Phoenix City Council approves renovation plan for Talking Stick Resort Arena

In a 6-2 vote in favor, the Phoenix City Council on Wednesday passed a $230 million plan to renovate Talking Stick Resort Arena in downtown Phoenix. A number of business and community leaders attended the council meeting yesterday to publicly express their support for the plan.

“[People] still think of Phoenix as cowboys and cactus,” Christine Mackay, director of Community and Economic Development for the city of Phoenix, said. “This tells decisionmakers that we have a very vibrant and alive downtown.”

Talking Stick Resort Arena, which opened in 1992 as American West Arena, is currently the oldest arena in the NBA. The city of Phoenix and its anchor tenant, the Phoenix Suns, want that to change.

“I was on the city council that brought about the arena along with the Phoenix Suns at that time, and when we did this, it was not done lightly,” former Phoenix City Councilwoman Mary Rose Wilcox said. “I ask you to keep the promise of the council that voted on this and renovate this building with this tax. It’s needed.”

“We are very proud of this 30-year partnership that we’ve had with the city of Phoenix and we believe it has set a standard for private-public partnerships,” Phoenix Suns President and CEO Jason Rowley said. “We’re the only team [that] has Phoenix on our chest and when 1.5 billion [people] across the world are watching NBA basketball, we’re demonstrating our civic pride for this city.”

While the arena is best known for the Suns, it also draws in concerts and other community activities that draw people to the city.

According to the city of Phoenix, the arena generates $335 million in annual revenue for the city and state through ticket sales, hotels, food/beverage, tax revenue, and more. Plus, the renovations will only increase this figure, as the updated facilities will attract more vendors and fans from both in and out of state.

“The Suns are part of [Phoenix’s] story and they tell the story around the globe,” Glenn Hamer, president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said. “[I] traveled to Mexico City and I’ll tell you, there’s a lot of fans of the city of Phoenix because of what the Suns provide. They are an international brand and the arena is a big part of this.”

The proposal will have Phoenix contribute $150 million of the renovation, with the Suns organization paying the remaining $80 million.

The $150 million would stem from an existing tourism tax placed on rental cars and hotels.

Prior to passing the ordinance, Phoenix City Councilwoman Vania Guevara introduced an amendment that the Suns must contribute at least $10 million towards community programs. Suns owner Robert Sarver supported the addition.

According to Rowley, over the past 26 years the Suns have given back $40 million to Phoenix and Valley charities.

“The Phoenix Suns are a community asset. We talk internally about our family and that family includes the citizens of Phoenix because that’s what [we’re] talking about here and that’s what’s really critical. What’s the best thing for the citizens of Phoenix?” He said. “There’s more youth basketball played in Talking Stick Resort Arena than there is professional basketball.”

The Phoenix Suns host events for children in Valley Boys and Girls Clubs and YMCA teams. Valley of the Sun YMCA President and CEO Brian Madden attended the city council meeting to share his support for the renovation.

“Our youth sports program increases confidence and self-esteem, it builds positive relationships with adult coaches, decreases the likelihood of engaging in risky behaviors, creates more respect for diversity and increases resiliency and helps with academic performance. Youth sports are an important part of a community,” Madden said. “The responsibility of the YMCA is to create strong people and we do that every day [but] with a partner like the Phoenix Suns, it’s an easier prospect.”

The original vote was scheduled for Dec. 12 but was pushed back due to concern about the cost and source of the funding. The city held five open forums around Phoenix over the past month to educate citizens before the vote.

“Phoenix has become a world-class destination, but the fact is a world-class city needs to have world-class amenities,” Rowley said.

The project is expected to be completed before Aug. 1, 2021.

Emily Richardson

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