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Pressure group drops campaign for Suns arena vote

The controversial $230m (£177.4m/€201.9m) arena renovation plan designed to keep the Phoenix Suns in the US city is set to proceed as planned after an effort to take the project to the voters was dropped.

Phoenix City Council last month approved the deal for the NBA basketball team’s Talking Stick Resort Arena, but was met by opposition. The Common Sense Phoenix group immediately launched a referendum campaign which aimed to get the deal on a ballot later this year and ultimately allow the people of Phoenix to have the final say.

The Arizona Republic newspaper said attorneys for Phoenix sent the group a letter late last week warning that the city clerk would not accept its petitions because only “legislative acts” are subject to referendum. The city did not believe the arena deal fell under this requirement and the group said yesterday (Tuesday) that it would end its campaign.

“After careful consideration and long conversations with my clients, we have decided to pull the plug on our petition effort to refer the Phoenix Suns arena deal to the ballot,” Petition Partners owner Drew Chavez said.

“We thank the thousands of voters who signed the petitions over the past week. Rather than press ahead with a bitter conflict, we believe it is time for the city to move forward to more important issues and less partisan battles.”

Having opened in 1992, the arena is one of the oldest NBA facilities and the Suns have long been seeking either an improved, or new, home. Franchise relocation had been hinted at before the deal was confirmed last month.

The deal spells out that Phoenix will be responsible for $150m of the renovation cost, with the Suns paying for the remainder. The city owns the facility and the Suns will continue to pay rent to use the arena, while maintaining the right to operate and maintain the building, including booking concerts and other events.

Following the renovation project, which has been earmarked to take place between 2019 and 2021, the city will pay $2m annually over 12-and-a-half years into a fund ringfenced for future arena improvements. The Suns will pay $1m per year over the same period. The team will also build a new practice facility, at a cost of between $25m to $50m, in the city.

The Suns are committed to staying in downtown Phoenix through 2037, with an option to extend the lease to 2042. If they leave before 2037, they will be forced to pay an exit fee of $200m.

Commenting on Tuesday’s development, Phoenix spokeswoman Julie Watters said: “City staff is continuing to move forward with next steps to renovate the arena based on the ordinances the council approved on January 23, 2019.”

Image: Downtown Phoenix