PHOENIX - Arizona State University wants to develop a commercial and housing complex on 330 acres of school property to generate cash to renovate its football stadium and sports facilities.
University officials hope the development could help pay for rebuilding Sun Devil Stadium. That project could cost as much as $300 million.
Some are skeptical about ASU's vision for what it is calling "the district," and Tempe leaders worry that the complex would siphon business away from other areas, such as Mill Avenue and Tempe Marketplace.
The plan is to charge businesses a lease fee equal to the property taxes they would pay on privately owned facilities. The Arizona Republic reports the land is exempt from property taxes because the university owns it.
ASU wants an urban development that features world-class athletic facilities surrounded by residential, office and retail space. It hopes to select a developer or developers and complete a master plan for the land next year. The 330 acres just south of Tempe Town Lake is now primarily occupied by parking lots and a golf course. It could take a couple of years to break ground, and the entire project could take 20 years or more to fully develop.
"It's going to happen," ASU Athletic Director Steve Patterson said.
ASU has owned much of the land for decades, and other parcels were purchased or given to the university. About a third of the property is the golf course, which was built on land donated in the 1970s and developed in the late 1980s using private donations.
"The hope would be these athletic facilities, these private facilities, would all be sort of in an urbanization setting that provides a great new place that has office buildings and hotels and commercial facilities all together with a win-win-win scenario," ASU President Michael Crow said.
Crow's dream is that the facilities would eventually host all kinds of amateur events on a scale similar to the Pan American Games, held every four years before the summer Olympics.
ASU's plan has sparked complaints. One of the most vocal critics has been the Arizona Tax Research Association, a taxpayer watchdog organization. President Kevin McCarthy said the group is opposed to special districts that keep businesses off property-tax rolls.
In his State of the City address last year, Hugh Hallman, then Tempe mayor, warned that the city must recognize that the ambitious project presents risks. If it's built too quickly and outpaces demand, the increased competition could drive down real-estate values. If the district develops too slowly, the area risks not generating enough money for ASU's athletic facilities.
Tempe's current mayor, Mark Mitchell, doesn't share Hallman's concerns. He said any issues that come up can be worked out because city leaders have a close relationship with the university.