By Anne Ryman for The Arizona Republic
ASU has carved out 330 acres just south of Tempe Town Lake and is seeking a developer to create a $170M+, urban, master-planned development featuring world-class amateur athletic facilities surrounded by residential, office and retail space. The businesses would pay a fee in lieu of property taxes and ASU puts the money towards fixing its athletic facilities, most notably Sun Devil Stadium.
Sometime next year, ASU hopes to select a developer or developers and complete a master plan for the land, which is now primarily occupied by parking lots and a golf course. It could take a couple of years to break ground, and the entire project could take 20 years or more to fully develop.
The idea grew out of ASU’s need to rebuild athletic facilities and stay competitive with other Pac-12 Conference schools, which have spent nearly $1.3B on stadiums since 1998. Sun Devil Stadium is 54 years old and lacks the seating or amenities to generate adequate revenue.
Creative Stadium Funding Needed
ASU wants to renovate the stadium. Preliminary plans call for a fabric canopy that would cover the upper decks on the eastern and western sides, reducing temperatures by up to 20 degrees.
ASU has been trying for years to find a way to fund renovations.
Anything built on state university land doesn’t pay property tax under state law. So, instead of charging property taxes, the universities would lease the land to developers and collect a fee up to the amount that could be charged for property taxes. This would be a payment “in lieu” of property taxes and be based on the value of the lease. The revenue flow could be used for athletic facilities.
The property skirts the shoreline and extends back over the rolling hills of Karsten Golf Course, south almost to University Drive. The eastern boundaries stop just short of Tempe Marketplace and the towering Ocotillo Power Plant.
Possibly Largest University-Led Project of its Type
Real-estate experts say it’s unusual, though, for universities to attempt the scale of what ASU is trying to do by developing hundreds of acres with residential and commercial space and using the proceeds to renovate sports facilities.
It could be years before any of the district is developed and begins producing fees. But revenue projections could be used to persuade a bank to lend the athletic district money to start on stadium improvements. University officials are putting together a stadium- financing plan that they say could include a loan and private donations.
Depending on the extent of the renovations, officials have said, upgrading the stadium could cost as much as $300M. In a recent interview, ASU’s athletic director declined to give a minimum or ceiling for the project.
In a legislative analysis presented to the Arizona Senate in 2010, ASU estimated it would need “at least $170M” for structural repairs to Sun Devil Stadium. If ASU chose to issue bonds for the entire $170M, the district would need to generate $13.3M annually to pay on the bonds, the analysis said.
The curving Rio Salado Parkway now used as a quick way to get to and from Loop 202 or sports events could become a kind of Main Street, lined with commercial development.
Street-level businesses could wrap around parking structures. Art studios and galleries are possibilities. Office and residential space could be located on the upper levels of buildings with solar panels blanketing rooftops. Karsten Golf Course would eventually be developed, although a smaller, 30-acre area likely would be preserved as a golf practice facility, Patterson said.
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