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Phoenix City Council OKs $235M renovation plan for Suns arena

(Talking Stick Resort Arena Photo)

PHOENIX – The Phoenix City Council on Wednesday approved a much-scrutinized $235 million renovation plan that will keep the Phoenix Suns in the city’s downtown arena until at least 2037.

The proposal passed by a 6-2 vote, with Sal DiCiccio and Jim Waring voting no.

Approval came more than a month after a vote was postponed, giving time for public information sessions to be held about the proposal to repair and upgrade 27-year-old Talking Stick Resort Arena.

Under the deal, the city will contribute no more than $150 million of the $234.9 million estimated cost. The Suns, who operate the city-owned facility, will cover the rest, including any overruns.

The city’s portion will come from its Sports Facilities Fund, which is made up of tourism taxes on hotels and rental cars.

The arena will continue to host Suns games and other events during the renovation, which is expected to be completed in 2021.

But the building will be closed for a portion of the NBA offseason, which means the Phoenix Mercury of the WNBA and Arizona Rattlers of the Indoor Football League will temporarily have to play home games elsewhere, according to the city.

The biggest chunk of the funding in the approved deal, around $100 million, will go toward replacing or repairing the building’s aging mechanical, electrical, plumbing and communication systems.

As part of the deal, the Suns are required to separately finance and build an off-site practice facility in Phoenix. The arena’s existing practice areas will be repurposed for storage and other essential building functions as part of the renovation.

Both parties will also pay into an account to be used for future infrastructure needs, with the city contributing $2 million annually from the Sports Facilities Fund, up to $25 million, and the Suns chipping in $1 million a year, up to $12.5 million.

The sides had until July 1 to update the contract that went into effect when the arena opened in 1992.

If no deal had been reached by that deadline, the Suns could have invoked an obsolescence clause and moved to terminate their lease as soon as 2022.

The renovation proposal was on the Dec. 12 meeting agenda, but the City Council decided to delay the vote to allow five community meetings to be held at various locations in Phoenix.

In addition, all documents related to the deal were posted on the city’s website.

Recent polling found that public opinion shifted in favor of the deal after residents were informed about its details.

One person who wasn’t swayed was Greta Rogers, the 90-year-old Phoenix woman who gained fame for slamming Suns owner Robert Sarver at last month’s meeting, famously saying “he’s so tight he squeaks when he walks.”

Rogers was more subdued Wednesday but reiterated her opposition during the lengthy public comment session before the vote.

One supporter on hand was Mary Rose Wilcox, who was on the Council when the arena was initially approved. She said the tourism tax was designed in part for just this purpose, renovating the building when the time came.

In a bizarre scene, among of the dozens of public commenters was Larry Naman, who shot and wounded Wilcox in 1997 when she was serving on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.

Naman reportedly said he attacked Wilcox because she voted in favor of a sales tax to fund construction of the baseball stadium now known as Chase Field. He was released from prison in 2010 after serving 12 years of a 15-year sentence.

Some opponents of the plan felt the city wasn’t getting enough out of the deal and didn’t want public funds to be used to benefit the wealthy owner of a pro sports team, especially one that hasn’t been competitive in nearly a decade.

The Suns haven’t reached the playoffs since 2010, when Steve Nash led them to the Western Conference Finals.

Others against the plan said the city has costly issues, including road repairs and homelessness, that should take priority over the arena.

Supporters, including several prominent Phoenix business leaders and representatives of nonprofit groups that receive assistance from Phoenix Suns Charities, argued that the arena is a vital economic driver that provides benefits that far outweigh the costs.

In addition to Suns games, the 18,000-plus-seat venue hosts a variety of concerts and entertainment events.

According to the city, the arena’s 130 or so ticketed events annually generate $335 million of direct and indirect revenue.

It also hosts around 200 non-ticketed community events a year, the city said.

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