Council to ask voters for bond, athletic complex OK
August 20, 2018
By Jim Walsh
A Mesa City Council meeting resembled a rally for the proposed Mesa Plays soccer complex, with several supporters representing youth soccer programs and the city’s tourism industry already focusing on their goal – victory in the November 6 election.
The council put Mesa Plays on the ballot, along with other questions that must be decided by voters.
While the $30 million in excise bonds that would pay for Mesa Plays do not need voter approval, an associated 1 percent bed tax increase must be authorized for the financing package to proceed.
A charter-related ballot question, calling for spending more than $1.5 million on a sports complex, also must be approved.
There are six questions that will be listed on the ballot. They include the soccer complex, as well as new dog parks, police and fire stations in East Mesa and library in Southeast Mesa.
The campaign to persuade Mesa voters to authorize the $55 million Mesa Plays project appeared to launch almost on cue.
Mesa Plays, which features 24 fields, is a big enough project to get split into three interrelated ballot questions.
The nine fields reserved for community leagues and games are financed with $25 million in general obligation bonds. That is only one portion of a parks and cultural bond issue costing $111, a price of about $24 to the average homeowner.
Meanwhile, the 15 fields reserved for tournaments, projected to bring $365 million to Mesa, would be financed with the $30 million in excise bonds.
And there are still more issues at stake. Another question would authorize a one quarter of one cent sales tax increase for public safety personnel costs.
The public safety improvements outlined in the bond issue, which cost $85 million, are earmarked for two police and fire stations, in Northeast Mesa and Southeast Mesa, and a new library in Southeast Mesa that would be shared with a high school.
Former Mesa City Manager Mike Hutchinson, a member of the Visit Mesa tourism board as well as assistant executive director of the East Valley Partnership, said he remembers when the city paid only $2 an acre to the federal Bureau of Land Management for the Red Mountain Park property.
“The Mesa Plays proposal is a great use for that property,’’ he said. “It will have a major impact on our economy and bring people to the city.’’
Rick Kelsey, president of the Arizona Youth Soccer Association, estimated that about 10,000 children in the East Valley play soccer.
“This sort of facility is not only wanted but needed in this community,’’ Kelsey said, noting the Northeast Mesa location is likely to attract hotels and families from out of town staying in Mesa during the tournaments.
“It’s uniquely Mesa. It’s going to be really hard to play in a tournament and not stay in Mesa,’’ he said.
But amid the enthusiasm for Mesa Plays, two critics emerged. Councilman Jeremy Whittaker voted against placing it on the ballot without comment.
He later explained it was part of his objection to the council going on “a spending spree.’
Opponent Nancy Clay, who lives near the Red Mountain Park site earmarked for the project, said her solitude would be disturbed.
“This huge proposal will bring lots of noise, change commotion to my backyard,’’ Clay said.
Whittaker, who often questions the city’s spending, was consistent. He also voted against the ASU campus plan eventually approved by the council citing the same reasons, more bond debt, a heavy reliance by the Enterprise Fund generated with utility revenues, and the need for taxpayers to pay up later.
“If we want to save our money and build Mesa Plays, that’s an honest conversation,’’ Whittaker said.
But he questions city projections that the ASU campus and the Mesa Plays project will pay for themselves and then some through additional revenues and economic activity.
“It’s interesting to see how the city expects us to pay for these projects, how these projections will miraculously pay for themselves. If you look back, that’s not the case,’’ he said.