Lau­rie Roberts:

The Arizona Republic - - Front Page - Lau­rie Roberts

Pub­lic in­put is a glar­ing omis­sion from the arena deal.

The city of Phoenix plans to spend $150 mil­lion to up­grade Talk­ing Stick Re­sort Arena.

So when, you might won­der, do the cit­i­zens of Phoenix get to weigh in on whether they want to spend $150 mil­lion to keep the Phoenix Suns happy?

When will they be asked whether they want to toss in an­other $25 mil­lion over the course of the 15-year deal?

Bet­ter yet, when does the city plan to sched­ule a pub­lic vote on shelling out $175 mil­lion for a sports fa­cil­ity when the city has a cry­ing need for more po­lice of­fi­cers and fewer pot­holes?

If you an­swered “never,” then con­grat­u­la­tions. You can see which way this par­tic­u­lar ball is bounc­ing.

In fact, the deal’s al­ready been cut and the votes rounded up. Suns owner Robert Sarver has been meet­ing oneon-one this week with City Coun­cil mem­bers to get them on board.

All that’s left to do now is in­form the pub­lic.

This, so you can have “in­put” into how your money is be­ing spent be­fore next Wed­nes­day’s vote to spend it.

If only the Suns were as fast on their feet as city of­fi­cials, who in­sist that the deal can­not pos­si­bly wait un­til cit­i­zens can ac­tu­ally see and con­sider whether this is the way they want to spend their money.

Or un­til, say, the city gets a new mayor.

Where’s the fire, you won­der? I sus­pect it started in Novem­ber, when Kate Gal­lego smoked her op­po­nents in the four-way Phoenix mayor’s race. Two days later, she an­nounced that “spend­ing hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars on a huge ren­o­va­tion for the Phoenix Suns is not a pri­or­ity for me.”

Sud­denly, the movers started mov­ing and the shak­ers started shak­ing to get this deal done be­fore it gets mixed into the cam­paign for the March runoff elec­tion, which Gal­lego is the odds-on fa­vorite to win.

Sev­eral Repub­lic staffers met Thurs­day af­ter­noon with City Man­ager Ed Zuercher and in­terim Phoenix Mayor Thelda Wil­liams so that they could lay out the deal and ex­plain the rea­sons for the fast-track that can’t slow down for ac­tual pub­lic in­put:

❚ That it’ll keep the Suns down­town, avoid­ing a pos­si­ble early exit from the team’s lease in 2022.

❚ That it’ll avoid the need to go to ar­bi­tra­tion and pos­si­bly get stuck with a big­ger ren­o­va­tion bill.

❚ That it’ll be paid out of a tourism tax and not by Phoenix tax­pay­ers — never mind that that money could be spent on other city pri­or­i­ties.

❚ That there is not a minute to waste. It has to be ap­proved right here, right now — with no real time for cit­i­zen in­put — or the nar­row win­dow to fix the joint in 2019 will close.

“This is the best op­por­tu­nity we have to keep that build­ing vi­able for 15

or 20 years,” Zuercher said.

Mean­ing in 15 or 20 years, deemed a dump again?

Swell.

Un­der terms of this (done) deal, the city will kick in $150 mil­lion, with the Suns pay­ing $80 mil­lion. In ad­di­tion, it’ll be the city will pay an­other $25 mil­lion into a fund for fu­ture up­grades, with the Suns putting in $12.5 mil­lion. The Suns also agreed to build a prac­tice fa­cil­ity some­where in the city.

Could the city have ne­go­ti­ated a 5050 deal? Don’t know.

Do we know how much this deal will re­ally cost when you fig­ure in in­ter­est on the debt? Don’t know.

Do we know how many of the 41 nights a year the Suns play could be booked for other events should the team leave down­town? Don’t know.

Do we know what the $200,000 con­sul­tant — hired last year to eval­u­ate the 25-year-old arena and es­ti­mate how much in the way of ren­o­va­tions are needed — con­cluded? Don’t know and won’t know. Zuercher said that in­for­ma­tion will re­main con­fi­den­tial.

A year ago, when that con­sul­tant’s con­tract was ap­proved, then-Coun­cil­woman Gal­lego said that dis­cus­sions about the arena should be put be­fore the pub­lic sooner, rather than later.

“I hope that we’ll also have an open, trans­par­ent de­bate about this topic,” she said, at the time. “I think peo­ple are en­ti­tled to par­tic­i­pate and have the op­por­tu­nity to com­ment on that.”

Look for that “open, trans­par­ent de­bate” next week … right be­fore $150 mil­lion walks out the door.

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