At his 2019 State of the City Address, Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane touched on a number of topics, from the city’s natural beauty to its growing tech sector.
But it was his focus on the importance of the city’s tourism industry and public that gave a subtle nod to a potential bond election and the pending investments the city could make in those key areas.
Early on in his address, Lane specifically called attention to major events the city hosts every year, including the Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction, Waste Management Phoenix Open and the Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show.
“These signature events keep getting bigger and better, building on that reputation, achieving incredible success and raising millions of dollars for local charities,” Lane said in his address.
Though Lane did not address it directly, those events could all be affected by projects being considered for inclusion in a potential bond election the City Council is expected to discuss in April.
Of the $436.6 million currently being considered by the City Council’s Capital Improvement Plan Subcommittee, over $58 million is for projects related to Westworld – the site of Barrett-Jackson and the Arabian Horse Show.
Those projects include renovating barns and event space, improving access to the facility and expanding or improving lighting, public address systems and restrooms.
The bulk of those monies – $47 million – would be used to construct parking structures to accommodate those large events.
At a CIP Subcommittee meeting earlier this year, City Manager Jim Thompson said the parking structure would service all major events in the area, including the Open, and not just those held at Westworld.
City Engineer Dave Lipinski said the parking was needed due to a loss of parking in the Crossroads East area as that land is being sold of by the state for private development.
In an interview with the Progress, Lane said the large events could contribute to the cost of the parking structure.
“We’re working to develop a revenue stream to support those kinds of things,” Lane said of the proposed parking structure. “That doesn't mean it's going to be 100 percent, because we're not going to end up with that money (from events) on the front end, but it may be something we're going to need to finance to build, but then make sure it's sustainable.”
Lane also acknowledged that residents may be hesitant to support funding for these types of improvements, but noted they benefit all citizens via the tax revenues they generate.
Still, he said that some of the tourism-related improvements could be paid for using bed tax revenues to avoid saddling residents with the full cost of those improvements.
“The likelihood is there's going to be some component (in the bond), but we're going to try to work and make sure that we use our tourism dollars as best as we possibly can for our tourism venues or infrastructure for tourism-related capital projects.”
At his State of City address, Lane also addressed another tourism-related project that could be funded using bed tax dollars, Scottsdale Stadium.
“We’ve been working with our partners – the San Francisco Giants and the Scottsdale Charros – to develop plans to renovate the stadium and strengthen its position as an anchor of our Old Town events and tourism scene,” he said at the event.
Lane also touched on the Civic Center, which could be in line for a facelift.
“Many consider the Scottsdale Civic Center, home of wonderful public art, performances and festivals, as the heart of our cultural community. But if you haven’t visited recently, the Civic Center is not very attractive or even recognizable at the moment,” Lane said in his speech.
“While we repair the structure itself, we are also considering what the entire area should look like to best contribute to the health of Scottsdale’s arts and culture in the future,” he added.
The current list of projects being considered for a potential bond includes a $27-million renovation to the Civic Center first reported on by the Progress earlier this year that would transform the area into a premier public park that could host concerts and festivals.
The plan, spearheaded by Scottsdale Arts CEO Gerd Wuestemann, would be the culmination of a longtime plan by the city.
“We’ve been talking about this for a long time,” Lane said. “The downturn in the economy put a lot of things off.”
The downturn, Lane said, is a primary reason eight of the ten bonds proposed by the city since 2010 have failed with voters.
Speaking on downtown specifically, Lane said “The first thing we had to do is to build up the private sector and to make sure we had something here and then also to build up that tax base to be able to support that.”
Since that time, Lane said the city has made efforts to support that growth, including investing in downtown events.
He said that the Civic Center renovation is a benefit, because it could further bolster that growth downtown by drawing in more visitors and function as a first-class amenity for residents as well.
Lane said he would like the Civic Center to “reflect what Scottsdale is about, both in both events but also as a public amenity” and that the area should be for “hosting those events but also for our public to be able to be proud of and to view our public art and that facility.”
As Lane, the City Council and the City grapple with what projects to build and how to fund them, they will also have to work in concert with what the mayor referred to as “a newly activated and engaged” citizenry.
Pointing to Proposition 420 – the McDowell Sonoran Preserve charter amendment that voters approved last year – Lane applauded the residents behind the grassroots effort to get the proposition on the ballot.
“Yes, the people spoke, but they also acted, and our community seems to have a growing awareness of the big questions and big challenges that Scottsdale faces,” Lane said.
He does not expect those engaged residents to go away anytime soon and realized the city must make efforts to justify the money it plans to spend and convince voters it has done its due diligence, especially as it relates to a bond election.
Lane said the members he appointed the Council’s Capital Improvement Plan Subcommittee – Councilmembers Guy Phillips, Suzanne Klapp and Kathy Littlefield – are an important piece of that.
“I'm hoping through that process and through the additional outreach we're doing on (the bond) too, that we get a little bit better of a consensus,” Lane said.
“Process” was something Lane came back to again and again as he discussed addressing the city’s needs moving forward.
He applauded Proposition 420 supporters for going through the proper city processes to put their proposition on the ballot and make their voices heard, and he said that he hopes residents will continue to do so in the future.
One fear, Lane said, is that resident’s have “lost faith in the process.”
“One great concern I have in that regard is that businesses, property owners, developers, all count on our policies, our ordinances and our policies that are related to those ordinances being consistently applied.”
He said if the Council does not consistently apply those ordinances, the decision could be challenged in court and the city could be sued.
“That’s the main thing – maintaining the integrity of our processes and our system is something that stands foremost in my mind,” he said.