City council candidates discuss downtown Scottsdale perceptions

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Scottsdale voters will elect three people to Scottsdale City Council and a mayor after foregoing a primary election process, at the Tuesday, Nov. 8 general election.

Scottsdale mayoral candidates are Mayor Jim Lane and challenger Bob Littlefield while city council candidates are challenger Dan Schweiker and incumbents Suzanne Klapp, Virginia Korte and Guy Phillips.

The Scottsdale Independent and Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce is hosting two debates in addition to a weekly question-and-answer series provided by the Independent to help voters better understand where candidates stand on local issues that matter.

The first debate, sponsored by Comerica, will be Tuesday, Sept. 27, focusing on the mayor’s race while the second debate, Tuesday, Oct. 4, will focus on city council candidates.

Both debates are from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at the Doubletree Resort by Hilton, 5401 N. Scottsdale Road and will be moderated by Scottsdale Independent Editor Terrance Thornton.

This week’s question-and-answer installment is on how these political candidates view the current state of downtown Scottsdale and its lively bar district.

The mayoral race

Both Mayor Lane and challenger, Mr. Littlefield, agreed to respond to specific questions to downtown Scottsdale and how that sector may be changing the brand that is Scottsdale. This is what they had to say:

Jim Lane

•Do you believe downtown Scottsdale to be a success?

Jim Lane

Jim Lane

Unequivocally yes. A pro-business, pro-resident environment attracted hundreds of millions of private sector dollars to invest in downtown Scottsdale. Not long ago, downtown was struggling and businesses were leaving.  We can’t return to the malaise of 15-years-ago that threatened to make downtown abandoned and forgotten.
My opponent wants to return to the bad old days.

He’s anti-business and is constantly calling for the closure of downtown businesses. That’s a recipe for blight. It’s easy to shake your fist and shout ‘no’ at the top of your lungs. It’s quite another thing to do the hard work and map a road to success.

Today our downtown is thriving. In addition to retail, we are also seeing job growth in the technology sector thanks to downtown’s Galleria Corporate Center. No taxpayer dollars were paid to any business to locate in Scottsdale. Private investment brought jobs and residents to build one of the strongest “live, work and thrive” centers in the state.

Downtown is now activated year-round with residents, tourists and workers. Property values are up and so are the home values in downtown’s more established neighborhoods. Existing homes are in high demand and neighborhoods are being revitalized.

Tourists are rediscovering our downtown. One new downtown hotel is being built and two more are planned. There also has been significant reinvestment in our existing downtown hotels.

The success of downtown benefits all of Scottsdale. When tourists spend dollars downtown, that revenue supports city services keeping tax rates low and the quality of life high.

Downtown Scottsdale is indeed a success. There is no other way to define an area that has become more popular with residents, tourists, businesses, and job creators.

•Some say portions of downtown Scottsdale has turned into a bit of a party scene. Do you think there are problems with having that kind of environment being representative of the community of Scottsdale?

What defines our community is our ability to have 9.1 million tourists enjoy themselves and be entertained in a safe environment. Our downtown is blessed with world class restaurants, museums, nightclubs, galleries, and many other entertainment options. It is enjoyed by residents and it draws tourists.

Several years ago we successfully addressed some of the challenges that resulted from the success of our downtown. Downtown business owner and neighborhood leader Bill Crawford led this effort to improve the area. I worked with Bill to seeking solutions. As a result Scottsdale enacted reforms that improved the quality of life in the area. I am very proud of the fact that Bill has endorsed my campaign.

That’s how you address challenges, you get to work. By listening, learning, enacting reforms, and doing the heavy lifting we made sure residents’ needs are met. The result is a downtown that is successful, safe, and gaining in popularity.

Bob Littlefield

•Do you believe downtown Scottsdale to be a success?

Bob Littlefield

Bob Littlefield

The answer to that question depends on what part of downtown you are talking about. If you mean the bar district east of Scottsdale Road it has been a rousing success for the bar owners, but a disaster for the surrounding residential neighborhoods.

Those residential neighborhoods — which were there before the bar district arrived — are forced to put up with the noise, crime and blight from the bar district. So their quality of life has been diminished by it. No success there!

The bar district has also been a failure for the city treasury. My opponent, the incumbent mayor, and his allies often tout the bar district as an “economic driver.” Actually, the bar district costs Scottsdale residents money.

According to a study done by then-City Treasurer and now Councilman David Smith, the bar district contributes less than $400,000 in annual revenues to the city but costs $1.2 million annually just to police the streets. And that doesn’t even count the costs for maintenance (street cleaning, etc.) or code enforcement.

•Some say portions of downtown Scottsdale has turned into a bit of a party scene. Do you think there are problems with having that kind of environment being representative of the community of Scottsdale?

There are hundreds of bars in Scottsdale that operate as good neighbors, where people can party without being a nuisance to Scottsdale residents. Unfortunately, the out-of-control bar district my opponent and his allies have created — literally the largest concentration of bars in Maricopa County, right next to existing residential neighborhoods, some of which have been there for 50 years — is not one of those places.

I want to make the establishments in the bar district be good neighbors and play by the rules. Since 2003, when then-Councilman Ecton and I successfully proposed requiring Conditional Use Permits for bars in downtown, the council majority has yet to even consider revoking a bar CUP, much less have they actually done so.

