By New Times Staff
By Stephen Lemons
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Insiders tell New Timesthat the hotel tax may disappear from the equation altogether, leaving the car rental tax and the supplemental revenue streams to finance the stadium.
With the Cardinals keeping a low profile, football stadium supporters say $1.3 billion in new taxes must be raised to save Arizona's tourism industry, protect the Cactus League, keep the Fiesta Bowl a top-tier bowl game and bring the Super Bowl back.
While the arguments have merits, the impacts are years down the road, and of questionable economic magnitude. Of the four, the impact on tourism appears to be the most immediate.
Arizona's tourism industry is growing, but at a slow, choppy rate. Tourism spending, including business travel, hit $10.9 billion in Arizona in 1998, up 6 percent over 1997.
However, there are indications that business travel, the most lucrative segment of tourism, is slowing. Business travelers spent $3.3 billion in Arizona in 1998, up only 10 percent from $3 billion spent in 1994.
Arizona's tourism promotion budget is relatively small compared to other states, ranking 26th in the nation at $8.8 million. Hawaii leads all states with a $60 million budget.
"I think we have really raised the level of awareness of the fact that we are challenged to protect our tourism market share by all this increased spending not just in other states but by major communities in the country," says Arizona Office of Tourism director Mark McDermott.
The stadium tax proposal would add $5 million to the state tourism budget the first year, with steady increases thereafter. The tourism promotion budget would get $19.6 million from the tax plan in year 30.
ASU economist Tom Rex says that spending tax money to promote tourism would be more beneficial to the state than putting the money into a new football stadium.
"I would be willing to bet the net benefit to the area would be far greater if you spent the money in ways to support tourism, and not just in advertising but providing support for that industry, than building a football stadium that gets used 10 times a year," he says.
Like tourism promotion, Cactus League funding was not on the table last summer when Governor Hull asked Ferris to spearhead discussions with the Cardinals. During the January press conference, task force members raised the specter of the Cactus League being stolen by Las Vegas unless new taxes were passed.
While some of the 10 teams in the league might be looking for new sites, at least six are locked into long-term contracts from 12 to 20 years. The teams signed lengthy contracts because the public sector already has contributed tens of millions of dollars to upgrade and build new spring training facilities.
Since 1993, the Maricopa County Stadium District has spent $71 million on construction and renovation at five spring training facilities, including: $3.7 million for Tempe Diablo Stadium for the California Angels; $21.5 million for the Peoria Sports Complex for the San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners; $6.75 million for Phoenix Municipal Stadium for the Oakland A's; $17 million for HoHoKam Stadium in Mesa for the Chicago Cubs; and $17 million for Maryvale Stadium for the Milwaukee Brewers.
Funding for the stadium district spending spree comes from a $2.50 surcharge on rental car contracts. The district cannot spend any more money on spring training facilities unless it finds an additional revenue source. Supporters of the Cardinals stadium tax say they will earmark up to $180 million over the next 30 years to help build and upgrade Cactus League facilities.
Ferris and others also cite the possibility that Arizona can lure the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Texas Rangers to the Cactus League in a pre-emptive strike against Las Vegas, which is in the preliminary stages of trying to attract at least four teams to the city. The Dodgers and Rangers currently train in Florida.
"One option would be to create one additional two-team complex, and have one of the teams be the Dodgers," Ferris says. "That's the big plum. Vegas is going hard after the Dodgers."
The Rangers and the Dodgers confirm they have held discussions with Las Vegas, but officials with both teams say there are no immediate plans to relocate.
John Blake, a spokesman for the Rangers, says the team has one more year on its contract in Port Charlotte, Florida. "We have made some inquiries in Las Vegas, Arizona and Florida. We could be staying here," he says.
While Las Vegas may be an attractive location, Blake says there are concerns about the windier, cooler weather compared to Arizona or Florida.
Dodgers spokesman Derrick Hall says the team is also weighing all options and has "no timetable" to make a move.
The Dodgers are the only major league team that owns its spring training facility, the luxurious Dodgertown, in Vero Beach, Florida. The center includes villas for the players, golf, tennis and swimming facilities as well as a 4,000-seat stadium, four other major league fields, two half fields, outdoor and indoor batting cages, conference rooms, and weight training rooms.
"They got everything you can possibly imagine there," Hall says.
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