THE TOP 10 STORIES IN GLENDALE
By DARRELL JACKSON, The Glendale Star
As another year comes to a close, it is time to look back at the top 10 stories of 2017 that were most influential, controversial and discussed for the City of Glendale.
The year began with more Arizona Coyotes drama and ended with the majority of the city council ending the city’s partnership with Valley Metro on light rail plans; the entire year showed the city with a major turnaround and massive changes citywide. There was a major economic turnaround, the Tohono O’Odham Nation winning the war over their casino against the state, a shocking local resignation in Congress to join nationwide changes, and the first Final Four in Glendale, among others that moved our readers.
As we close 2017 and look forward to 2018, here are the top 10 stories, as selected by The Glendale Star that made the most noise during the past 12 months.
1. City continues economic turnaroundTwo years after the city was near bankruptcy, the city continued its major turnaround as it added more businesses, jobs and increased economic development with major announcements.
Glendale Chamber President Robert Heidt receives a 10-year extension.
When Heidt joined the chamber, it had 475 members in 2013. Every year since, they have welcomed more than 200 new members a year. The chamber is now 1,200 members strong, which makes it one of the largest in the state.
“We need the business community now more than ever. We make an impact, and we have influence,” Heidt said. “We’ve become that voice for what the pulse of the business community is. Organizations call us daily to weigh in. We’re shaping the future, having an impact on what the future has for us.”
Internally, Heidt said as the chamber team grows, they soon learn it is a member-first approach. When a member calls or walks through the door, the team pauses and asks, ‘How do we help that member?”
They now do the member testimonials that answer the question, “Why I am a Glendale Chamber of Commerce member.”
“Over and over, we have heard what impact we have,” Heidt said.
Attitude is great, but what about the financial stability?
“Our financial house is in order,” Heidt said. “We run the chamber like any other small business. We balance the budget, net neutral budgeting. That’s important for businesses to know. We’re a sound organization and committed to making this investment and putting into the community as a whole.”
There was a time when the chamber did not have the best relationship with city leaders, Heidt said.
That has changed and is now strong, he added.
“We agree to disagree, but figure out the best solution for our business community,” Heidt said. “What happens is, you continue to get recognized for your achievements.”
Heidt serves on a number of boards statewide, regionally and at the national level. In the chamber industry, there are a lot of openings, and Heidt has been approached by other chambers.
The rest of the storiesOther stories that were of importance in the city this year, but did not make our list was Rick LeVander being named Assistant Police Chief; Turner, Aldama and Tolmachoff announce re-election bids; council considers return of Jazz and Blues Festival; Tower Challenge honors 9/11 victims at Gila River Arena; water and sewer rates increase for first time since 2008-09; Erik Strunk leaves city to become Peoria deputy city manager.
IKEA was just one of the new developments that settled in Glendale this past year.
“There is a great deal of hard work that has gone into getting our city back on sound financial footing,” said Mayor Jerry Weiers during a city council meeting. “This will make a positive difference in the lives of Glendale citizens and I’m excited to keep the forward momentum going.”
2. Bond rating increases for second straight timeDuring a special announcement at the April 11 city council meeting, City Manager Kevin Phelps said Moody’s had increased the city’s bond rating from A2 to A1.
“We were just notified at 6:45 p.m. this evening the financial group Moody’s has upgraded our bond rating,” Phelps said. “This piggy-backs Standard and Poor’s rating upgrade last year to an A plus.”
Standard and Poor’s upgraded Glendale’s rating in March 2016 from a BBB+ to an A+.
In a press release, Moody’s announced it had “upgraded Glendale, Arizona’s GOULT rating to A1 from A2 ($135.1 million of debt affected). At this time, Moody’s also upgraded to A1 from A2 the city’s senior and subordinate lien general excise tax bond ratings ($246.7 and $189.9 million of debt affected, respectively). The transportation excise tax bond rating was affirmed at A2 ($77.6 million of debt affected). The rating outlooks remain stable.”
