We’ve been outspoken supporters of public infrastructure improvements to Sierra Vista’s West End.
Plans call for developing a new “streetscape” on Fry Boulevard west of Seventh Street. Traffic will be narrowed to two lanes, multi-use paths will be installed and landscape features will be added to convert the area into a pedestrian-friendly spot, with hopes for retail development to follow.
Last week’s announcement that the City of Sierra Vista is spending $230,000 for a parcel measuring about 1.4 acres is a new wrinkle to the West End plan and has us wondering whether this hasty move is the best idea.
As stated previously in this space, it’s never a good idea for municipalities to get into the real estate business. The consequences include the elimination of property tax revenue and in this case, the loss of a small amount of city sales tax.
We’ve watched for years as a previous city venture into real estate has floundered. The donation of King’s Court, just off East Busby at 3514 Kings Court Drive, remains an unsold parcel. City officials initially considered renovating the property and several purchase offers have been considered, but seven years since its acquisition the property remains unsold. Today, the city owns a dilapidated, unkempt building where the homeless frequently roam, while the courts are utilized by a local tennis organization that pays to keep the lights on.
Also disturbing about the decision to purchase the property at the southeast corner of Fry Boulevard and Fab Avenue is the lack of a specific plan. Though council members have discussed utilizing the property for parking and public events, Mayor Rick Mueller indicated he will wait until next year to hold a strategy session after newly-elected council members are seated.
Most of the money needed to accomplish the street and landscape improvements on the West End is being provided from state and federal sources. Until this property acquisition, Sierra Vista taxpayers could take comfort in knowing that these renovations are not being funded from city revenues. This property acquisition changes that perception.
There’s also frustration that this action was taken with little public discussion. Before accepting the magnanimous donation of King’s Court, a five-acre property valued at more than $1 million, council members held public hearings and gathered input from citizens on whether the acquisition was a good idea.
That didn’t happen this time.
Council members met in special session Tuesday afternoon and approved what City Manager Chuck Potucek presented, a comfortable routine that not only lacked public input but apparently didn’t raise an eyebrow among our elected officials.
After all, it’s just $230,000, plus the cost of demolition, plus future costs to renovate the property as part of the West End project, plus the loss of property tax and sale tax revenues.
No big deal.