By Jim Walsh for East Valley Tribune
Mesa is hoping taxpayers kick the Mesa Plays sports complex across the goal line after a shift in financing placed the tax burden on out-of-town patrons for the much awaited, much debated $55M facility.
City officials last week acknowledged they are taking a risk that financial forecasts are correct and that Mesa Plays, with 24 fields, will become a magnet for large tournaments.
The financing shift, orchestrated by City Manager Chris Brady, leaves Mesa taxpayers responsible for paying off the $25M cost of nine artificial turf fields reserved for community use, even though they also could be incorporated into a large tournament.
But $30M in excise bonds would be issued to pay for 15 fields reserved for tournaments. Sales tax revenues would be pledged in support of the bonds, but the biggest source of funds is a 1 percent increase in bed taxes paid by hotel and motel guests.
Although excise bonds do not need approval from voters, advocates must convince voters to support two related ballot questions – the bed tax increase and spending more than $1.5M on a city project.
“The folks who are coming from out of town are paying for this. That seems a lot cleaner to me,’’ Mayor John Giles said, vowing to campaign for voters to approve the related Mesa Plays ballot questions, and also the general obligation bond packages which amount to a municipal goodie bag of improvements.
Brady said he was always uncomfortable with including the tournament fields of Mesa Plays into the general obligation bond package, because the fields are not for community use.
Council members seemed largely supportive of Mesa Plays and the bond package.
Giles, Vice Mayor David Luna, council member Mark Freeman and council member Chris Glover all praised it. The council took no formal vote because the discussion was at a study session, where the focus is on reaching an informal consensus.
The project would be in District 5, adjacent to Red Mountain Park off Brown Road and 80th Street.
Whether enough visitors would come from out of town to foot the bed tax bill has been much debated, with supporters citing an Elliott D. Pollack & Co. study that projects $365M in total economic output generated by the complex – including $183M in direct expenditures.
Anthony Evans, senior research fellow at the L. William Seidman Research Institute at Arizona State University, sounded a note of caution, saying that the economic impact depends upon the ability to attract out-of-state tournaments to the facility.
Brady said that either way, Visit Mesa, the city’s tourism arm, has pledged $1.4M in bed tax revenues per year toward the $2.4M a year debt service on the tournament fields.
Marc Garcia, president and CEO of Visit Mesa, said hotel developers have already written to Giles, promising to build new hotels if the complex gets built.
Garcia said Visit Mesa has the connections to book large tournaments, adding, “What we’ve been lacking is the large field space.’’
A secondary benefit from the split financing arrangement is that city officials were able to shave a cool $30M off the general obligation bond ballot measure that would go before voters in November, perhaps making it more palatable.
That’s not to say they are not hoping taxpayers are generous this year. The parks and cultural outlay would be $111M, a cost of $24 in secondary property tax to the average homeowner.
The public safety portion of the bond package is $85M, which includes two fire stations in southeast and northeast Mesa, a police station in northeast Mesa, new fire trucks and a new police evidence facility. The cost to the average homeowner is $19.
The City Council is scheduled on July 2 to formally vote to place the $196M bond issue on the November ballot, with separate questions for the parks and public safety improvements.
Read more at East Valley Tribune.
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