One thing all Scottsdale City Council candidates strive to do is tip their hat to tourism. They extoll its virtues and acknowledge its importance to our economy. They promise to do everything in their power to protect, encourage and grow this local industry. Sometimes, the discussion goes no further.
How important is tourism? Think of it this way…in Scottsdale and nearby communities, there are 16,758 hotel/motel rooms. Every year, more than a million visitors stay in these rooms for almost a week, calling Scottsdale their home-away-from-home. That’s more than four times the number of citizens who call Scottsdale their home.
In 2012, City staff reported these one million overnight visitors and another 8 million day-visitors generated an economic impact of over $3.4 billion. Not surprisingly, tourism is a significant source of revenue for the City’s government operations, since purchases by tourists generate a large share of our sales tax collections.
Scottsdale was developed to attract tourists and accommodate its tourism industry. Leaders of the past realized when people have discretionary income, they will seek escape from their current reality to experience something new, exciting and different. Sometimes, they choose a contrived destination, like Disney; other times, an entire city will attract them as a destination. This was the vision for Scottsdale!
Cities often morph in ways to accommodate their major industries. I spent part of my career in steel industry towns where host cities sacrificed their most beautiful assets… riverfront and lakefront shorelines …to accommodate the industrial engines of their local prosperity.
In Scottsdale, our downtown arts district was protected as a functional and vibrant shopping area, as well as a collection of historical experiences without neon signs or golden arches. Our streets were maintained to a PCI (pavement condition index) of 85 or higher, so visitors from Chicago and Minneapolis would never experience pot-holes like they had back home. Our public buildings – like Fire Station 602 on Indian School or the water treatment plant on McDowell – were built as architectural works of public art. We even taxed ourselves to create a 30,000 acre preserve to provide a one-of-a-kind nature experience.
We are fortunate the actions taken in the past to protect our major industry have also paid huge dividends for current citizens, letting them enjoy an elevated index of livability designed to appeal to tourists. The livability of our community even attracts businesses to locate here, bringing jobs and economic prosperity.
We must continue to protect, nurture and grow our tourism industry. As a candidate for City Council, I have questioned whether our “vision” of a concentrated bar district is uniquely appealing to the tourists who support our economy. I have expressed concern we allowed the PCI for our streets to decline from 85 to 75 in the past five years as one of the ways to “balance” the budget. I have cautioned against following a “vision” of approving taller and denser housing without regard for tourist appeal. In my own way, I respected the scenic experience of tourists by not putting up campaign signs this election season.
The central question for every initiative – “What does this do for the current Scottsdale citizens?” – implies a companion question, “What will this do for tourism?” These are the questions I ask. This is why I seek your support and your vote in the upcoming Council elections.