In 2005, a group of big dreamers had a bold plan to build Arizona’s only major amusement theme park in the northern mountain climate near Williams.
But these dreamers said the plan needed some help, as private investors found it to be just a little too risky.
So the dreamers came to the Legislature, not for a direct taxpayer handout, but for a change in law that would allow them to establish a special little government that could collect sales taxes — and could borrow construction money tax-free. State lawmakers showed skepticism at first, but were swayed by arguments that this was a unique request and that the dreamers and investors still would be the only real losers if the amusement park failed.
On Wednesday, this “once-in-a-lifetime” idea was repeated when another group of big dreamers said they also need this arrangement to build their own amusement park, this time near Eloy. Capital Media Services reported in the Tribune the park’s rides and other features would revolve around the different decades of American rock ’n’ roll music. Located near Interstate 10 and midway between the Valley and Tucson, the park would attract 6 million tourists a year even in the brutal desert heat, the developers predicted.
Experience in Williams would indicate that lawmakers should be even more cautious with this new request. As of March, plans for a playground with a Grand Canyon theme had been scaled back from 1,000 acres to 300. The Arizona Daily Sun reported the developers had investment commitments for only about half of the $500 million that is supposed to trigger creation of the taxing district.
The Eloy theme park would be of similar size, 300 acres, but its developers believe they should be required to raise only $100 million before they could form their own government and sell up to $500 million in tax-free construction bonds.
Government bonds aren’t taxed, so agencies can borrow more money to provide essential services without adding to the burden of local residents who ultimately must repay the debt. Such bonds normally aren’t used to give private business interests with good lobbyists an economic advantage, nor should such bonds largely replace private investment capital in underwriting a particularly risky undertaking.
For 20 years, Arizona had an amusement park in the Valley called Legend City that was supposed to be our answer to Disneyland. Never wildly successful, Legend City closed in 1983.
With that history in mind, the Legislature would be wise to wait and see if the proposed Williams amusement park goes anywhere before they even consider authorizing yet another government that could collect taxes.