As Tempe runs into obstacles on plans to build a mall near two major freeways, the Mesa City Council continues to hold confidential talks about building a larger mall on farmland several miles to the east.
Mesa leaders met in closed session again this week about the issue — the eighth time this year that the public was shut out of negotiations between the full council and corporate interests regarding a proposed mall along Dobson Road at Loop 202.
All negotiations are being done without Mayor Keno Hawker’s input because he owns a home within 300 feet of the proposed site. That presents a conflict of interest under state law because what happens could change property values.
Other council members on Tuesday refused to say exactly what they’ve talked about, citing a state law that bars revealing what happens in closed sessions.
City Councilman Mike Whalen would only say the talks are about "contract stuff." All discussions are preliminary, and no deal will be struck without public input, he said.
"I can’t comment on anything," he said.
Several council members hinted that the talks may be partly about incentives the city could offer the developer, including sales tax rebates.
Right now, cities need to offer incentives to get developers to build sales-tax generating commercial centers within their borders, said Vice Mayor Claudia Walters. She called it the reality of the current economic situation.
"We’ve moved to a new business climate," Walters said. "It’s not one I would have chosen, but that’s where we are now."
Councilwoman Janie Thom said closed sessions are legal and sometimes beneficial when economic development is the topic. However, she said some things have been talked about in closed session that could have just as easily been debated in public.
"I don’t know if the city will offer incentives that the public will like or won’t like," Thom said.
Mesa is backing a proposal by DeRito Partners and Kimco Developers to build a $175 million upscale shopping center along Dobson Road at Loop 202 called Riverview at Dobson. Initial plans called for 2 million square feet, twice the size of a typical indoor mall and slightly smaller than Arizona’s largest mall, Scottsdale Fashion Square.
The land, owned by the Bob Hurley family, was at the center of the 2002 debate about where to build the Arizona Cardinals stadium. Glendale was eventually selected as the stadium site.
Dave Udall, who represents the developer and the land owner, declined to comment on the talks.
Tempe is trying to attract a 1 million-square-foot shopping center called Tempe Marketplace running from Loop 101 to McClintock Drive near Loop 202. Miravista Holdings and Vestar Development need 50 parcels of land near the northeast corner of Rio Salado Parkway and McClintock Drive, and already own about half of those.
However, some landowners have refused to sell. The city has threatened to use eminent domain, the government’s power to take private property for public use, so long as the owners are justly compensated. The landowners have threatened to fight the city in court. The Tempe City Council has called a special meeting today about the subject.
Aside from incentives, Walters said other topics that could arise in confidential talks include the city facilitating land rezoning, building plans and permits. She also pointed out that Mesa owns land adjacent the Hurley property — Riverview Golf Course and Riverview Park.
"All of that is up for discussion," she said.