Mayor Ortega wraps himself in virtue when speaking about Scottsdale’s downtown. His motives, interests and alliances, however, need to be understood.
Downtown Scottsdale consists of about two square miles, or about 1%, of the total area of Scottsdale. Within the downtown area, “Historic Old Town” consists of about six acres or about .005% of Scottsdale’s total area.
Large parts of the downtown area (outside of Historic Old Town) are blighted and that blight works to the benefit of Mayor Ortega’s downtown political friends who profit by keeping it that way.
To make downtown great again, Scottsdale needs to do three things: (1) make clear that “Old Town” is not “Downtown” in order to avoid continued confusion by voters; (2) designate Historic Old Town as an historic area so that it will always be protected; and (3) make the Downtown area that surrounds Old Town a year-round venue.
Scottsdale lives and dies by sales tax revenue; those revenues pay for about 70% of the city’s budget. Because of this, Scottsdale residents enjoy two enormous benefits: low property taxes and high property values.
To rake in all this revenue, Scottsdale has 18,000 businesses that employ 180,000 employees. The downtown is one of the most important financial drivers of Scottsdale’s economy. If business is successful, sales tax revenue is high and residential property taxes remain low.
Data generated in 2016 demonstrated that Fashion Square produced about 70% of gross revenue in the downtown area while Fifth Avenue shops produced 5% and Historic Old Town produced 6%. A vibrant downtown needs, among other things, residents who live there in order to be close to their jobs. But it must also become something other than a seasonal venue that looks like downtown Palm Springs—a once-legendary location that has gone to pot.
Thus we come to the “rest of the story.” The great untold story. The three primary funders of the Committee to Preserve Old Town Scottsdale each contributed $93,000 to oppose the South Bridge II (SBII) project. They are all downtown merchants and friends of Mayor Ortega. They own and operate old, outdated properties in downtown and have one interest in common—they do not want competition from other landlords with newer and more attractive properties.
It has nothing to do with height and density as Mayor Ortega would have you believe. Nor does it have anything to do with Historic Old Town as Mayor Ortega insists.
Rather, it has everything to do with preventing competition that would hurt his friends who could care less about Historic Old Town. They don’t even own property in Historic Old Town. Blight is their friend. David Ortega is their friend. They misled voters by suggesting that the SBII project was in Historic Old Town or was going to impact it. Neither was true. What is true is that Mayor Ortega represents their interests and, while doing so, is hiding behind height and density issues, the General Plan, the Old Town Scottsdale Character Area Plan and zoning.
It also needs to be noted that Mayor Ortega is the former paid lobbyist and tenant of one of the landlords he is protecting. He is also the recipient of thousands of dollars of campaign contributions from another. In short, his positioning is pure political theater. Simply put: Mayor Ortega will benefit politically if the downtown remains blighted.
So, I suggest: Mayor, put a historic designation on Historic Old Town so that not one brick there can be altered—ever. Further, promote making the downtown great again rather than preserving blight. Finally, stop pretending that height and density or protecting Historic Old Town has anything to do with your political rhetoric.
Editor’s note: Mr. Derouin practiced environmental law for 50 years.