By Don Henninger
What do Scottsdale residents want from their future leaders?
Do they expect them to sustain the city’s high property values and low tax rates?
To continue to provide unparalleled city services?
Create a thriving, active year-round downtown?
To ensure its McDowell Sonoran Preserve will be protected in perpetuity?
Maintain lots of open spaces?
The current roster of candidates for mayor and City Council agree those are worthy pursuits.
That’s why we live and do business here. Because the city does well on most of them, polls show the majority of residents think things are heading in the right direction.
But how do you foot the bill for all those desired attributes moving forward? The simple answer – perhaps the only one – is to encourage business investment in the city.
That’s the economic reality and that’s where the candidates start to separate. Any pro-business stance brings out the slow- or no-growth advocates who will be quick to complain but then come up short on ideas for how they see the city financing its prosperity.
The economic reality is this: Continued private sector investment in the city – paired with a healthy tourism industry – is how to maintain – to pay for – the quality of life that residents now expect and often take for granted.
The McDowell Sonoran Preserve encompasses one-quarter of the city’s land mass. And the open spaces so treasured in the north mean that economic activity must be robust in other select areas of the city.
The city has identified three major hubs for economic activity: the McDowell Road corridor, the area that surrounds the Airpark and downtown.
Much of the attention has been downtown, which is underused as a place to work, live and generate year-round activity. It’s often confused with Historic Old Town, a six-acre span that can easily be preserved while the rest of downtown’s two square miles is modernized.
City leaders should not be shy in recruiting businesses to invest in redevelopment projects downtown, while ensuring that they follow the zoning regulations and character area ordinances. Projects that propose height and density, carefully planned and located where they make sense – in literally 1 percent of the city’s area and far from the open spaces in the north – will not erode the city’s heritage. It will enable the city to build on its past and preserve its quality of life attributes as it continues to evolve into the future.
Scottsdale does not need decision makers who lead with “no.” The city is establishing a reputation that discourages quality investors from proposing projects here, redirecting them to neighboring cities. That’s fine for some projects. But Scottsdale should be getting the cream of the crop and those opportunities will evaporate if city leaders don’t view them with open minds.
Scottsdale is not a bedroom community – 150,000 non-residents come to the city daily to work. Scottsdale is a “real” city and its downtown, Airpark and McDowell Road areas should reflect it. Leaders can protect “Historic Old Town” and be visionary about the rest of the city.
In the near term, city leaders will need a plan to recover from the COVID pandemic – in particular, how to revive the tourism and hospitality industries so they can continue to generate the sales tax revenue that pays for more than half of the city’s budget. That’s a no-brainer.
The longer term is a tough call, too, and it will take leaders who understand and embrace the financial realities of what it will take to keep the city prosperous. The city needs more thinkers and doers and fewer naysayers.
Don Henninger, executive director of SCOTT, can be reached at email@example.com