Phoenix rushes through $168m in Suns arena subsidies in five days before new mayor can take office

After several months of behind-closed-doors negotiations, the Phoenix city council and Suns owner Robert Sarver have agreed to a plan for a publicly funded renovation of Talking Stick Resort Arena — to be voted on by the council next Wednesday, because five days is totally enough time for public debate on such things.

The terms of the deal:

  • The city of Phoenix will spend $150 million on arena renovations from existing car rental and hotel taxes, while Sarver will pay $80 million.
  • The city will also “pay $2 million annually for 12½ years into a new renewal and replacement fund, which will be used for future renovation needs”; Sarver will put in $1 million a year.
  • The Suns will extend their lease on the arena, which they can currently opt out of in 2022, through 2037. (They’ll have an option to extend it to 2042, but as we’re seeing with the current lease that technically runs through 2032, option years don’t mean squat in terms of holding teams to arena leases.)

That $25 million over 12.5 years is worth about $18 million in present value, so let’s call the total subsidy $168 million. (The team would pay the same rent on the arena as it does now, so there’s no new money coming back to the city to help pay off its costs.)

Several thoughts on this:

  • Phoenix Mayor Thelda Williams said that she was endorsing the subsidy because “This is our building. It’s our responsibility.” Which, yes, Phoenix does own the arena, but the upgrades are being demanded by (and will benefit the revenues of) its main tenant Sarver, so really the city’s “responsibility” ends with making sure the roof doesn’t cave in; anything beyond that is a gift to the Suns.
  • Spending $168 million for a 15-year lease extension is a public cost of $11.2 million per year, which would be among the worst deals yet for a city, though the Carolina Panthers and San Jose Sharks deals were still worse on a per-year basis.
  • The tight timetable for approval is, as discussed a couple of weeks ago, a transparent attempt to rush through an arena deal before the likely election of an anti-subsidy candidate for mayor in March’s runoff election. At the same time, the plan would get around laws requiring a public vote on new arena spending by terming this old arena spending, so it’s an evasion-of-democracy two-fer.

If you want more outrage, Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts has plenty of it for you, in an article that features the priceless subhead, “Public Input, Schmublic Input”:

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

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


“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, it’ll be deemed a dump again?


None of this will make the arena viable for hockey, so the Phoenix area can expect to go through this all over again with a new venue for the Coyotes. On the bright side, Arizona will be unlivable by 2050 thanks to climate change, so maybe these can be the last arenas the region ever builds before abandoning them to history like the Anasazi did.

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2 comments on “Phoenix rushes through $168m in Suns arena subsidies in five days before new mayor can take office

  1. So Phoenix will shell out $168 million to the Suns in return for……for……..for……a commitment for them to remain in downtown Phoenix?
    Uh, If my local jurisdiction helps pay for renovations and upgrades on my house, I’ll commit to stay here and even pay my fair share of property taxes.
    Is it a deal?

  2. 2050 is 32 years away. If Phoenix followed Atlanta’s model, they could squeeze in at least two more taxpayer-funded glitzy arena rebuilds before the city becomes uninhabitable.

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