State senators agreed Wednesday to alter some laws to pave the way for what developers promise will be a rock 'n' roll theme park in Eloy.
The preliminary approval came after supporters beat back several amendments that sponsors said would prevent park organizers from abusing special powers given to them by the legislation. Senate Majority Leader Thayer Verschoor, R-Gilbert, who is shepherding the measure through the process, said those restrictions would undermine the chances of the $800 million park ever being built.
But Verschoor, in an effort to quell some uneasiness about the plan, did agree to add a few provisions to SB1450 - all provisions that theme park proponents are willing to accept.
Hanging in the balance is a plan to convert 300 acres of private land in Eloy into a complex of rides, restaurants and hotels all built around the music from the 1950s on.
Backers said they need the authority to form their own level of government on those lands and be able to raise a tax of up to 9 percent on all activities in the theme park to pay off the $750 million that would be borrowed for construction.
Without that, they said, the park would not be built.
Sen. Robert Blendu, R-Litchfield Park, said there would be no risk to the state because the bonds would be privately insured. And he noted that SB1450 requires backers to first raise $100 million from private sources.
Sen. Jorge Garcia, D-Tucson, said that's hardly enough to give organizers the opportunity to use their status as a state taxing district to borrow another $750 million.
He said the requirement should be the same as it was three years ago when lawmakers approved a similar plan for a proposed theme park in Williams.
There, backers were told to first raise $500 million privately before being allowed to borrow an additional $1 billion.
Garcia said the state sets a bad precedent easing that requirement for someone else.
In fact, he said those organizers may now want similar treatment as the Williams project has yet to get off the ground.
But Blendu said there is no reason for additional hurdles for what organizers contend could be a park that would attract 6 million visitors a year.
"I thought we needed economic development in our state," he said. "I don't care what they do. They're going to be providing jobs."