Steller: Bid to bail out Glendale for next Super Bowl should be sacked

2014-02-05T00:00:00Z Steller: Bid to bail out Glendale for next Super Bowl should be sackedTim Steller Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
February 05, 2014 12:00 am  • 

You can imagine why a legislator from, say, Glendale would propose that the state reimburse that West Valley city for its upcoming Super Bowl-related expenses.

But a representative from Sierra Vista?

Rep. David Gowan Sr. is proposing that the whole state — including taxpayers in his Legislative District 14 — subsidize up to $4 million of Glendale’s public-safety expenses for Super Bowl XLIX, scheduled for Feb. 1, 2015.

Gowan and Glendale officials say this proposal isn’t just about the Super Bowl, because it would apply equally to other national events, such as the Republican or Democratic national conventions, or a college football or basketball championship, if they were to come to an Arizona city. Of course, all the venues for such events are in the Phoenix area, so the effect down here would be the same: underwriting a Phoenix event.

Yet our Southern Arizona guy, Gowan, thinks we should chip in because “the entire state benefits from these kinds of events.”

In a written statement, he went on, “As businesses and communities continue to recover, it is imperative that we protect our reputations and send a signal to communities throughout the state that the Legislature supports their efforts to compete for national and international events.”

I can just see Elfrida bidding for the next Final Four.

Will a place like Graham County really get anything out of this bill?

I asked Susan Syfert, a Safford resident. Her answer: “I don’t see that it will.”

Syfert, a Republican, has filed to run against Gowan and fellow incumbent David Stevens in Legislative District 14 and is pointing to the proposal as an example of Gowan’s disengagement from his district as he enjoys his role as House majority leader. She noted an even more powerful position, Speaker of the House, will likely be coming open soon as Andy Tobin dives into his campaign for Congress.

Gowan, Syfert argued, stood on small-government principle when he opposed last year’s Medicaid expansion, but he isn’t applying the same principle to Glendale’s appeal for subsidies.

I contacted Gowan Monday afternoon on this topic but had not heard from him by Tuesday evening.

What galls me is that Gowan’s proposal rewards a city, Glendale, that has put itself near bankruptcy in part through its profligate spending on sports venues, which are well-known as bad municipal investments.

Glendale borrowed $200 million to build Camelback Ranch, the professional baseball complex that lured the Chicago White Sox from Tucson, leading to the collapse of spring training here. Pima County’s Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium sits largely empty just a few miles west of the border of Gowan’s district.

That memory alone makes me want to tell Glendale to take a long walk off a retracted roof.

Then there’s Glendale’s extravagant layout of $180 million toward building an arena for the Phoenix Coyotes, back in 2003. The auditors said it would pay for itself. But last year Glendale, faced with losing the Coyotes altogether and having no tenant for their arena, agreed to pay $15 million per year to a new ownership group to keep the Coyotes there.

And yet Glendale, knowing that it had lost about $2 million on Super Bowl XLII in 2008, went ahead and bid on next year’s event.

Sports venues and big events are bad investments for municipalities because the spending they attract happens across a broader area, not just in that city, said David Swindell, an expert on the topic who is a professor in Arizona State University’s School of Public Affairs.

“The smaller the taxing jurisdiction is that’s subsidizing this event, the less amount of economic impact it will be able to capture,” said Swindell, who also leads ASU’s Center for Urban Innovation. The Super Bowl, he added, “can have a positive economic impact on a region, if done correctly.”

In this case, what is that region? It’s essentially Maricopa County, Swindell said.

Gowan’s proposal came from a request by the Glendale City Council for help with Super Bowl costs.

“If the city of Glendale is not able to provide public safety for that event, then the event won’t come here,” Mayor Jerry Weiers told me Tuesday.

That would be a lost opportunity for the state, he said, meaning lots of money that isn’t spent in Arizona that would easily cover the cost, up to $4 million.

But the fact is, this is a Phoenix-area event with Phoenix-area benefits — so we should let the Phoenix area find a way to pay for it.

Graham, Greenlee, Cochise and Pima counties still have their own needs and interests. Majority Leader Gowan should remember to fight for them.

Contact columnist Tim Steller at tsteller@azstarnet.com or 807-7789. On Twitter: @senyorreporter

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