Guest Editorial: The Tempe City Council voted yes for the Tempe Entertainment District – Now it’s Your Turn

By Tempe Councilmember Randy Keating

As a landlocked community, Tempe is committed to making the best use of the land we have. And whenever possible, we want maximum resident input on any major decisions.

That’s why the Tempe City Council worked with the Arizona Coyotes to unanimously approve a historic project to turn an old, unlined landfill near the Town Lake at Rio Salado and Priest into the first privately funded entertainment and sports district in Arizona. 

The concept is simple. A developer wants to pay Tempe $50 million for the landfill site. They would then clean it up at no cost to the taxpayers. The property would be transformed into an entertainment district that includes new housing, new shops and restaurants, and a new arena for the Arizona Coyotes. The developer will be investing $2 billion in the project which is expected to create 6,900 permanent jobs. Over a 30-year period it would generate an estimated $215 million in new tax revenues for our city that can be used for social services, parks, public safety, and other needs.

As your representative, I think it is important to dispel some falsehoods regarding Propositions 301, 302, and 303, as I am very proud of the work our city staff and unanimous city council did to protect our taxpayers and replace an environmental hazard with an economic engine.

This proposal is not a tax break for a billionaire. The City Council would have never negotiated a plan like that. Instead, we negotiated a plan that saves taxpayers tens of millions of dollars in landfill cleanup costs while at the same time directing millions into the local economy. An abatement in the property tax is being used for needed environmental cleanup and infrastructure and is offset by taxes that will be paid on the property. As an old landfill, the property currently generates zero revenue. Any revenue generated at the Tempe Entertainment District, regardless of a property tax abatement, will be a net positive gain for our city. If you give me two dollars, and rebate fifty cents, I’m still up $1.50. 

Critics have also falsely claimed that this is a tax hike on our residents. That is blatantly false. A small surcharge would be applied to customers spending money within the limited boundaries of the entertainment district. If you don’t buy tickets to a hockey game or never shop within the entertainment district, you don’t pay the surcharge. In other words, it’s voluntary. And because we are talking about people visiting a sports arena, it’s a safe bet a large portion of this surcharge will be paid by people visiting our city.

And anyone who claims this is a “sweetheart deal” for developers is wrong. Tempe is a successful and progressive community because we drive a hard bargain when it comes to development.  We are tough negotiators. When your City Council unanimously approved this project, Mayor Woods said this proposal is the best sports arena deal in Arizona history and I whole heartedly agree. This plan would generate millions for our city allowing us to put more resources into social services, public safety, and community improvements. 

To be clear Props 301, 302, and 303 won’t solve all of Tempe’s problems. And anyone who makes that claim is stretching the truth. But it is reasonable to assume that Tempe would greatly benefit from this proposal.

Those who say things didn’t go well in Glendale ignore that the city tried to keep them there for decades. Only when the Coyotes wanted to focus on Tempe, did negative feelings emerge. Well, Glendale’s loss can be our gain. Especially when we have crafted a tough, comprehensive agreement that’s good for the environment and economy.

Are those facts and benefits worth selling off an old landfill? Your elected leaders sure though so, which is why we voted yes unanimously. I hope you will join your elected leaders in approving the Tempe Entertainment District.