Oro Valley voters OK'd rebating up to $23 million in sales taxes to the developer of Oro Valley Marketplace, a nearly 900,000 square foot outdoor shopping mall to be built at Tangerine and Oracle roads, according to unofficial election results posted on the Pima County Division of Elections Web site March 14.
Voters also awarded Paul Loomis a third term as mayor.
In a record turnout in the all-mail election, just more than 50 percent of the town's voters settled the long simmering debate over the tax incentive awarded in 2004 to Vestar, a Phoenix-based developer. The measure, Question 2 on the ballot, passed 58 percent yes to 42 percent no.
"We're thrilled," said Gregg Forszt, chairman of the Vestar-funded political committee New Revenue, More Convenience. "I knew if we could get our message out, voters would vote the way they did. It was a record turnout, and the citizens were informed and they voted their conscience. In a couple of years, we'll have a great new mall."
David Malin, Vestar's project manager for the Oro Valley Marketplace, said he's delighted that final planning and construction of the shopping center can finally move forward.
"This sends a loud and clear message that this is what the people of Oro Valley want," Malin said. "We didn't ask for this referendum, we were forced into it. Now it's time for our opponents join with us in support of this project."
Malin said retailers for the mall will be selected and announced early this summer. He said construction of the Oro Valley Marketplace will begin in 2007 and the first phase will be open for business in mid-2008.
A group of citizens called Stop Oro Valley Outrageous Giveaways sought to refer the tax incentive to a public vote in 2004. The town refused to accept referendum petitions and SOVOG sued the town, eventually winning at the state Court of Appeals in 2005. More legal battles ensued, though, over the legality of the petitions and those suits weren't resolved until earlier this year, setting up the March 14 vote.
"We're very disappointed. We anticipated a closer vote. Their ad campaign must have been what pushed them over the margin," said Chet Oldakowski, spokesman for SOVOG. "In a way, SOVOG did win - we won the right for voters to decide this issue. Now it's time to track Vestar and make sure they deliver."
Vestar, according to town records, spent more than $164,000 to convince voters to vote yes on Question 2. SOVOG, on the other hand, despite having a similar amount of campaign money, spent less then $20,000. The rest was paid to lawyers retained to sue the town and then to defend challenges to the referendum petitions.
In the mayoral race, Loomis defeated his only challenger, Amphi school board member Nancy Young Wright, 57 percent to 43 percent.
"I'm very happy to see there was a record turnout. I'm looking forward to the next four years," Loomis said.
While Loomis acknowledged that the similar margins indicated the mayoral race was influenced by the Question 2 vote, he believes it was his solid track record as mayor that led him to victory.
"My record was good, and I have a lot of experience. The people of Oro Valley want experience," Loomis said.
Nancy Young Wright said she was disappointed, but remains optimistic about her future in Oro Valley politics.
"I'm really thankful we did as well as we did. We came into the race late, and we got a lot of grassroots support, but incumbents always have an advantage," Young Wright said. "I've had enough experience to know it's best to just roll with it. I plan to stay involved in Oro Valley."
In the council race, no candidate received more than 20 percent of the vote, thereby causing all six council candidates to advance to a runoff election in May. The six candidates are incumbents Conny Culver, Paula Abbot and KC Carter, and challengers Don Cox, Al Kunisch and Kathy Pastryk. Abbott received the most votes at 19.5 percent, followed by Carter with 17.84 percent, Cox with 16.95 percent, Pastryk with 16.14 percent, and Kunisch with 15.85. Culver got the least votes with 13.56 percent.
The other item on the ballot, Question 1, passed easily 75 percent to 25 percent. The measure, commonly called Home Rule, allows the town to exceed state mandated spending caps for the next four years.
Just more than 11,700 voters cast a ballot in the election. There are 23,135 registered voters in Oro Valley.