Norton: Scottsdale bonds, unfunded capital projects, and the voter confidence

Raising hundreds of millions of dollars of General Obligation bond funding requires one thing — voter confidence.

The city made a horrible decision when the Desert D-word thing was launched. Voter confidence was trashed. But let’s skip that topic. It’s over. And focus on how our city can regain the confidence and faith of voters.

Mike Norton

Foremost, never ask for General Obligation bonds to fund optional projects. Optional projects are things that are “cool but not critical.”

It’s extraordinarily rare that voters approve “CBNC” projects.

Bonding “must do-mandatory projects” makes sense.

“MDMP’s” are things like failing bridges or streets with crumbling surfaces.

Let’s review — “cool but not critical” — no bonds. Find funds elsewhere.

“Must do mandatory projects” –– ask us for bonds. We’ll say “Yes.”

So which are Scottsdale’s cool but not critical?: City Plaza, WestWorld and Scottsdale Stadium.

Those could all be cool projects that the community loves for decades. But are those projects we should bond? No. That doesn’t mean we don’t build them.

It instead means we find ways to fund them internally and improve the chance we get voter approval for “must do mandatory projects.”

This is where it gets fun — a plethora of zero tax and zero bond options — in this process, we will dump city debt. Monetize unused assets. And increase tax revenues.

Hang on. The options are astonishing. We can fund the “cool but not critical” projects from within. And by doing so woo voters in to supporting the infrastructure projects we need built.

•$70 million – The Fairmont Princess: We subsidize the Princess. We lease it land at an absurdly low rate and don’t charge property taxes. (Perhaps unlawfully if Attorney General Brnovich is right). I can’t imagine how the Hyatt and Four Seasons feel about competing with a city subsidized resort, but I’ll let them fight that fight.

It’s not like a benevolent local family owns the Princess. The Princess is now owned by the Chinese government, which is in the process of selling it — something that has happened several times in the last 10 years.

The Princess property, owned by the city, consists of well over $70 million of land and buildings owned by the city and leased to the Princess for less than 2 percent of its value per year.

Even worse, we don’t charge property tax. Now is the time to force the Princess to buy these assets from our city and for once in our history pay full value for what the Princess was sort-of-more-like-actually gifted.

•$100 million – Bell Road area lands: The city owns nearly 200 acres of extremely valuable land that we currently use to grow creosote or park cars. Almost 80 Acres on the north side of 94th Street and Bell Road. Almost 120 acres of dirt along 94th Street leading south from Bell in to WestWorld.

Properly packaged and marketed, a dirt cheap offer for this land would exceed $100 million.

Sell the land. Use the funds to build something fabulous at WestWorld. Something that houses big ticket events every week.

Note to reader: the rest of WestWorld is Bureau of Land Management land. I’m not talking about that land. I’m talking about the land to the north of the BLM land –– land that is build-able.

•$40 million – The Scottsdale Stadium: Why do we own it? Why are we dumping more money in to it? Why not sell it to a visionary.

I don’t know Bob Parsons, but when I look at this property I think “What Would Bob Do?” And I’m positive if someone like him owned it, it would be big and wonderful and something none of us envisioned and something the city will never think of doing.

Maybe even go crazy and sell it to the Giants. They’re in the business of stadium management. What better way to anchor them to Scottsdale than to make them the stadium owner?

•$20 million – Copper Ridge area land: On Thompson Peak Parkway, in the middle of DC Ranch and Silverleaf, the city owns 23 acres of absurdly valuable land. It sits dormant. There is little likelihood the city ever develop it.

Planned, zoned, and sold, it’s worth at least $20 million. Do that. Work with a developer to pre-package a great project that the community loves and turn this land in to cash and future property taxes.

Let’s recap once more: This exercise just funded $35M for the City Plaza and $150M to turn WestWorld in to the coolest place in the entire west. With money to spare. We taxed no one. We borrowed nothing.

Actually we eliminated the debt we owed on 80 acres of this land. And the land we sold now becomes land that generates property taxes and retail sales tax. Those are called Win-Win-Win-WIN-BIG deals.

We also convinced voters we’re really smart people they should trust. They’ll then say yes to the critical projects that require bonds. We made it easy for them.

Don’t say this can’t be done. It can.

And if we have money left over — we should — let’s use some of it to develop a forward thinking transportation system.

Autonomous electric shuttle vans and buses are a real deal. Start with the Bar District. Make it a car-free zone with parking centers served by shuttle vehicles moving patrons through the area. Extend it to WestWorld — which is why we don’t need those parking lots any more. This too can be done. Don’t say it can’t.

Stay active, Scottsdale. The city is a much cooler place since the citizenry fired up.

I’m a 25 year resident, co-parent of a small herd, lucky to be in love with a superb woman, and a logistician by trade. I’m also a passionate advocate for good growth for our city and a fierce supporter of our public school systems.

Unlike my cohorts, I’m not running for office in 2020. There are plenty of great future leaders already lining up for those positions. I will greatly enjoy working with the best of the 2020 candidates for local and state office to bring the best possible visionary leaders to power.

Editor’s Note: Mike Norton is a resident of Scottsdale and community advocate.

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