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Construction begins on hotel near ASU, AG Mark Brnovich tried to derail

Officials celebrated on Friday the groundbreaking of a 16-story hotel under construction near Arizona State University; a project Mark Brnovich is trying to thwart.
Credit: Omni Hotels
A rendering of the 16-story hotel under construction on the Arizona State University campus in downtown Tempe. It is expected to open in 2023.

TEMPE, Ariz — The ground was broken on Friday at the site where a 16-story hotel will go up on the Arizona State University campus in downtown Tempe.

ASU is partnering with Omni Hotels & Resorts to develop a 330-room hotel near University Drive and Mill Avenue. Once it opens in 2023, the Omni hotel will feature several dining outlets, retail shops, a pool deck and meeting rooms. 

The development has been heavily scrutinized in recent years by Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who objects to ASU inviting a for-profit project onto tax-exempt land owned by the Arizona Board of Regents. 

Brnovich's office filed a lawsuit in 2019 arguing the hotel deal violated the Arizona Constitution's gift clause because the hotel purchased the site land below its market value. 

The attorney general additionally objected to ASU agreeing to pay millions of dollars in construction costs for a facility it won't have full access to use. 

“I really don’t understand why ASU is more interested in shielding favored corporations from property taxes and out-of-pocket expenses than in working to make tuition more affordable for Arizona students and their families,” Brnovich said in 2019.

An Arizona Tax Court judge and the state Court of Appeals ruled against Brnovich's claims and dismissed the case. 

The Arizona Supreme Court has recently granted Brnovich the chance to plead his arguments, which could result in the lawsuit getting pushed back down to the lower courts for further litigation.

A hearing date before the high court will likely be scheduled later this year.

Despite the legal challenges, ASU officials decided to celebrate the hotel's forthcoming construction by attending a groundbreaking ceremony on Friday. 

ASU representatives commented on the economic activity the Omni hotel is expected to generate throughout the college campus. 

“Omni Tempe Hotel at ASU will provide a world-class venue for visitors, and from our perspective, for convening scholars and experts on a wide range of topics that will enrich university and community life," said Morgan R. Olsen, the university's chief financial officer. 

Credit: Omni Hotels
Arizona State University President Michael Crow; Tempe Mayor Corey Woods; Peter Strebel, president of Omni Hotels & Resorts; Regent Bill Ridenour, Arizona Board of Regents; John Creer, VP of Real Estate at ASU.

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