DALLAS — Sponsors of a proposed $800 million amusement park in Arizona with a rock-and-roll theme will ask the state Legislature to establish a taxing district to support bonds for the project. The Decades Music Theme Park would be built on 300 acres in Pinal County near the town of Eloy, midway between Phoenix and Tucson. The proposed park would include rides with a musical theme, including a train called the Grand Funk Railroad to transport guests around the facility, as well as a resort hotel and a large concert hall.The Eloy City Council has endorsed a proposal by developers to finance up to $550 million of the total $800 million cost with proceeds from bonds supported by a 9% sales tax levied within the park. Councilors unanimously adopted a resolution calling on lawmakers and Gov. Janet Napolitano to support legislation authorizing the establishment of a theme park and support facility district for the project. The district would be authorized to issue revenue bonds supported by the sales tax of up to 9%.The district’s sales tax would be in addition to the current 9.6% sales tax in Eloy, which includes the state’s 5.6% tax, Pinal County’s 1% tax, and Eloy’s 3% sales tax. Eloy also levies a 3% hotel tax.
The proposed enabling legislation is similar to that passed by the Legislature in 2005 to provide financing for a proposed and still unbuilt $3 billion amusement park in northern Arizona near the Grand Canyon with the additional 9% sales tax. The law allows developers to issue $1 billion of bonds through the district, but only after obtaining $500 million in private investments.Jason Rose, a spokesman for the music park developers, said sponsors would prefer new legislation instead of amending the current law. “We’re looking for additional flexibility,” Rose said. “The original legislation restricted the taxing district to only Coconino and Maricopa counties, and we want to include Pinal County, which is one of the fastest growing counties in the country.” In addition, Rose said, sponsors want to reduce the private-public financing ratio in the original legislation.“For one thing, there’s no way this project is going to cost as much as the Grand Canyon proposal,” he said. “What if the project is scaled back? Why should we be required to raise $500 million before we could issue bonds when the price tag is far below that level?”Kevin DeMenna, the lobbyist for the developers, said the preliminary draft of the enabling legislation would require $100 million in private equity investment before the revenue bonds could be issued.“We’re not asking for a 9% sales tax, but a sales tax of up to 9%,” he said. “It’s important to realize the existing sales taxes will not be displaced and government revenues will not be reduced. This is not a tax incremental finance district.”The special district would own the property and lease it to the developers until the bonds mature, DeMenna said, making the park exempt from state income and property taxes.Rose said the proposed enabling legislation would be drafted through prolonged discussions with interested parties before the legislature convenes in mid-January. The proposed site, near the intersection of interstate highways I-8 and I-10, is an ideal location, Rose said. “The developers already own or control hundreds of acres, and it is an hour from the Phoenix airport and an hour from the Tucson airport,” he said. Eloy, with a population of approximately 11,700, is 65 miles from downtown Phoenix and 60 miles from downtown Tucson. The proposed site is adjacent to Eloy Municipal Airport, home of the largest skydiving resort facility in the world, which attracts almost 200,000 visitors a year.A feasibility study of the Eloy project by amusement park consultant Peter Alexander of Totally Fun Co. said the music park could attract more than six million visitors a year. That’s about as many visitors as the Universal Studios amusement park in Orlando draws each year and two million more than San Diego’s SeaWorld draws. The study said an estimated 5.9 million people will live within a 150-mile radius of the park by 2012, when the project is scheduled for completion. “That’s a very conservative study,” Rose said. “He [Alexander] thinks this is a project whose time has come.”Alexander is part of the design team that is developing the overall concept and the various venues in the park.The park will consist of interconnected areas representing specific eras of rock music, with interactive rides, live music, and other attractions. The initial decades to be featured in the first phase include the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.The complex also would include an 850-room hotel, a 17,000-seat concert arena, and 122,000 square feet of retail space.Licensing agreements with the appropriate musicians and record companies are awaiting legislative action on the revised law, Rose said.