May 18, 2005
The Mesa Riverview at Dobson retail center passed by a comfortable margin Tuesday, bringing to a close one of the most contentious elections in recent memory. Propositions 300, 301 and 302 were leading by a 56 percent to 44 percent margin, according to unofficial results that do not include early ballots received Tuesday and all provisional ballots cast at the polls.
Final results are expected later this week.
After being on the receiving end of television commercials, newspaper ads, campaign fliers and signs, a combined campaign budget that may near or exceed $2 million, and a heated debate on the merits of economic incentives and the future of Fiesta Mall, Mesa voters decided it was in the city's best interest to make the deal. Supporters interviewed at polling places said the project would revitalize and stabilize west Mesa, bring in revenue for the city, create jobs, bring Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World to Arizona and be an entertainment destination.
"This part of town is getting a little run down and this will bring it up, and bring more businesses to Mesa," said Melanie Figler, who lives near the Riverview site.
Kyle Routon voted in favor of the project at the east Mesa Superstition police substation.
"As far as the information I have seen, I don't see anything bad coming from it — more jobs, more money for the police department, fire department. I always think new retail development is a good thing, especially in Mesa."
Mesa voters were willing to rebate about $80 million in sales tax revenue to Kimco Developers and De Rito Partners Development in exchange for a 250-acre project at Dobson Road and Loop 202 that will bring retailers, movie theaters, restaurants, auto dealerships and a business park to the site once proposed as the future home of the Arizona Cardinals.
"It was neighbors talking to neighbors, helping each other understand what a great project this was and what it will do for west Mesa," said Dave Richins, co-chairman of the Mesa Grande Community Alliance that endorsed the project.
Jan Hibbard, secretary and treasurer of Valley Business Owners (And Concerned Citizens), the residents' group that launched the referendum drive, said she was "shocked" by the election returns.
"I haven't absorbed all of it yet," Hibbard said, "but we always go with the will of the people."
Hibbard said the group now will focus on an initiative that will attempt to put Riverview's estimated $80 million incentive package to a separate vote either next year or in 2008. The initiative, if successful, would require voter approval for all developer subsidies, retroactive to Dec. 1, 2004. Hibbard said VBO would be targeting Bass Pro as the main beneficiary of the incentives. "I'm sure we'll have (the initiative signatures) filed before they break ground," she said. Voters opposing the project at the polling places Tuesday criticized the estimated $80 million in incentives, expressed a dislike for Wal-Mart, and thought the project would not help the city and schools as much as advertised.
"Big business can pay for themselves," said Lenor Webster, who voted no at the First Presbyterian Church in downtown Mesa.
"I think that all that money is not really going to go to the schools, and I have a thing with Wal-Mart — they don't want people to unionize," said Madeline Williams, who voted no at east Mesa's Desert Haven Community Church.
Proposition 300 was leading 27,314 (56 percent) to 21,547 (44 percent), Proposition 301 was leading 27,357 (56 percent) to 21,511 (44 percent), and Proposition 302 was leading 27,229 (56 percent) to 21,517 (44 percent).
The unofficial results show a voter turnout of 25 percent with 49,089 ballots cast from Mesa's 193,881 registered voters. Those numbers will rise as the final early ballots and provisional ballots are counted. Passage of Proposition 300 affirmed the council vote to change to the Mesa 2025 General Plan, approval of Proposition 301 affirmed the council vote to rezone 42 acres to allow the movie theater, retail shops and restaurants, while passage of Proposition 302 affirmed the council vote to rezone 175 acres for future commercial and business park uses. A judge ruled the incentive package was linked to the zoning and must be noted on the ballot. Kimco Developers president Jerry Friedman said site preparation work will begin Thursday. Construction on the 16-screen Cinemark movie theater is expected to start July 1, with an opening tentatively set for early next year, Friedman said. The Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World is expected to start construction in February 2006 with a tentative opening date of December 2006.
Riverview has signed leases with only these two tenants, but Friedman said more are expected now that the election is over. The project will also include a "big-box" retail center that's expected to be anchored by a Wal-Mart Supercenter. Mesa Councilman Mike Whalen said he was proud of Mesa residents for approving the project.
"This says Mesa is ready to stand up and fight for what they want," Whalen said.
"Yes on Riverview" campaign spokesman Doug Cole said the campaign benefited most from the assembled grass-roots organization including the Riverview neighborhood and many city organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce and police and fire unions.
"No on Riverview" campaign spokesman Jason Rose said: "All I can say is Mesa had a ringside seat for a great debate and at the end of the day, you respect what the people have decided." A Tribune poll of 401 likely voters conducted April 29 through May 1 by Behavior Research Center of Phoenix showed 48 percent in support of the project, 37 percent opposed and 15 percent undecided.