Scottsdale’s having secured San Francisco Giants spring training baseball through 2025 with the approval of a $23 million practice facility comes amid several incentivization wars in the East Valley over whether and how much public money should be used to attract private business.
Tuesday’s unanimous Scottsdale City Council vote came after quite real divisions among residents over why Major League Baseball, certainly a business without cash flow problems, needed the incentive of the new facility in order to remain in town.
There are ideological purists, to be sure, who find any incentivization to be repugnant. But as we have often said in this space, there are incentives and there are incentives. No one overarching philosophy can apply to all. Some are worthy of rejection, as they do little for the public treasury. Some should be approved, as the projects in question would bring more in business and taxes to the community than any non-incentivized plan.
Each has to be weighed on its own merits — the amount requested, the results sought, whether eminent domain is being contemplated. We should expect no less from public officials than due diligence and hard questions residents themselves have a right to ask.
In Scottsdale’s case, city leaders reversed on an embarrassing initial plan to build the facility on an aging golf course on city-owned land. The land’s donor had threatened to sue, claiming that the golf course’s deed restrictions precluded a baseball practice facility. As city staffers mulled a legal fight, council members asked that they re-examine what became the chosen site, initially set aside as not as favorable. Without the new facility, the much sought-after Giants would have simply taken their millions of dollars’ worth of annual economic impact in Scottsdale to another Valley city. Such a city would have used the money — about $20 million of which is from state and county tourism and stadium funds — to build their practice fields.
Mesa voters are preparing to settle the issue of incentives regarding the Riverview at Dobson project and Tempe city officials are looking over possible legal action over the condemnation of land for the Tempe Marketplace. We favor both as worthy, limited uses of public funds to help create thriving, contributing commercial properties out of vacant land that is likely to stay vacant without some incentivization.
Too many incentive proposals are simply rushed through by fiat. Yet none should be rejected out of hand. Ideology should guide public decision-making, but it should never be the trump card.