The upgrade of the GOULT rating to A1 primarily reflects sustained improvement in the city’s still modest financial position that benefits from positive economic trends and prudent management. The city’s tax base continues to grow soundly amid the region’s housing recovery. The city remains challenged by outsized fixed costs giving a high debt burden that significantly leverages excise taxes otherwise available for critical services, along with rising pension costs.
The upgrades to A1 for all of the general excise tax ratings reflects the city’s sound economic fundamentals benefiting from participation in the Phoenix metropolitan area and the city’s sports tourism attractions, along with a broad pledge of revenues that include economically-sensitive local sales tax and state-shared taxes. Maximum annual debt service coverage remains very strong, with support from the region’s ongoing economic recovery. Legal provisions are overall satisfactory, including monthly set asides for debt service.
“I am giddy about the bond rating,” Mayor Jerry Weiers said. “I remember couple years ago (Assistant City Manager Tom) Duensing saying to me that the biggest challenge would be to provide an increased bond rating that we had and you delivered on that and I want to congratulate you on that.”
3. Tohono O’odham finally gets liquor license, Class III gaming license, then breaks ground on new casinoIt was a joint effort; Tohono O’odham Nation and the State of Arizona issued a press release May 17, wherein they agreed to settle their dispute regarding the Desert Diamond Casino-West Valley.
Desert Diamond Casino-West Valley finally received its Class III gaming certification and liquor license.
Under the agreement, the Nation can now move forward with Class III gaming at its West Valley facility under an amended tribal-state gaming compact.
The state agreed to process the West Valley facility’s Class III gaming certification and liquor license. The state also agreed it will not oppose the Nation’s efforts to have its land immediately adjacent to the West Valley facility taken into trust.
For its part, the Nation agreed not to conduct Class II or Class III gaming anywhere else in a designated geographical area that includes metropolitan Phoenix during the term of the agreement.
More than eight years after the project was first announced, the Tohono O’odham Gaming Enterprise (TOGE) broke ground Dec.1 on the permanent, full-scale home for its Desert Diamond West Valley Casino. The new facility will feature a 75,000 square-foot casino floor with Class III slot machines, poker and blackjack tables, and live bingo, as well as five restaurants. Construction of the $400 million project will last an estimated 24 months.
Construction of the project is being headed by the Hunt/Penta Joint Venture as general contractor and will create more than 1,500 construction jobs.
Once complete, the full-scale casino will employ approximately 1,600 people. The facility is located on 54 acres of reservation land near the cities of Glendale and Peoria.
The full-scale casino will complement the region’s vibrant sports and entertainment attractions, including Glendale’s Westgate Entertainment District and Peoria’s P83 Entertainment District.
The Tohono O’odham Nation first announced the major casino project Jan. 29, 2009. The casino project faced significant challenges from special interests in court and in multiple attempts to move federal legislation to halt the project. All of these challenges failed and an interim casino opened to huge crowds Dec. 20, 2015. It employs nearly 600 people. The interim casino will continue operating during construction and then transition to use as a warehouse after the full-scale casino opens.
Edward Manuel, chairman of the Tohono O’odham Nation, said, “This facility will provide jobs and economic opportunity for members of the Tohono O’odham Nation, the West Valley, and Arizona. The Nation is proud of the partnerships we have forged in the region, which will only strengthen and grow as we move forward.”
4. Council ends light rail to downtown GlendaleAfter a failed attempt by Councilmembers Bart Turner and Jamie Aldama to table the council vote against light rail, Glendale City Council voted 5-2 to end participation in Valley Metro’s attempts to bring light rail to Downtown Glendale.
Before council voted to withdraw from the project, Turner asked for a vote to table the issue for more research.
“For item number 24, I move we table it to a future workshop, but I would like to hear the comments the public might have,” Turner said.
Aldama seconded Turner’s request..
“I do not favor tabling this issue at this time because there has been ongoing discussion on this item for years,” Councilmember Joyce Clark said. “I think it is time to bring it to resolution for all stakeholders involved.”
