields.

Riester at the time said the organization will “absolutely” do outreach to boost local enrollment in its programs if the Tonalea proposal goes through.

While some locals questioned whether or not that outreach would be effective, some were interested in signing their kids up for a team if the Rising takes over the site.

Some neighbors also were concerned that noise and light spill over into nearby homes during evening activities. The team has said the lights would be on until 9:30 p.m. most evenings.

“We have a very passionate community that’s been here for a very, very long time, and we don’t want to see this change our neighborhood with crowds and trash and lights,” one neighbor said.

Riester said the Rising’s youth organization does not use PA systems during practices or games and said it will be using new directional LED lighting technology that limits spillover to neighbors.

Neighbors also had concerns that the new fields would further exacerbate growing parking and traffic problems in the area that have resulted from an influx of apartments built in the area in recent years.

The organization said it will maintain the site’s 100 parking spaces and is exploring potential on-street parking as well.

Even with that opposition, a poll of meeting attendees and those watching online showed a majority supported the proposal. 

Of 232 votes cast, 140 indicated they would like to see the district move forward with the project. Of the remainder 86 voted no and six were undecided.