Five East Valley legislators Thursday joined the Mesa Riverview at Dobson opposition group backed by Eddie Basha and Dan Harkins.
Two Mesa state senators and three Gilbert lawmakers whose district includes a portion of southeast Mesa announced their opposition the same day the Mesa Convention and Visitors Bureau joined other city groups in endorsing the project.
Also, Valley Business Owners (And Concerned Citizens), which launched the referendum drive, reported a $90,000 contribution Thursday from Harkins Amusement Enterprises and a $2,025 contribution from Bashas’.
Sens. Marilyn Jarrett, R-Mesa; Karen Johnson, R-Mesa; Thayer Verschoor, R-Gilbert; and Reps. Andy Biggs and Eddie Farnsworth, both R-Gilbert, slammed the estimated $80 million incentive package the opposition group has deemed a "subsidy for the Wal-Martanchored freeway development."
But Riverview developers Kimco Developers and De Rito Partners Development said there will be no taxpayer assistance for Wal-Mart. Also, their campaign spokesman Doug Cole said Harkins has benefited in the past from shopping center incentives and is trying to stop the Riverview project to keep the Cinemark chain out of the market and help his Tempe Marketplace theater two miles away.
On May 17, Mesa voters will cast their ballots on Propositions 300, 301 and 302. If approved, the Riverview at Dobson project at Loop 202 and Dobson Road is expected to include a Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World, 16-screen Cinemark movie theater, "big-box" retailers with a probable Wal-Mart, auto dealerships and a business park.
Farnsworth and Biggs said they oppose the project because of the economic incentives. Jarrett, Johnson and Verschoor did not return phone calls.
"The problem (with incentives) is government is using its power to pick winners and losers," Farnsworth said.
Mesa Councilman Mike Whalen, a supporter of the Riverview project, called the legislators’ announcement "disturbing."
"I’d respectfully ask them to work on their projects and stay out of Mesa projects," Whalen said. "This is a war, we have to understand it, but . . . we don’t need legislators jumping in and endorsing. That’s not their job."
Harkins declined to speak with the Tribune, but did issue a statement.
"I have invested millions in Mesa over the years and do not think it is fair to my business, Mr. Basha’s business or Fiesta Mall, among many other businesses, to give some of the wealthiest companies in the world such a huge taxpayer handout to hurt us, our employees and Mesa taxpayers," Harkins said.
Bashas’ spokeswoman Diana Medina said Basha was unavailable for comment, but "Eddie Basha is opposed to taxpayer-funded subsidies for ‘big-box’ retailers."
Harkins Theatres spokesman Jason Rose said the company has not received taxpayer incentives at any site in the East Valley.
But Cole said Harkins Theatres have been built at or near sites that have been offered economic incentives, including Tempe Marketplace, Chandler Fashion Center, S cottsdale Fashion Square, Arizona Mills mall and Superstition Springs Center.
"(Harkins) has facilities in major successful shopping venues that would not have gotten out of the ground without incentives," Cole said.
Kimco Developers president Jerry Friedman said there are ongoing negotiations with Wal-Mart and a lease is likely, but no incentives will go to the company.
The development agreements approved by the Mesa City Council for the Riverview developers state: "Developer agrees that no economic incentive payments shall be paid by developer to any owner of a ‘Wal-Mart’ or ‘Sam’s Club’ store."
Friedman said they will honor their contractual obligation, which if violated would terminate the agreements.
But Rose said that statement was included in the agreement for political reasons and does not reflect reality.
"It’s a shell game, semantics, moving money around," Rose said.
In addition to the Mesa Convention and Visitors Bureau, Riverview at Dobson has received the endorsement of the Mesa Chamber of Commerce, Mesa Grande Community Alliance that represents west Mesa neighborhoods, and the Mesa police and fire unions.
Robert Brinton, executive director of the Mesa visitors bureau, said the Riverview development will drive business and tourism in Mesa.