Here's how downtown Phoenix's success cost taxpayers more than $3 billion

The Arizona Republic
Thursday, October 25, 2018
Jessica Boehm and Rachel Leingang

Phoenix has pumped more than $3 billion of taxpayer money into the revitalization of downtown over the past 30 years.

The sports arenas that bring people to the city center, the transit system that connects downtown to the East Valley, the university campus that serves about 12,000 students and even some of the office buildings and apartment complexesare all due to significant public investment.

Downtown Phoenix has evolved from a decaying ghost town in the 80s and 90s to one of the trendiest places for late-night merriment and one of the priciest places to live in the Valley.

There's no question downtown is more economically vibrant than it was before the public footed the bill for some major projects. But some wonder whether the rebirth of downtown was inevitable even without such significanttaxpayer assistance.

"I think that's almost impossible to say, but I will say that the market would have more efficiently allocated resources than the city of Phoenix has done picking winners and losers in the downtown area," Goldwater Institute Director of National Litigation Jon Riches said.

Former Mayor Skip Rimsza disagreed.

"I think that anyone who suggests that this all could have happened without public investment is just silly," he said.

Arizona State University President Michael Crow said public money helped prove to skeptics and private developers that downtown could thrive. He doesn't think downtown revitalization would have happened without public investment, and it wouldn't have been as sweet without ASU.

"If you build a cake and there's no sugar, yeah, it looks like a cake, but it doesn't taste very good. So I think that we are an essential ingredient to the success of downtown Phoenix," Crow said.