Mayor Jerry Weiers, Vice Mayor Ian Hugh and Councilmembers Ray Malnar, Lauren Tolmachoff and Clark voted against tabling, with Aldama and Turner voting in favor.
5. Trent Franks resignsAmid allegations of “inappropriate behavior,” Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona announced Dec. 7 that he would be resigning from Congress effective Jan. 31.
Just hours later, he issued an updated statement, pushing his resignation up by a month and a half.
“Last night, my wife was admitted to the hospital in Washington, D.C. due to an ongoing ailment. After discussing options with my family, we came to the conclusion that the best thing for our family now would be for me to tender my previous resignation effective today, Dec. 8, 2017.”
Gov. Doug Ducey announced the general election primary for Congressional District 8, which includes Glendale, will be held Feb. 27, 2018, with the general election to be held April 24, 2018.
In his initial statement, Franks said, “I have always tried to create a very warm and supportive atmosphere for every last person who has ever worked in my congressional office,” said Franks in a statement. “It is my deepest conviction that there are many staffers, former and present, who would readily volunteer to substantiate this fact.”
6. Stonehaven passes council vote after questions from Councilmember ClarkA full house packed the council chambers June 27 to voice their displeasure over possible changes to the Stonehaven development, with councilmembers listening, before voting to approve the changes to the project’s general plan.
Stonehaven development received council approval June 27, but not without controversy.
The measure passed as council approved the changes 5-2, with Councilmembers Joyce Clark and Ray Malnar voting against, while Mayor Jerry Weiers, Vice-Mayor Ian Hugh and Councilmembers Bart Turner, Lauren Tolmachoff and Jaime Aldama voted in favor.
“All of us on council were elected to represent all citizens of Glendale and make no bones about it, when Arrowhead residents came here and wanted no billboards, or not to sell Foothill Library, they were heard,” Clark said. “The addition of 200 homes increases the economic impact and only extends it, not makes it new, because the economic impact has been there since the beginning.”
In April 2016, Glendale City Council unanimously approved the original Stonehaven project, which would bring 1,161 single-family homes near Camelback Road and 91st Avenue. Pulte got the approval from council after asking for an adjustment to the project which would make the minimum lot size 4,000 square feet.
7. Arizona State University to move Thunderbird Graduate School to PhoenixThree years after Thunderbird Global Management School became part of Arizona State University, the school announced Dec. 12 it would be closing the Glendale location and moving the school to downtown Phoenix.
“I am disappointed in their decision and I explained that to them,” Mayor Jerry Weiers said. “At the same time, in the grand scheme of things, to have 400 students on over 100 acres of land does not make sense.”
Weiers said he found out about the move an hour before the announcement by ASU (around 11:30 a.m. Dec. 12), but was excited for the future of the land.
“I first heard about an hour and a half ago,” Weiers said. “About eight months ago, they had mentioned they wanted to sell the land around the campus, but an hour ago, they said they would be selling the entire area.”
ASU announced the move during a press conference with ASU President Michael Crow and Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton.
Crow said the geographic move reflects the strategic importance ASU places on Thunderbird and its role in the university’s global vision. He added that it also represents a significant investment in the school’s continued excellence long into their future.
“We have been operating a single school on a campus in Glendale and it has been a hard time making that work,” said Crow. “Downtown, we would have a cluster of schools together and this will make it easier for ASU.”
Crow added that the development of the Glendale property after the move would benefit both the city and school.
“We will work with the City of Glendale for a purpose to benefit both ASU and the city,” Crow said.
8. Final Four a huge success at University of Phoenix StadiumHundreds of thousands of fans packed the Valley over the weekend as Glendale played host to the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Final Four at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Mayor Jerry Weiers and Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton discuss public safety before the city held the 2017 Final Four.
Attendees and citizens were basking in the glow of another huge success for Glendale.
“This was just an amazing event to come to and watch some great championship basketball in Glendale,” said Joanna Showburt of Buckeye. “I was here at the last Super Bowl and now this, and I will say this, Glendale knows how to host a party.”
