“My Turn” on the Entertainment District

The Republic named Scottsdale’s downtown Entertainment District the number one story of 2011. Several people have asked for copies of the My Turn column by yours truly on this subject that appeared in the Scottsdale Republic today. As you may know, the Republic doesn’t publish these electronically on AZCentral. I’m not sure why, but here’s what I sent in:

The “numbers” aren’t bogus. Making them the focus of the issue is.

Arguments about the supposed economic windfall of Scottsdale’s so-called “Entertainment District” are a complete distraction from the real question: Should we ignore intelligent city planning for the benefit of a few favored property owners?

The most fundamental purpose of zoning is to separate incompatible land uses. In the case of the Entertainment District, one of the most intense uses (a critical mass of nightlife venues) was installed literally across the street from one of the least intense land uses: A retirement community. No rational person would say this was a good idea.

The residents of the area weren’t the ones who tried to bolster their objections with economic arguments. Those were justifications by the Mayor and City Council majority to continue to approve bars and nightclubs in the face of overwhelming opposition. So, an astute leader posed the question to the staff member who has the evidence. Guess what? The numbers don’t support the justification.

Now the city planners and economists on the Arizona Republic editorial staff say resident objections are unfounded because, “the numbers are bogus?” Ok, what are your numbers? You don’t have any numbers because you haven’t done any analysis. But the bars are doing one. Hmmm.

Downtown Scottsdale was a tourist destination for decades before the Entertainment District. The vast majority of participants in Entertainment District activities are not tourists; they do not eat in the dozens of restaurants or stay in the half-dozen hotels in the area that pre-date the Entertainment District. Whatever the economic contribution of the hotels and the real restaurants, attributing it to the entertainment venues is simply dishonest and self-delusional. Many say the bars have hurt their business.

If Scottsdale’s leaders were critical consumers of information, the question of economic contribution would have been asked and answered before alienating several entire neighborhoods. Instead (to paraphrase a famous quote) the mayor and council use statistics like a drunkard uses a streetlight post: For support rather than illumination.

Statements like, ‘Police haven’t increased staffing downtown as the entertainment district took off,’ are more of the same. If SPD hasn’t increased staffing it’s because, a) we had too many officers sitting around doing nothing before the Entertainment District was implemented (which I do NOT believe), or, b) they’ve been pulled off other duties like patrolling neighborhoods (which might explain why we have so many residential break-ins lately). There are no other alternatives.

Beyond the question of whether the ED pays for itself (which it does not, regardless of how you parse the statistics), there is one huge false premise here: That destroying peaceful enjoyment of your home is OK as long as the offenders pay their way. It isn’t (and they don’t).

The solution to the problem at hand is easy: Clear standards and the will to enforce them. Our mayor and city council can’t deliver this simple solution. Let’s elect leaders this fall who can.

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