BOB's a Bust

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The plan requires the Cardinals to contribute $75 million -- slightly below the average kicked in by National Football League teams in recent years on stadium deals, but $25 million more than the team had on the table in Mesa. That sum, incidentally, is also the Cardinals' annual share of the NFL's television contract.

Beyond that, Ferris and the task force have sculpted a plan that shifts the tax burden to tourists -- while handing out goodies for tourism promotion and Cactus League spring training sites.

While the plan would keep the tax burden low on locals, it would place an additional burden on Maricopa County's stagnant tourism industry, via a 1 percent sales tax hike on hotels and a 3 percent surcharge on car rentals.

To offset the expected negative impact on tourism, the financing tax plan would generate at least $300 million over 30 years to promote Arizona tourism. In addition, about $180 million would be earmarked to upgrade Cactus League facilities for Major League Baseball. In fact, 60 percent of the projected $1.3 billion raised over 30 years would go to promote tourism and spring training -- with the balance earmarked for construction, financing and operation of the stadium, which would have a retractable roof and grass playing field that slides in and out like a cookie sheet. Ferris says Arizona residents would contribute less than $1 million a year, under the plan presented to the Legislature.

If Ferris' tax scheme holds water, Arizona could build a new football stadium, quadruple the state's tourism promotion budget, underwrite spring training for 30 years, host a Super Bowl every five years and keep the Fiesta Bowl as a top-tier game -- all at a cost to Maricopa County residents of less than one-tenth of the $238 million Bank One Ballpark tax.

"You have to ask yourself, does $900,000 per year pay for itself when we are helping to secure and maintain events which collectively kick in over a half a billion [dollars] a year?" Ferris says. "I think the answer is a clear yes."

Ultimately, Maricopa County voters will have to agree.

Promises of an economic bonanza erupting in the shadow of Bank One Ballpark in downtown have not materialized, outside of the handful of bars and restaurants at the ballpark and to the west along Jackson Street.

The dearth of economic spillover has stunned some business owners.

Mike J. Anagnopoulos, owner of the Matador Restaurant at First Street and Monroe, says he's only seen a small increase in revenue since BOB's opening.

"We thought it would be crazy, the way they were talking," he says. "It's been a help, but not the way we thought."

Mike Ratner, co-owner of Tom's Tavern at Central Avenue and Washington Street, jokes that he had retirement plans based on the revenue he thought BOB would bring. BOB isn't bringing early retirement to Ratner, and he says it has had a limited effect.

"We thought it was going to generate great revenue, and although it hasn't been a detriment to business, it has been a disappointment," Ratner says.

Eliseo Antunez, manager of Hooters in the Arizona Center, says his establishment has not seen much effect at all from BOB.

A few blocks to the east of the ballpark, the impact is all but invisible.

Brenda Ehlers, owner of Century Pub, says the stadium affects her business "not at all."

She says the previous owner sold the place a year and a half ago because the anticipated increased revenue just wasn't there. Ehlers says the pub is probably just too far away from BOB. At 11th Street and Washington, Century Pub is a five-block walk from the ballpark.

"Business is good, with a steady flow of traffic, but the stadium doesn't affect us at all," Ehlers says.

Statistics gathered by the Downtown Phoenix Partnership, a publicly funded but privately managed development group, show downtown remains a small player in Phoenix's overall economy, despite massive public investment in cultural, science and sports projects over the past decade.

Annual sales taxes generated in the downtown area were equal to about 1.7 percent of Phoenix's overall tax collections from 1991 through 1997. With the opening of the ballpark, the downtown share of the city's sales tax collections jumped to 2 percent in 1998 and remained at that level last year.

Data indicate that the opening of BOB coincided with a significant increase in overall downtown sales tax collections in 1998, up 41 percent to $3.34 million over the previous year. However, the spike was short-lived. Downtown sales tax collections in 1999 rose only 4.4 percent over 1998, totaling $3.56 million.

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John Dougherty
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Amanda Scioscia
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