Good news! The Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority is still making its payments on time to pay off the Arizona Cardinals‘ stadium! Less good news: Because tourist tax revenues have been lower than expected, the authority is doing so by skimping on everything else it was supposed to be spending money on.
The authority overseeing University of Phoenix Stadium made its debt payments on the building over the past four years but was nearly $48 million short in meeting its voter-approved obligations for tourism promotion, Cactus League ballparks, youth sports and its own operations…
By its own projections, the authority is facing a $34 million shortfall for those categories over the next five years.
Okay, I know, boo-hoo, Maricopa County (which includes both Phoenix and Glendale, where the stadium is actually located) is having to spend less money convincing you to take a vacation in the desert. (Youth sports spending is arguably more of a loss, unless you work at a Maricopa tourism board, I suppose.) The point here is that when voters approved hikes in hotel and rental-car taxes in 2000, they were told it wasn’t going to just fund an NFL stadium — but it turns out that’s mostly what it’s done, since the stadium construction bonds are first in line for being paid off.
And while the stadium authority figures out how to cut corners to make up that $7 million a year shortfall, it could soon be facing a far bigger hole, via that court ruling from last year that declared the car-rental tax to be in violation of the state constitution, since it wasn’t going to pay for anything highway-related. There’s still a year or two worth of appeals to be waited out, but if that other shoe drops, suddenly Maricopa County is going to be faced with either finding money to fill another $10 million or so in shortfall, or defaulting on the stadium bonds, neither of which is very appetizing.
At least the Cardinals’ lease runs through 2036, so it’ll probably be another decade or so before the team owners start demanding a new stadium to replace the one that the county is already having trouble paying for. And at least it’s still working out better than Glendale’s deal for the Coyotes, kinda.