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'Spending taxpayer dollars': Tempe Town Lake billion-dollar project headed to court

A planned billion-dollar project on Tempe Town Lake is headed to court as a union group tries to put the project to a vote.

TEMPE, Ariz. — A billion-dollar development on the banks of Tempe Town Lake is headed to the court of appeals as a union group tries to get it on the ballot, and the city tries to keep it off. 

The South Pier project would include a luxury hotel, shopping, dining and 2,500 residential units near Rio Salado Parkway and Scottsdale Road. It's one of the last undeveloped stretches of Tempe Town Lake. 

The project would also build a public pier with an observation wheel on it. 

At issue is the eight-year tax break the City of Tempe agreed to give the developer. Worker Power, a group affiliated with UNITE HERE, a hospitality worker's union, believes a public vote should have decided the tax break. 

The group collected signatures to put it on the ballot but was told it had used the wrong form in collecting them. Tempe denied the petition and the case went to court. 

Worker Power lost the first round but won the appeal. Tempe is now appealing to the Arizona Court of Appeals. 

“We don't think the city should be spending taxpayer dollars or giving people tax breaks in order to build luxury commercial developments," Brendan Walsh of Worker Power said. 

Walsh said his group stepped in because, while South Pier agreed to give $10 million towards affordable housing, none of it will be on the South Pier site.

"Those workers simply can't afford to live in Tempe. They're having to commute miles and miles and hours and hours," Wash said. 

Tempe is already dealing with a ballot measure to decide if the city wants the new Coyotes arena, currently slated to be built at the other end of the lake near Rio Salado Parkway and Priest. 

That project, which is twice as expensive, is scheduled for a special election on May 16.

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