While the Mesa City Council approved an initial agreement to bring Arizona State University to downtown Mesa on Feb. 26, many residents and the Mesa Police Association protested the 5-2 vote. Councilmen Kevin Thompson and Jeremy Whittaker voted against the agreement at last week’s meeting.
Citing education as a priority, Mayor John Giles said this agreement with ASU would be “the first step in bringing an anchor institution downtown” and he continues to support the proposed project.
“ASU’s presence will attract businesses, people, restaurants and entertainment,” Giles said. “It will also create synergy with the downtown campuses of Mesa Community College, Northern Arizona University and Benedictine University, and provide more opportunities for higher education to our residents.”
This is the second time the Mesa City Council has approved an agreement to bring ASU to downtown Mesa. In 2016, they sent it to voters who didn’t support a sales tax hike to provide funding for the ASU campus, but it was tied to addressing public safety pension costs on the ballot. While a cost estimate is not yet available, this most recent agreement is said to be scaled back by half. The previous proposal was estimated to cost $102 million.
The next step is for Mesa city officials and ASU to work out a budget and lease agreement that will go back to City Council for approval.
Under the voted upon agreement last week, Mesa is responsible for the cost of constructing the ASU building on city-owned land at Pepper Place and Centennial Way, across from City Hall. The agreement says ASU must design the interior of the building and bring a minimum of 750 students and 40 faculty and staff members.
Councilman Thompson told MyNewsMesa that in speaking with his constitutes he found out that if the 2016 ballot vote would have been separated, voters would have overwhelmingly supported the public safety portion but not the ASU downtown facility.
“First and foremost, the voters told us in 2016, by a 53 percent vote, that they don’t want to use public dollars to fund ASU. I will continue to represent the citizens of my district that have told me they do not support this project,” he said. “I don’t like the fact that ASU has no skin in this game. The cost will be hung around the necks of the voters until the debt is paid.”
Thompson emphasized that he’s “not exactly sure what we’re chasing” with the ASU agreement.
“The target moves, and each week we find out something new,” he added. “We are moving way too fast, and I think, before we spend any taxpayer dollars, we need to have an honest discussion of what we’re after, how will it really be funded, what are the risks to the citizens, and what are our expectations, and what impact will this have on public safety, traffic, parking, etc. None of those issues have even remotely been discussed.”
– Kelly Mixer is managing editor of MyNewsMesa.com. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.