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Forum: Few understand arena prop
The major issue to emerge from the Referendum 400 debates at Booth Machinery on Monday was that few people understand exactly what the proposition states.
Arguments from proponent Tom Pancrazi, a local real estate developer, and opponent Tom Kelly, local attorney, centered on future tax issues, costs and the economic performance of Global Entertainment - the private company many residents assume will partner with the city of Yuma. The grit and grip of the discussion came midway through, when the question of what, exactly, passing the referendum would mean.
City councilman Ross Hieb, who clarified information and some statistics, said “if 400 passes, the only thing (the city is) committed to right now are the proposals. Global Entertainment, probably, would present to us. If they are not (feasible), we wouldn’t go forward. If they are, we would.”
Global Entertainment is a private company that contracts with cities to operate arenas and events centers. The city of Yuma does not currently have a contract with Global Entertainment to provide any services. Kelly continually hammered the company on its poor economic record, saying it was a risk the city could not take.
“If that is voted yes, then there is going to be $60 million to build an arena,” Kelly said. “I have seen nothing from the city that says they are going to back off. I don’t see anything in there that says they can give the money back.”
The general election vote on the proposed 6,000-seat, $53 million arena could be used for concerts, sporting events, graduations, trade shows and other aspects. The land and building will remain under the city’s control, according to officials.
Kelly said he had major concerns about why, if the idea is solid, don’t private companies emerge to fully fund the project.
“We have no objection to a privately funded arena,” he said. “We do have an objection to a publicly-funded arena. A publicly-funded arena puts taxpayer dollars at risk.”
Kelly said the recent economic downturn hurts the project’s ability to fund itself via ticket sales and taxes. Pancrazi said there were similar economic concerns when the city discussed developing the Yuma Palms shopping center. Pancrazi also said there was “no better time for additional retail development” and that the center would capture tourism and entertainment dollars currently leaving the area.
Kelly responded that people living more than 50 miles east and west of Yuma would go to Phoenix and San Diego, respectively. He said Yuma would get “has-beens and wannabes. You’re not going to get big names here.”
Kelly also mentioned that tax revenues were down, though Hieb disagreed as to what degree.
Pancrazi noted that similar arenas have gotten acts like Alan Jackson, James Taylor and George Jones. He also stressed that “We have all been asked the question: What is there to do in Yuma? We have some great things here in Yuma, but we’re lacking in an entertainment center. ... There is a quality of life issue as well. You have younger X and Y generations coming up. They are looking for things to do. They are looking for places they want to live even before they choose their jobs. If you want to keep your workforce in Yuma, you have to keep your quality of life.”
There were disagreements and varying statistics as to if Yuma has the population and monetary resources, public and private, to support such a facility. Pancrazi said every study he has seen indicates the facility would be a success. Kelly said his numbers disagree with those of Pancrazi, and that ticket prices in other similar venues ranged from $40 upward.
“I do not believe that cities should be in the business of subsidizing businesses,” Kelly said. “If it’s a good business, they’ll get people in here to build.”
Pancrazi also noted that Yuma was a captured market, meaning citizens must drive a significant distance to purchase goods and services outside of the Yuma County area. He said that additional choice and services were why tax revenues went up considerably when the Yuma Palms Shopping Center was developed. He believes the same will happen with the events center
“You capture the monies that would have gone elsewhere,” Pancrazi said. “That’s the goal: keeping dollars here, so we don’t have to go to San Diego. ... The key to the game is that you get dollars from outside your market and you don’t allow dollars to leave your market.”
Kelly said he wanted to see financial plans and contracts for entities, such as hockey and indoor soccer teams, which have stated the desire to locate in Yuma if the events center is built.
Pancrazi and Kelly also jousted on how much money was lost each year by citizens leaving Yuma for services, if the tax revenues could cover costs and what alternative plans there may be. There are no alternative plans currently in the works.
“We don’t have anything binding and we won’t have anything binding until after the vote,” Hieb said. “Unlike every other recreational facility, which is supported by your tax dollars, this is a business venture offering a return on your tax dollars.”
Hieb said the city would not exercise imminent domain on any areas near the proposed property between 12th Street and East 8th Street and Pacific Avenue and Castle Dome Road. Kelly and Pancrazi also debated if the infrastructure was there to support traffic. Hieb said the funding is there and the construction for the road system had been planned. There are no finalized architectural plans for the events center.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Story updated Sept. 30, 2008. The proposed arena is a 6,000-seat, $53 million arena.