My View: Phoenix hypocrisy looks to prevent Tempe success

In this Phoenix Business Journal guest column, the former mayor of Tempe says that the objections coming from the city of Phoenix regarding the proximity of the Arizona Coyotes’ proposed arena to Sky Harbor Airport are unjustified.

By Hugh Hallman – Contributing writer

Feb 25, 2022

Over the past several months we have heard in this publication and others the usual city of Phoenix drumbeat:  Tempe should not build an entertainment district hosting an arena for the Arizona Coyotes, and certainly not with residential buildings because it would interfere with the operation of Sky Harbor airport and it would somehow be unfair to Tempe taxpayers.

We’ve heard this before. Longtime readers will recall these same, hypocritical efforts were used to defeat the Arizona Cardinals’ first choice for its stadium in the early 2000s. Proposed to the north of the 202 freeway and Tempe Town Lake, Phoenix officials then proffered the same concerns that a stadium in Tempe would impede Sky Harbor. What they really feared is that Tempe would pull economic development away from downtown Phoenix.

They ask you to pay no attention to the fact that downtown Phoenix now has two stadiums for professional sports teams funded by taxpayers: Chase Field (for the Diamondbacks) and Footprint Arena (for the Suns). There is a major difference in the Phoenix tax-funded venues and the proposed arena for the Coyotes. In the Tempe proposal, the only use of tax money is for governmental purposes: to clean up the environmental mess created by the city of Tempe when, decades ago, it located a landfill along the riverbed, and to fund the cost of roads, sewer systems, waterlines and other infrastructure typically provided by government.

Laws of physics 

Oh, wait, says Phoenix, Sky Harbor is too important to allow Tempe to put tall buildings along Town Lake. Pay no attention to the fact that, in downtown Phoenix, exactly the same distance from the airport at the end of the north runway and in exactly the same position, sits Chase Field, at more than 200 feet tall.  Apparently, the laws of physics operate differently over the skies of Phoenix than they do over Tempe.  Planes inexplicably clear the roof of Chase Field, whether it is open or closed, but would be at risk over shorter buildings located in Tempe.

Oh, wait. Phoenix now says it really is worried about people living in buildings along the flight paths. Pay no attention to the fact that adjacent to Chase Field is the Summit at Copper Square Condos, 23 stories tall and home to Phoenix residents. I guess I should be grateful that the leaders in Phoenix are more worried about Tempe residents and taxpayers than they are Phoenix residents and taxpayers.

But enough is enough. Time to spell out this out for what it is: H-Y-P-O-C-R-I-S-Y.

This airport noise being made by Phoenix is nothing more than using Sky Harbor as a front to squash economic development in Tempe. Phoenix long has tried to monopolize the success of attracting business, jobs, and residences to its downtown. I understand why Phoenix is increasingly nervous.

Financial benefits

Having landed national and regional headquarters for large employers like State Farm, DriveTime, Freedom Financial, Carvana and Door Dash, and attracting hotels like the Westin, the Canopy and the Omni to Tempe without the city paying to build them, and seeing thousands of residents move into the many high-end condos along Mill Avenue and Town Lake, Tempe has been a real competitor to its big brother to the west. And this trend will and should continue.

Tempe’s leaders must preserve the city’s ability to develop this important part of Tempe in an effective, productive manner that adds significant financial benefits to Tempe’s future. Just as the 2004 City Council turned the Tempe Marketplace from landfill into treasure for the city’s and school districts’ taxpayers, this Council has the chance to leave a similar legacy to the future. They, too, can use the private capabilities to clean up an old landfill and generate new business and tax flows for Tempe’s future residents.

I understand some Tempe residents have concerns about development in and around Town Lake. But I ask my Tempe City Council to avoid being sucked in by the Phoenix effort to choke Tempe’s economic engine. Indeed, Tempeans should be impressed by the Coyotes’ new deal with Arizona State University to temporarily play on campus while its larger, permanent facility evolves a short distance to the west. If this doesn’t show a financial and civic commitment to our community, I am not sure what does.

No matter what, Tempe must continue to reject the Phoenix efforts to stop Tempe development using Sky Harbor as the weapon. It just takes courage in the face of political machinations.  I believe the current Tempe mayor and Council have what it takes.

Hugh Hallman was mayor of Tempe from 2004-2012.