Should Phoenix spend $500M on cultural center, fire stations and more? Voters may decide

Madeleine Parrish
Arizona Republic
On Tuesday morning, the Phoenix City Council will select an interim council member to represent south Phoenix for the next seven months.

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Corrections & Clarifications: The City Council vote on the bond program is scheduled Dec. 13. The date was incorrect in a previous version of the article.

A Latino cultural center in Hance Park, renovations to affordable housing units, and heat resiliency programs are among dozens of projects that may receive funding from Phoenix’s proposed general obligation bond program. 

A $500 million proposal for the program will go to the Phoenix City Council next week. The bond program is primarily intended to renovate or replace existing city facilities and includes upgrades to parks, libraries, senior centers, streets and fire stations.

If approved by the council, it will go to voters in November 2023. 

The proposal to the City Council comes after months of deliberation about what project should be funded. Over the course of almost three dozen meetings, council-appointed groups selected 47 projects to prioritize for bond money. 

From the beginning, city leaders anticipated tough decisions and acknowledged that deferred maintenance needs across Phoenix far exceed the funding the bonds will provide. Phoenix hasn't requested general obligation bonds in 16 years.

The roughly three-month funding prioritization process required members of eight subcommittees — divided by topics such as arts, economic development, public safety, and parks — to halve a $1 billion list of potential projects identified by city staff. Some projects that ultimately won favor were not recommended by city staff but were instead introduced and pushed to the forefront through public comment.

The Phoenix City Council holds a meeting on June 26, 2019.

The bond program is not expected to prompt a rise in property tax rates as long as it doesn’t exceed $500 million. The City Council vote is scheduled for Dec. 13. 

Rio Salado land, traffic deaths, fire stations

Since the bond program cannot address all deferred maintenance needs across Phoenix, city leaders aim to prioritize the most urgent needs. In the list of recommended projects going before the City Council next week, most funding is allocated to citywide projects and projects located in Districts 7 or 8, which cover west and south Phoenix. 

The proposal includes funding for projects that have been years in the making, including over $23 million for land acquisition along the Rio Salado to advance the city’s longstanding “Rio Reimagined” vision and over $21 million for a 22,000-square-foot Latino Cultural Center at Hance Park, a project that stems from 2001 when voters approved bond funding to promote knowledge and appreciation of Latino culture.

It also allocates almost $17 million toward implementing the Vision Zero strategy to eliminate traffic deaths, $14 million to make city facilities more energy and water efficient and over $33 million for affordable housing renovations. 

In addition, the proposal recommends money for the first phase of developing an Estrella Village civic space, which received public support throughout the decision-making process. The proposed development in southwest Phoenix would eventually include a library, a park, a community center and an aquatic center.

Public safety projects were allocated the largest share of the potential bond money in the recommendation to the City Council. The replacement of the Cactus Park Police Precinct has the highest price tag in the bond program, with an allocation of over $37 million. In addition, four fire stations have been identified as priorities, totaling more than $83 million. 

Phoenix mayor Kate Gallego gets ready for a city council meeting.

Public input tips the scales

In the crowded competition for funding, public support sometimes made a difference in which projects made the cut and were included in the recommendation to the City Council.

Enhancements to Esteban Park in south Phoenix were identified by city staff as a future need, meaning they were not a priority for this bond cycle. But south Phoenix resident Dana Burns, who served on the parks and recreation subcommittee, successfully lobbied for a recreation center at the park to be included in the final recommendation list. 

“The families who live right next door to Esteban Park, at Esteban Park Apartments, those families were the greatest supporters,” Burns said. “And having a place for those kids to go, after-school programs, that’s the greatest need.” 

Nearby resident Faray Gibson agreed the park could use improvements.

“There’s a lot of gravel in the back. It just looks like a halfway-done park,” Gibson said. “There’s tons of kids around here, and it would be awesome to see them out at an actual rec center being involved in activities for the community and themselves.” 

The recommendation to the City Council sets aside around $4.5 million for Esteban Park’s recreation center. 

Other ideas introduced by community members that made it into the proposal going to the City Council include partial funding to improve Phoenix Theater Company’s accessibility and develop an ASU Health Technology Center. 

As anticipated, the recommendation to the City Council leaves out many deferred maintenance needs.

Some projects that received public support ultimately did not make it into the final proposal, including Laveen residents' request for improvements to the Laveen Area Conveyance Channel

The recommendation to City Council suggests two additional projects that should be considered if additional funding becomes available. Those projects are improvements to Symphony Hall and an expansion of the Parsons Center for Health and Wellness.

Moving forward, the city anticipates requesting general obligation bonds every five years.

Madeleine Parrish covers south Phoenix for The Arizona Republic. Reach her at and follow her on Twitter @maddieparrish61.