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Guest Commentary

Pies: Just say ‘no’ to Tempe Entertainment District


The “big lie” has come to Tempe. No, this is not about a presidential or Senate election. It’s about a Special Election on May 16 on the proposed Tempe Entertainment District proposed by Las Vegas billionaire Alex Meruelo.

He claims that his Arizona Coyote stadium project is “privately” funded, yet, he’s demanding taxpayer contributions in the form of revenue from sales taxes, plus the authority to impose new taxes on Tempe businesses, residents and guests, and unprecedented property tax forgiveness for 30 years plus eight years.

What is disappointing is that some “prominent“ Tempe citizens have bought into this “big lie” and I see it tearing our community apart.

I’ve dedicated my life to serving Tempe’s families, students, children, seniors — the full gamut of everyone in our community. In 99% of my positions — paid, elected and volunteer alike — I’ve felt good about the direction we’re going and why we’re going there. This is not the case here.

To see a proposal put forward that robs from the public coffers that support all in our community is deeply disturbing, and to see the excess, untruths and hostility of the developer and private interests promoting these proposals even more disheartening. We are better than this.

The Arizona Coyotes, owned by Bluebird Development owner Alex Meruelo, are the same organizations that were kicked out of a hockey arena BUILT BY GLENDALE.

The facility has cost taxpayers hundreds of millions and they still owe millions more. Finally, Glendale acted after bills were not paid by the billionaire.

Since the team left the arena, Glendale began to make money, rather than lose revenue. They also stiffed Tucson on payments for the Roadrunner’s arena, home to their farm team.

Nationally-respected financial analysis firm Dun and Bradstreet indicates that Meruelo’s and Coyotes’ financial stability is highly questionable. In fact, the independent financial firm rated both entities as “high risk” of delinquency and overall failure. In other words, it’s doubtful that they have the ability to fulfill their rosy promises to Tempe.

Compare that to the financial analysis the Coyotes are pushing, which comes from Beacon Sports, a firm designed to promote stadium financing at all costs.

The project has been suspect from the start in that it appears that the city’s “request for proposals” was crafted by the Meruelo organization themselves. Unsurprisingly, only the Coyotes and Meruelo’s firm Bluebird LLC, a business registered with the Arizona Corporation Commission as a “foreign entity,” responded to the bid that was handwritten for them.

In addition, the attorney representing the Coyotes and the chief negotiator donated heavily to Council candidates’ campaigns and has made other promises too, such as continued support and use of VIP suites in the proposed arena.

Innumerable reputable studies across the U.S. have shown that taxpayer subsidies for professional sports, rarely, if ever, materialize as having a positive financial impact on the cities involved. Impacts on local economies have proven dismal.

University Of Chicago economist Allen Sanderson once observed that if the intention of public stadium funding is economic growth, a more effective method would be dropping money at random from the sky.

The data presented by the Tempe 1st citizens’ group has yet to be convincingly rebutted. To state that the project is totally privately funded is simply untrue — it’s irrefutable that hundreds of million dollars in public monies would be going to a corrupt billionaire and casino operator if Tempe accepts this very bad deal.

Perhaps the overriding question is why a billionaire needs taxpayer subsidies if he expects the project will be lucrative.

Until and unless facts are produced by the out-of-state billionaire to refute the data presented here and by a volunteer coalition of actual Tempe residents known as “Tempe1st,” we citizens of Tempe must vote NO, NO, NO on all three ballot propositions.

Ron Pies is a longtime Tempe resident and has previously worked for the city in different capacities. He is the former Tempe Community Services Director and a former Kyrene Governing Board member.