By Mark Carlisle
Camelback Ranch may soon, finally, become what Glendale had hoped it would be.
When the city decided to build the spring training facility 12 years ago, they planned for hundreds of acres of commercial and residential development around the park. However, months after Glendale finalized agreements for the park, the Great Recession hit, the company meant to build the development went bankrupt and the buildout around Camelback Ranch never materialized.
As spring training home of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox now approaches its 10th anniversary, the city’s original vision for the complex, or something like it, may soon finally be realized.
“It was a long time coming, but I think what we envisioned there will take shape over the next couple of years, and you will see a totally different book to that area in a couple of years,” said Glendale Vice Mayor Joyce Clark of the Yucca District, the only current member of City Council who was on Council for the 2007 vote.
The leading reason for the expected development is the extension of Ballpark Boulevard, the only road into the complex, to join with Maryland Avenue. The extension, planned to be completed by Spring 2020, will connect Camelback Ranch more closely to the rest of Glendale’s Sports and Entertainment District, which includes State Farm Stadium, Gila River Arena, Westgate Entertainment District, Tanger Outlets and the newly opened Topgolf. The city and the spring training facility anticipate development will occur along the new route.
“The expectation and the goal for everyone is that that creates a development corridor that’s really going to explode over the next few years,” said Scott Carter, director of marketing and corporate partnerships for Camelback Ranch.
Ms. Clark also sees the one-mile extension of the road as key to future development.
“It’s taken a long time, but I think with the construction of Ballpark Boulevard… that will create the connectivity between Westgate and Camelback Ranch, which has been sorely needed,” she said.
Some development has already begun around the facility. Mattamy Homes has been approved for a 67-acre, 207-home development directly north of the ballpark. This development is the reason for Ballpark Boulevard’s extension to ease traffic around the homes during busy spring training days. With only one entrance to Camelback Ranch, traffic to Ballpark Boulevard will back up onto Loop 101 a mile and a half away on some spring training days.
The cost for the road extension will be split between Mattamy Homes, Glendale, the Dodgers and the White Sox.
There’s planned development closer to the ballpark, too, though no concrete steps have been taken yet.
Camelback Ranch is in Phoenix, just south of the Glendale border, on land owned by Glendale. Last year, Glendale purchased from Phoenix two land parcels around the facility. The purchase was scheduled in the original agreement between the cities.
Glendale plans to sell the two parcels, plus two it already owned, to Camelback Ranch Spring Training LLC, which operates the facility, for development.
Camelback Ranch has not announced any plans for the use of the land, totaling 37 acres, but does plan to develop it.
“It’s going to be a big part of the future of the complex, and something we’re excited about,” Mr. Carter said. “But we’re going to make sure that we make the right moves and we’re smart about what development goes there. But it’s certainly something that’s exciting for the future.”
Last year, Camelback Ranch president and manager Jeff Overton said his company will “try to find a compliment to the ballpark, the neighborhood and to the city.”
At the time of last year’s land purchase, before plans to extend Ballpark Boulevard, Assistant City Manger Tom Duensing foresaw development between Camelback Ranch and Westgate and hoped it would be sparked by development closer to the park.
“Between the spring training facility and the Westgate Entertainment District, that area is prime for development, quality development,” Mr. Duensing said. “And so one of the things, if development starts to occur around the facility, the hope is development will start to occur between it and Westgate.”
While its unclear which area will be developed first, the city and Camelback Ranch anticipate development in both areas, transforming the facility into an entirely different place, but not one unlike what the city first envisioned for the ballpark.
When Glendale decided to build Camelback Ranch in 2007, it anticipated more than 200 acres of commercial and residential development to help fund it. The bulk of that development, called Main Street, was to include an 18-hole golf course, a USA Basketball facility, office space, shopping and a resort. However, while the spring training facility opened in 2009, Main Street’s developer, Rightpath, went bankrupt in 2012, and the development was never built.
Another project, CBD 101, to be developed by the Bidwell family, who own the Cardinals, also never got off the ground. It was to include a 40-story office building, a hotel, retail and housing. Millard and Seldin bought the property from the Bidwell’s in 2012.
“When the recession hit and all those developments went away, we were stuck with the debt and no way to pay it other than the general fund and the way we’re doing it now, which we have quite a bit of debt on it,” said former Councilwoman Yvonne Knaack who voted for the ballpark in 2007.
Debt service payments on Camelback Ranch were one of many causes for the draw down of Glendale’s general fund, which reached nearly negative $30 million before rebounding to north of $40 million where it is today.
Glendale Budget and Finance Director Vicki Rios noted the city’s payments to the NHL while the league controlled the Coyotes in 2009-2013, which totaled about $50 million, were a bigger reason for the drawdown of reserve funds.
It cost $150.8 million to build Camelback Ranch, according to Ms. Rios, with the Dodgers and White Sox kicking in $10.2 million. The Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority shared the rest of the cost with Glendale.
Without the planned developments to help foot the bill, Camelback Ranch has been a money pit for Glendale thus far. As interest has accrued, Glendale and AZSTA have $180 million still to pay on the complex.
Thus far, Glendale has had to foot the bill itself. AZSTA was scheduled to begin payments to Glendale for the stadium in 2017, but sales tax revenues fell below projections and payments are now planned to start in fiscal year 2021.
Glendale took out $200 million in bonds to pay for the stadium. The extra $50 million was to pay down interest because of a delay in sales tax revenue while the development was being built. Much of the expected sales tax revenue never came because Main Street and CBD 101 were never built.
The city will pay $10.4 million in debt service in the current fiscal year, $8.4 million of which will go toward paying down interest.
Ms. Knaack, pointing out that Glendale was on solid financial footing at the time and the planned developments would have helped pay for the stadium, said Council made a wise decision at the time with the information available. However, had she been able to see the recession coming, she would have voted differently.
“Now would I have voted on it knowing what I know? Heavens, no,” Ms. Knaack said.
The situation could be worse for Glendale though. As the city’s bond rating has improved in recent years, the city has been able to refinance many of its bonds for better interest rates.
Ms. Rios also pointed out that while the sales tax revenue from Main Street and CBD 101 never came, the city has had healthy sales tax revenues overall thanks to other areas. Ms. Rios stressed the city has never had a problem making its debt service payments.
While the revenues from development around Camelback Ranch were planned to contribute to debt service, the city was never reliant on them.
“If a development occurs (around Camelback Ranch), it will just be a nice boost to the city in general, but the payments were never tied to that specific development. A plan is a plan, and if it doesn’t come through, you have to make a new plan,” Ms. Rios said.
Camelback Ranch has also helped drive activity to areas like Westgate that have produced well for the city, Ms. Rios said.
“In the surrounding area, in welcoming the visitors to the hotels and the restaurants and the retail that we have in Glendale, we can’t quantify it so well, but it is having an impact,” she said.
The city hopes its expectations of what the area around Camelback Ranch could be will soon become a reality.
“Back then, we were sold a vision that we were told would occur immediately. That did not happen, and I think everyone has been disappointed and concerned about that situation,” Ms. Clark said. “I do know that the current Council and the city manager have taken a strong look at that area, and we have done what we can to empower that vision for that area. And I think what we have done in conjunction with what the (land) owners’ vision is for that area and their willingness to now move forward, will finally create the synergy to create the kind of development we had anticipated but never saw happen a long time ago.”