Losing Our Shine

Dear Friends…

 

A few days ago, the Scottsdale insert in the Arizona Republic carried a story about a hidden threat to tourism.  From the headline, though, many readers didn’t make the connection.  In fact, the story was about bridges in Scottsdale needing emergency repairs or replacement after inspectors found missing concrete, exposed rebar and other deterioration.

 

When my wife and I first visited Scottsdale years ago, we were awed by how fresh and appealing the city looked. Flowers were planted in public rights-of-way.  Public art was displayed in conspicuous places.  Streets were so smooth they looked and felt like they had just been paved.

 

After moving here in 1986, we appreciated how much of this was actually a well-conceived, perhaps unconscious, marketing plan.  The city was intentionally “dressed up for visitors,” to support our major industry – tourism.

 

Over time, it seems we lost pride in our appearance.  Nowhere is this more evident than in our neglect for maintaining and improving our city infrastructure.  It is naïve to think this loss of pride is not also apparent to our seasonal visitors.

 

In fact, neglecting our infrastructure is affecting tourism in very specific ways.  Tourists crossing the canal at 68th Street bridge are thwarted with closure signs because that asset, built in the 1960s, is at risk of failure.

 

Civic Center has been the heart of our City’s civics and arts district since the Drinkwater bridge was completed in the 1980s.  Now, a portion is “off limits” for fear it might collapse onto Drinkwater Boulevard below.  Civic Center is split in two.

Visitors who might like to remember their visit with a “selfie” taken in front of the LOVE sculpture are thwarted by detour signs. There’s no way to get there!

The western half, including the City Hall and the library, is severed from the eastern half with its Performing Arts Center, Contemporary Arts Museum, restaurants, and parking.  Signature tourism events are jeopardized.  Where will we hold the Culinary festival?  The ARTS Festival?  Baseball celebrations?  Outdoor concerts?

 

When I served as your City Treasurer during the recession years, I warned Council that continued underinvestment in our infrastructure put us on a fiscally unsustainable path.  No one liked to hear that message.  The response was, “We can’t ask voters to reinvest in city assets while they are struggling to cope with this recession.”

 

Unfortunately, even when Council doesn’t tell citizens what the needs are, the needs do not go away.  They compound and grow.  Now, I’m a member of Council, watching the value of the City’s net investments (assets less recognized depreciation) decline year after year.  We are on an “orderly path of liquidation.”  Deterioration and concerns for public safety are depriving us and our visitors the use of major city assets.

 

The capital reinvestment required is a known number – nearly $100 million every year!  That’s the rate of annual depreciation on the $30 billion +/- of the City depreciable assets owned in common by our citizens.  In a September 2000 special election, you and your fellow citizens agreed to an investment program in the magnitude required.  That’s when you approved $358 million – eighteen years ago!

 

Four simple truths:

  • City assets belong to us – the citizens.  They are our “front yard” and nowhere is this truer than Civic Center.
  • Reinvestment in assets is continually required, due to age and deterioration.  Reinvestment is a responsibility of those who use the assets –citizens, businesses and tourists.
  • If citizens are not told what the reinvestment needs of the city are, fault lies with – the Council.
  • If citizens do not accept responsibility for reinvesting in City assets, for their enjoyment and for the enjoyment of tourists, the ones who suffer will be those who call Scottsdale home – the citizens.

This November, I will support increasing our sales tax to generate $10 million a year so we can earn triple matching dollars for transportation projects.   But this won’t fix the bridges.  It won’t be anywhere near the $100 million a year needed to arrest the decline in asset values.  It won’t make our city shine.

 

For that, our Council and all citizens must come together in a spirit of unity for the common good of our community.  If I have your support, and one of your three votes for Council this November, I will do everything I can to put us on a sustainable fiscal path that restores the Scottsdale shine.