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Mayor Stanton pitches Phoenix to convention organizers

WASHINGTON -- Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton urged a group of convention organizers in Washington Wednesday to "come back" and give Phoenix a second look after the fallout from SB 1070.

Stanton, speaking at the National Museum of the American Indian, told several dozen convention representatives that Phoenix is not the "divisive place" portrayed in headlines over the immigration issue.

"Those in the travel and tourism industry, those of us in the political business, business leaders, community leaders, the faith community, the non-profit community - we're in agreement," Stanton said. "Those who have passed laws that present our state as a divisive place are in the significant minority."

The trip, Stanton's fifth this year to Washington, was aimed at recasting Phoenix as a premier all-purpose destination. He also visited the White House for a meeting on the effects of the looming budget sequestration.

Stanton's comments were echoed by officials from Arizona resorts who were at Wednesday's luncheon.

Boycotts by businesses, entertainers and conventions aimed at Arizona's lawmakers ended up punishing the state's economy - particularly the tourism sector, said Steve Hart, general manager and regional vice president of JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort. He said the dip in revenue combined with flat economic conditions to create a "double blow" to the Arizona hospitality industry.

"It really constrained our ability to keep great groups, great associations and corporate meetings coming to Phoenix," Hart said.

He described phone calls to international guests whose enthusiasm about visiting the state had waned.

"Those are some pretty difficult conversations to have, because people just did not know what to expect when they were going to travel to Arizona," he said.

Business has begun to come back, Hart said, and other hotel representatives were upbeat about the city's standing, given recent infrastructure enhancements to Phoenix's airport and light-rail system.

Bruce Lange, managing director at Westin Kierland resort, called Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport "one of the nation's best" and the city's "number one treasure" for economic vitality.

"We're reinvesting in the infrastructure of hotels, restaurants, and development in urban areas," Lange said. "But the linchpin to all of that really is the airport."

He said Arizona's tourism industry has tried to focus on developing the positive aspects of the state, and not to let the political blowback "hang over us as a shadow."

Stanton agreed that it's time for the city and state to move on. He praised business leaders, including those in the tourism industry, for having the "backbone" to urge state lawmakers to consider the repercussions of their immigration posture.

"Divisiveness is bad for business," Stanton said. "People have choices to make. They want to come to places that unite people."

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