When I made a motion to consider revoking the CUP of a bar with a history of violations I could not even get another councilmember to second my motion. So the bar owners in the bar district know they can break the rules without ever being held accountable. I want to reverse this.

The council race

City council candidates agreed to respond to specific questions to downtown Scottsdale and how that sector may be changing the brand that is Scottsdale. This is what they had to say:

Guy Phillips

•Do you believe downtown Scottsdale to be a success?

Guy Phillips

Guy Phillips

Downtown Scottsdale has always been a success. That is where our tourism originated. The real question is whether or not we can continue to be successful when certain members of the development community and their city cohorts try to change it to fit their “vision” of what a city should be.

•Some say portions of downtown Scottsdale has turned into a bit of a party scene. Do you think there are problems with having that kind of environment being representative of the community of Scottsdale?

It is not representative of Scottsdale and we have to be very careful not to let these overnight profiteers steal our brand for a quick buck.

Downtown should be a quality experience, not a party atmosphere for gangs and drug dealers to hang out. I would like to see the bar district be more upscale with celebrity entertainers and less hip-hop DJ’s. The scooters, party buses and drunken revelry is a drain on our public safety resources and a deterrent to upscale tourists and their families.

Virginia Korte

•Do you believe downtown Scottsdale to be a success?

Virginia Korte

Virginia Korte

The downtown area has become wonderfully successful. While other cities are struggling to reinvigorate their downtowns after the Great Recession, downtown Scottsdale is flourishing. I believe its future looks bright.
It wasn’t that long ago that parts of our downtown had boarded store fronts and tumbleweeds literally rolling down some of our premiere streets. That should be a reminder that we can’t take our current success for granted.

It took a lot of hard work by a lot of people — including merchants, small business owners and those willing to build residences — to achieve the success we currently enjoy. I think the same kind of work and commitment is required to sustain downtown’s success over time. That will also help attract new businesses.

I think we should celebrate that success and thank all of those who are responsible for creating such a vibrant downtown. The 24-7 energy is really exciting.
In the meantime, I urge our residents to visit, shop and dine in downtown Scottsdale as often as possible.

•Some say portions of downtown Scottsdale has turned into a bit of a party scene. Do you think there are problems with having that kind of environment being representative of the community of Scottsdale?

The so-called “party scene” is only a small part of downtown, so it’s not representative of our community. Like any thriving and successful city, entertainment is an option. But there is much more going on downtown that our residents and visitors can enjoy and experience. And, it’s only getting better.

Downtown is evolving. New residences are encouraging new restaurants and shops, and the people who live downtown are also patronizing existing businesses. It seems like something new has popped up every time I visit downtown.

The thing I like most about the re-energized downtown is its diversity. While it is still family- and visitor-friendly, I see and talk to all kinds of people from different age groups and different walks of life and, of course, from many different places. It’s a great mix of people.

I believe that kind of diversity contributes to long-range sustainability and needs to encourage.

Suzanne Klapp

•Do you believe downtown Scottsdale to be a success?

Suzanne Klapp

Suzanne Klapp

Yes. People, here and throughout the state, as well as tourists often compliment Scottsdale on its vibrant and attractive downtown. It is the envy of the entire Valley. Many individuals are snatching up condominiums and apartments in our urban core and even single-family homes nearby because they want to be part of this exciting and dynamic area. They can live an unparalleled lifestyle, eat at a wide variety of restaurants, go out for various types of entertainment, and shop until they drop — all within walking distance.

Fashion Square, the Gallery District, Old Town, restaurants and the entertainment district draw thousands of visitors to downtown on a given weekend and throughout the week as well. Sales tax revenues from activity in the downtown area are increasing, and businesses are relocating there, where their employees are spending their payroll dollars in Scottsdale. When measured against empty lots and empty buildings that were prevalent 15 years ago, downtown Scottsdale has made a remarkably positive transformation and is resoundingly successful.

•Some say portions of downtown Scottsdale has turned into a bit of a party scene. Do you think there are problems with having that kind of environment being representative of the community of Scottsdale?

The entertainment district represents only one part of the city. Scottsdale is an eclectic community, with larger lots and open spaces in the northern areas, commercial uses and large tracts of neighborhoods in the central areas, a vibrant urban core, and revitalized, mid-century housing and businesses in the southern areas.
Each of these parts of the city is not entirely representative of Scottsdale, but as a whole they reflect the many characteristics of the city.

A number of residents enjoy the ambiance in the entertainment district, and the district generates significant revenues from sales taxes and payrolls. The majority of people employed in the district also live in Scottsdale. Restaurants and retailers benefit from the additional customers the district attracts. Tourists also enjoy the district when they are in town. They stay in local hotels and attend Spring Training, the Scottsdale Arts Festival and many other tourist-related attractions in the city.

A 2012 economic study of the downtown area showed that food and beverage sales, including the entertainment district, contributed $164 million annually to the economy, with the city receiving approximately $3 million per year in tax revenue. Over the last four years, those figures have grown substantially.

Also important, the study showed direct employment from these businesses totaled about 2,700 jobs at the time, with wages totaling $62 million. Today, the owners in the entertainment district alone estimate that they employ about 1,000 Scottsdale residents whose paychecks total about $10 million per year. These are our city’s young people who spend their money in Scottsdale.

This money in turn helps pay for all the services the city provides throughout Scottsdale. The total economic impact of the restaurant and bar industry in downtown Scottsdale in 2012 was $306 million.

Northeast Valley Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at tthornton@newszap.com

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