Opinion: Wants to see leadership, progress in Surprise City Center development

The entrance sign to the Surprise Civic Center (Independent Newsmedia file)

What do you think?

What kinds of commercial, retail and residential development would you like to see around City Hall in Surprise?

Share your ideas and opinions in the comments below or email wvnews@newszap.com.

Dear Surprise Today editor:

I’ve been a resident of Surprise for more than 30 years. I’ve seen a lot that’s gone on, from the inside.

I guess that’s because a I care enough to ask and not believe everything that’s fed to me. So, before the media should write one single word about Surprise City Center, it needs to ask a lot of questions – and get verifiable answers.

The media should never accept the word of Rick West. Rick West has taken advantage of the Surprise taxpayers for two decades. And not just at City Center.

Past city council members, previous mayors and dozens of city staff have been no match for him. Mayor Sharon Wolcott is the first one to ever dare cross Rick West in his effort to siphon hundreds of millions in public funds to benefit his land banking strategy for the property around City Hall.

Mayor Wolcott called him on his elaborate schemes to manipulate the City Council and mislead our residents. It was Mayor Wolcott who worked with the city of Phoenix to put the deed restrictions and avigation decisions into the hands of our City Council, to once again protect the taxpayers, now and into the future.

Had she not, the whole property would have disappeared into just another neighborhood of single family homes. If Rick West had intended to develop this land as a real “downtown,” it would have happened a long time ago.

He had all the authority he needed to sell his dirt to commercial and retail developers, in line with the city’s vision to bring jobs, entertainment and sales tax to cover the city’s services!

Instead, he brought us a little row of chain restaurants on Bell Road to try and satisfy us in the short run, then strung barbed wire around the rest of City Center to run cattle – another rip-off scheme called an agricultural tax shelter.

The Surprise Center Development Company was created as a public/private partnership to build a city center. After 20 years, our City Council all decided to sue the partnership for failing to do what they agreed to.

Rick West insists that the city was trying to steal “his” land. Read the lawsuit and you will realize that is another lie. And it’s not Rick’s land. He is the managing partner, but a minor shareholder. He holds shares with some 20 other investors in only one third of SCDC. The other two thirds of the shares are split between Sun Health Corp., and the McKee family.

There’s no question, the lawsuit was expensive; but the settlement agreement was even more so. But while it may have cost the taxpayers a lot, think of what we’ve lost. What is the cost of this lost opportunity? It has to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars by now.

Would anyone care to ask? (Surprise Today) At least pushing SCDC into a negotiating position offers us a chance to generate some progress and real development.

Our mayor and council just want quality projects that will benefit our city and our residents’ quality of life. They want development that generates revenue for the city and helps offset the property tax burden to our residents.

It’s just a myth that single family homes generate revenue. Fact is they are a net loss to the city, and that’s us. Which is just one reason they were specifically excluded in the original Planned Area Development, which is still in effect.

It was Mayor Wolcott who defended the PAD. It was Skip Hall who defended Rick West’s effort to ignore this 20-year-old agreement with the city in order to build single family homes on City Center. The additional burden to the taxpayers would have been a real tragedy. I know Mayor Wolcott is worried that’s exactly what will happen when she is no longer mayor of Surprise. I asked her.

It’s Mayor Wolcott who is now holding SCDC accountable to develop a master plan that can be “co-marketed” with the city to build a real downtown. One that includes mixed-use and residential densities that will support it.

It is Rick West who refuses to participate in these discussions about a master plan. It is Skip Hall who is again taking sides with Rick West and questioning the mayor’s leadership.

It is the two partners who control a majority of shares in SCDC who are working with the mayor and all of the rest of City Council to develop a master plan that accomplishes the city’s goals.

Councilman Hall, I hope you change your tune and sit in on these meetings soon. It’s your job to help solve this, not stand on the sidelines with Rick West.

I hear the partners are now suing each other. How much delay will that cause while the taxpayers are still waiting for their city center? If Rick West has his way, they will be waiting another quarter century, or even longer.

Wake up, Surprise. You’re being duped by Rick West and his mouthpieces who continue to tell his tale. I hope the media stops playing into his hands. The residents deserve the truth.

So, the media, political candidates and anyone who truly cares about the truth, need to demand answers to these questions of the cities of Surprise and Phoenix and SCDC. If anyone asks Rick West, you’ll get one of two things: 1. Silence, or 2. A list of nonsense that doesn’t match with the record.

I have been here 30 years, and, yes, I have seen the dirty underbelly.

Let’s support our mayor and council’s efforts to get this done, finally! We’ve waited long enough.

Mike Planeta, Surprise



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