The state Tourism and Sports Authority is prepared to commit real money for the first time for sports venues in the East Valley.
The authority’s Youth and Amateur Sports Committee on Wednesday identified 13 amateur sports projects with combined funding requirements of $1.3 million to endow during 2004.
The four-member committee considered 92 projects overall before recommending 13 that range from an aquatics center to a walking trail. The authority's board of directors is expected to approve funding for the projects Feb. 23.
The authority recommended the largest amount, $500,000, toward the $36 million Mesa Aquatic Center in downtown Mesa.
Over an eight-year period, the authority is expected to contribute a combined $4 million toward the project, which is being billed as a world-class swimming venue.
"People are starting to realize how important that will be to the region," said Mesa Mayor Keno Hawker. "If it's built, it will be one of the top five swimming venues in the world."
Mesa officials hope to break ground next year on the enclosed facility that will feature two Olympic-size pools and a diving pool. The city still must find operating money before it starts construction.
The proposal would mark the authority's first significant financial investment in the East Valley since two plans for an NFL football stadium in Tempe and Mesa fell apart in 2001 and 2002.
The authority was created in 2000 to construct a football stadium for the Arizona Cardinals, build and renovate spring training baseball stadiums, and build and improve amateur sports facilities across the Valley.
Yet nearly all of the $293 million the authority has awarded to date has been in the West Valley. The list includes the Cardinals stadium in Glendale, the Surprise spring training baseball stadium, an amateur soccer complex and other youth sports fields. The authority committed $252 million to the Cardinals stadium alone.
Overall, 98.46 percent of the authority’s sports funding has been committed to West Valley projects.
In contrast, 1.52 percent has been for Phoenix facilities and a scant 0.02 percent has been for East Valley projects.
Authority board member Roc Arnett said he did not feel any undue influence to alter geographic imbalance in funding.
“I have not received any pressure per se,” he said. “It’s just a matter of trying to be fair with all segments of the community, understanding also that at the end of the day, Scottsdale is one of the biggest providers of revenue for the whole process.”
The authority draws a large portion of its revenue from special hotel and rental car taxes throughout Maricopa County.
The state does not track the authority’s tax collections from each city; however, a review of the Valley Hotel and Resort Association’s 2003-04 membership directory illustrates the distribution of hotels.
About 59.1 percent of the organization’s member hotels are in Scottsdale and the rest of the East Valley. Just 39.4 percent are in Phoenix, and only 1.5 percent are in the West Valley.
Arnett also noted that the authority plans, but has not yet committed, to contribute $10 million and $12 million each for spring training renovations in Tempe and Scottsdale.
Among the other amateur projects recommended Wednesday is $130,000 for Cochise Elementary School in Scottsdale. The school would build fields for soccer, baseball and lacrosse.
“It will be a nice opportunity for the school and the kids who live in the neighborhood,” said Tom Herrmann, spokesman for the Scottsdale Unified School District.