Plans to build a rock ’n’ roll theme park in Eloy hit a snag Thursday, one that could prove terminal.
Several legislators from both parties objected to the state letting the developers set up their own special entertainment district, allowing the developers to issue tax-free bonds. Concerns raised ranged from questions of taxpayer liability if something goes wrong to a suggestion this kind of government-private arrangement amounted to “fascism.”
The measure, SB1450, ultimately was pulled from consideration before an actual vote. Rep. Michele Reagan, R-Scottsdale, who is shepherding the measure through the House, said that will give her a chance to propose amendments she said would solve some — though not all — of the objections.
But those amendments won’t change the essential nature of the plan: They were suggested by a lobbying firm retained by the park’s organizers.
Hanging in the balance is a proposal to build what has been dubbed the Decades Music Theme Park on 144 acres in Eloy. Aside from rides like the Grand Funk Railroad and Little Deuce Coupe sports cars, the site would feature an amphitheater, restaurants and retail outlets.
Proponents, who don’t have the cash for construction, want to borrow $750 million. That’s where the need for legislative help comes in.
SB1450 would make a 950-acre site in Eloy, including the park and surrounding vacant land, a special entertainment district, essentially its own level of government. That would allow the district’s board, including members of the Eloy City Council and private individuals appointed by the governor and legislative leaders, to issue tax-free bonds. These carry a lower interest rate.
Repayment of those bonds would come from a sales tax of up to 10 percent on all activity in the park, from admission fees to restaurant tabs.
And that tax would also be levied on other businesses like hotels that set up shop nearby, outside the border of the park but within that 950-acre district.
That tax-collecting permission bothered Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert.
“Taxing authority is something that should never, ever be given to a private corporation,” he said. Farnsworth called the move “a very dangerous precedent.”
Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, was more blunt about his belief that government should have nothing to do with this kind of venture, even if it is just to facilitate it. He said proponents should convince investors of its financial viability without state assistance.
“I don’t know what that is when you have the government planning the economy, if that’s not fascism,” he said.
Rep. Pete Rios, D-Dudleyville, said foes of the project are ignoring some significant facts.
“This tax will be paid primarily by tourists and visitors,” he said, with no burden on area residents “unless they go to the park.” He also said the city wants the project.
And Rep. Jack Brown, D-St. Johns, said the area “needs some kind of economic development.”
But Rep. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, said if the state is interested in helping rural areas there are far better ways to do that than building a theme park “that will create a whole lot of minimum wage jobs.”
And that, he said, assumes tourists will come to the outdoor park — especially in the summer. Farley said it would be better to use the sun as an asset than a potential liability.
“What better place in this state than Eloy to be able to create a solar research institute that will be known the world over?” he asked. “Let’s put our priorities in something like that.”