Mesa Mayor John Giles doubts voters will get another crack at the Mesa Plays sports complex after this month’s election defeat.
“Youth sports and athletics are important components to our city’s quality of life, but at this point, I don’t see it being brought back to the City Council for referral to a future ballot,” Giles told The Tribune. “The voters of Mesa voiced their opinion, and Mesa Plays will have to find another way to move forward.”
Advocates of the project hope to do just that – but how the project could be built without city backing is unclear.
Rich Adams, chairman of the Mesa Plays campaign committee, said “future steps” for the project will be considered after all the ballots are counted.
“It has a heartbeat,” Adams said. “And it has a heartbeat because it’s a good thing for the community,” helping to fill a vast need for youth athletic facilities.
“It’s still well alive,” Adams said, although advocates are nowhere near decisions on the shape and timing of future proposals.
As ballot counting dragged on the last week, Mesa Plays trailed by nearly 9,000 votes and was showing no signs of making up any ground. A hotel bed-tax increase that would have helped fund the project also trailed, but by a much closer margin.
The complex had broad support from civic leaders and sports figures, many of whom had appeared at a June 14 City Council meeting to advocate its inclusion on the ballot.
By their reckoning, it would bring 350,000 visitors to town every year – people who would pump $200 million a year into the local economy. It would elevate Mesa’s national reputation. It would show folks that Mesa is willing to invest in its future and its youth.
The council later voted 6-1 put it on the ballot, with Jeremy Whittaker dissenting.
Council members knew it was something of a risk. Giles, in a previous council meeting, already had mused about a “very imposing” local ballot that included not only two City Council races but also “home rule” budget authorization, a local sales-tax hike, two city bond proposals, plus bond and budget override questions for Mesa Public Schools.
In the end, it was too much for voters to swallow in one bite.
Mesa got most of what it wanted with voter agreement for home rule, the sales-tax hike and the bonds.
But only 47 percent of voters backed Mesa Plays.
The sports complex has been on the drawing boards for years, largely at the behest of Visit Mesa. The city’s tourism-promotion bureau has heavily promoted amateur athletics as a draw for visitors.
The vision included 15 soccer fields, 1,620 parking spots and two restrooms at Red Mountain Park, at a cost of $30 million. These facilities would have been adjacent to nine community soccer fields that will be built with the proceeds from one of the newly approved bond packages.
A 110,000-square-foot indoor field house originally was proposed as part of Mesa Plays, but it was omitted from the ballot proposition. That shaved $27 million off the price tag.
City officials said the project would have paid for itself, assuming voter approval for raising the hotel bed tax to 6 percent from its current 5 percent. Field rentals, concessions and increased sales-tax revenue from people using the complex would have covered the rest of the construction and operation costs, according to city projections.
Adams, who also is chairman of the Visit Mesa board, said deceptive arguments by opponents may have played a role in the outcome.
“There was some opposition out there that I think … they were willing to say anything necessary to try to defeat what we were working on,” Adams said.
Indeed, an argument for which opponents bought space in the city’s official voter information pamphlet contained misinformation over the difference between Mesa Plays and the adjacent community fields, and the difference in financing methods for the two complexes.
In the election pamphlet, several Mesa residents seemed to conflate the Mesa Plays fields with the nine others on the ballot as part of the parks and cultural bond question.
They asserted that Mesa Plays would require $2 million per year in secondary property-tax revenue, which was not true. Property taxes will pay for the nine community fields, but would not have financed Mesa Plays.
The same ballot argument falsely asserted that the Mesa Plays soccer fields would have cost $55 million instead of the actual $30 million, and also falsely stated that the field house was part of the ballot proposal.
Some opposition also surfaced from neighbors who posted fliers on area mailboxes warning that the project would cause crime, traffic and “light pollution” to increase while also reducing property values.
Because the Mesa Plays fields would not have been paid for with general-obligation bonds, the ballot measure would not have been needed except for an amendment to the city charter that voters approved in 2004.
In the wake of a failed proposal to build an Arizona Cardinals stadium and anger in some quarters over construction of the Mesa Arts Center, voters approved a provision requiring an election whenever the city proposes spending more than $1.5 million on a sports, entertainment or meeting facility.