As gates opened April 1 at University of Phoenix Stadium, it was no fooling for fans as they quickly entered to find their seats for the semifinal games.
A full house attended the Final Four held at University of Phoenix Stadium as the city had great success with the event.
“This is just amazing, to see this stadium set up for basketball, wow,” said Juan Rodriguez of Peoria, decked out in full Oregon Ducks basketball gear. “I went to Oregon and to see the Ducks here in the Final Four, it is almost like a dream.”
Before the opening-tip off of the games, thousands of fans were treated to plenty of festivities around University of Phoenix Stadium and the entire Valley of the Sun.
Joseph Burns, a South Carolina fan who was at Saturday’s semifinals and also attended the free concert in Phoenix March 31, explained, “It’s a great, great experience from the free concert to game time. That’s why we came here from South Carolina for this.”
Fans lined up outside University of Phoenix Stadium for live interactive games and rides on the ferris wheel before the first game.
Glendale police said the weekend was a complete success with little or no increase in activity compared to a normal event at the stadium.
9. Friedline named second assistant city managerAfter three years as director of public works, Jack Friedline was promoted to assistant city manager effective Sept. 30.
Jack Friedline was promoted to assistant city manager.
Friedline, who had been director of public works since June 2014, will join Tom Duensing as assistant to City Manager Kevin Phelps.
“The promotion is part of an ongoing organizational realignment that will assist in better balancing managerial control and to ensure high performance from the organization,” Friedline said.
After a recent reorganization, the public works department transitioned into three departments: field operations, engineering and transportation. The promotion for Friedline increases his responsibility, while basically ending the public works department.
“The three new directors were my deputy public works directors, so the reporting structure essentially remains the same for them,” Friedline said. “But the responsibility will be distributed differently.”
Friedline’s promotion to a second assistant city manager to serve alongside current Assistant City Manager Duensing comes is part of the city’s ongoing strategic organizational realignment under Phelps’ direction.
“Mr. Friedline’s vast experience, positive attitude and strategic vision makes him the type of leader that this organization is fortunate to have,” Phelps said. “During his four-year tenure with the city, (Friedline’s) caring and approachable personality and high level of integrity, ethics, and professionalism have proven to be invaluable.”
As one of two assistant city managers, Friedline will oversee five city departments, managing almost 500 full-time employees, including field operations, transportation services, engineering, water services and development services.
“I will work with all five directors in reviewing current reporting standards and we will collaboratively, now and in the future, work to constantly improve communications both externally and internally,” Friedline said.
10. Chamber hires downtown manager and Heidt receives 10-year extensionAfter four months of searching, the Glendale Chamber of Commerce announced the hiring of Katy Engels as the new director of downtown development, then later in the year secured Chamber President Robert Heidt for an additional 10 years with a contract extension.
Katy Engels was selected as the new director of downtown development.
Engels has taken the position after the Chamber interviewed numerous candidates for the job.
“We had over 60 resumes submitted and did 10 face-to-face interviews and saw a great pool of candidates,” said Heidt. “Engels rose to the top because of her background of working with small businesses in the past.”
Engels joins the Glendale Chamber after being executive director of the Waterford, Wis. Chamber of Commerce. Waterford is a small village community with a business district similar in size to Historic Downtown Glendale. During her time in Waterford, Engels worked directly with the small, independent merchants that make up Waterford’s business community, as well as local and regional economic development and tourism agencies to assist with revitalization efforts.
“I grew up in Illinois and worked in parks and recreation for years before moving on to work for the Boys Scouts of America for 10 years, but have always had a love for serving,” Engels said. “After working in the financial district for eight years, I realized how much I missed serving and found the position in the Wisconsin chamber.”
City council voted unanimously May 23 to approve a five-year contract for $610,510 for the creation of a new downtown manager that will fall under the supervision of Glendale Chamber of Commerce in a public-private partnership.
In November, Heidt celebrated his fourth anniversary as president and CEO of the Glendale Chamber of Commerce, then got an early Christmas gift when the chamber board of directors gave him a new 10-year extension on his contract.