On Saturday, the Phoenix city council held the first of its public hearings on the Suns arena proposal, part of a series scheduled after officials were chastened by the massive public disdain for the $168 million subsidy plan. So then, of course, they mostly lectured residents about how dumb they were to pass up such an amazing deal:
Christine Mackay, director of Community and Economic Development for the City of Phoenix, presented the deal as an inevitable move necessary to foster continued downtown development and economic growth. She credited the arena with transforming the downtown area, generating an annual economic impact of $182 million and attracting other businesses to the area.
Earlier in the week, Mackay told the Phoenix Business Journal she wanted to clear up misunderstandings about who owns the arena and how renovations would be funded.
“This is not a tax on our citizens,” Mackay said. “I’m looking forward to get these facts out.”
Ah, the old “but only tourists pay these taxes!” argument. This is, for one thing, untrue — car-rental taxes are in fact often paid by locals, who are renting a car for temporary use or whatever — but more to the point, beside the point: It’s money the city could be spending on something else if it weren’t giving it to Suns owner Robert Sarver.
Mackay’s other argument in favor of the subsidy is that the city owns the arena, and so is responsible for upgrades. Okay, but the city doesn’t manage the arena or earn any additional profits if it makes more from either NBA games or concerts — that’s all Sarver. So if you own a building that is rented out by a private business and you make a bunch of upgrades that will solely benefit your tenant, you should ask them to repay you via higher rent, right? But while the Suns’ rent is projected to increase from $1.5 million to $4 million in a renovated arena, some of that is just plain old price inflation having nothing to do with renovations, and regardless, an extra $2.5 million a year would take 67 years to repay the city’s expense. (In present value terms, the city would never ever be made whole, because rent payments 67 years in the future are worthless, if the NBA even exists then.)
Anyway, from what reporting there has been, it sounds like attendees at the session (all 150 of them) were split about whether they bought Mackay’s arguments or not, which is just yet another unscientific poll. I’m honestly not sure what the point is of this monthlong series of dog-and-pony shows, other than to persuade swing-vote councilmembers that look, it’s cool, when we present our Powerpoints to the masses, some of them agree with us. I mean, I am sure that’s the point, I’m not sure how it’s supposed to work, but then, I do not pretend to comprehend the uncanny ways of the Phoenix city council.