Glendale Mayor Jerry Weiers delivered his State of the City remarks to a packed audience at the annual Glendale Chamber of Commerce dinner at the Renaissance Hotel on Thursday, February 27, 2014. Although his news about Glendale’s finances was dire it was also a fair assessment. He is to be commended for his forthright speech. Here is a link to a recap: http://www.azcentral.com/community/glendale/articles/20140228glendale-arizona-state-of-the-city-mayor-financial-problems-real.html . Here is also a link to a Mayor Weiers You Tube video that visually explains Glendale’s debt and revenues: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s2nBWBojUh0&feature=em-share_video_user .
He didn’t remark on how Glendale got to where it is today financially but I will because I was one of the council that got us there. Although I approved the arena I did not approve of Ellman’s plans for his development of Westgate. His “vibrant” building colors look like WalMart on steroids and his billboards are monstrosities. He also would not dedicate an additional land to place another eastbound lane on Glendale Avenue. I was more reluctant about Camelback Ranch but the deal called for future reimbursement by the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority (AZSTA). I agreed because there were development plans in place for the surrounding land and an AZSTA reimbursement on the horizon.
Council knew we would never be a Scottsdale, the west’s most western town; or a Tempe, a college town; or a Chandler and Gilbert, with their high tech manufacturing. We believed that these facilities would create a niche, a branding of Glendale and that they would help to grow Glendale. After approval of Camelback Ranch the city began negotiation to place a USAA basketball training facility in the area. It looked as if we were about to add another major sporting facility. Glendale’s future looked bright.
There are two major contributors to Glendale’s current debt burden: Jobing.com Arena and Camelback Ranch Spring Training Facility. At the time of these facilities’ approval it was clear that Glendale could sustain the debt. Deals were in place to develop commercial and retail around both. They would generate new sales tax revenues to cover the expected construction debt. The arena did not have an annual management fee. Glendale’s economy was surging as was the national economy.
There was no hint of the Great Recession that would lay waste to so many of Glendale’s plans. Glendale’s sales tax and property tax revenues sunk like a stone as did its state shared revenue. Developers and their plans dropped like flies as one after another went into bankruptcy.
Suddenly the city’s debt had become unsustainable.
What was council’s plan back in the day? It was three fold. Pass a temporary 5 year sales tax increase to provide much needed revenue while other strategies took hold; restructure our debt; and embark on a 5 year plan of targeted cuts to expenses while rebuilding the city’s contingency fund. It was even suggested, at the time, by Interim City Manager Skeete that the city sell the arena. I was shocked by the thought at the time but over time, it has become an idea that has a great deal of appeal.
It is no coincidence that Glendale’s future debt burden is about $30 million. That is very close to the city’s annual arena debt: $12-13 million in an annual construction debt payment; $500,000 to $1 million annual payment to a capital repair account; and $15 million in an annual management fee. The solution of selling the arena at fair market value is now very appealing. While the city loses money already invested in the facility the bleeding stops. Suddenly there would be no more construction debt; no more annual management fee and no capital repair account to maintain. It’s an idea whose time has come.
© Joyce Clark, 2014
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