Phoenix City Council vote on Talking Stick Arena tax use renovation brings business and public input, —including alleged threats from a 1997 convicted shooter of former council member


Tyler Buckland

Phoenix City Council summarizes business and fiscal initiatives to renovation in public meeting as well as other proposed incentives.

Tyler Buckland and Michael Russell

Council members from the city of Phoenix met on Jan. 23 to vote on a 230 million-dollar renovation for the Talking Stick Arena, the home of the Phoenix Suns, Phoenix Mercury and Arizona Rattlers.

Roughly 150 million would come from the city of Phoenix while the Suns would be contributing 80 million or so, which would include the Suns building their own new state of the art practice facility promised to be in the Phoenix area and paid for out of pocket.

The city council meeting was open to the public and had many supporters for the Suns position handing out stickers upon arrival, declaring on them that an investment in Talking Stick is an investment “Downtown.”

Metal detectors were present while entering the chamber with security seen at every corner.

The security presence was in place before the meeting began, but once the public was allowed to address the council—many were surprised and concerned—by the remarks of one member of the public opposed to the plan as he spoke at the podium.

“On August 13, 1997, I walked into the Maricopa County Board of Supervisor’s auditorium and shot Mary Rose Wilcox over the baseball stadium tax matter. You must let the public vote on this matter. If you go ahead and pass it, you’re crossing a line, and it’s equivalent to a bloody act of violence against the public,” said Larry Naman, the man who shot former Maricopa County Supervisor Rose Wilcox and served 12 years in prison for attempted murder.

Naman was released from prison in 2010.

Mary Rose Wilcox was sitting just two rows in front of where Mr. Naman had been sitting and the tension and uneasiness in the room was palpable.

Naman’s remarks startled the audience with both his unapologetic and matter of fact tone in which he stated that he shot Wilcox and later stating “when the people vote on something it’s the last word on the matter, when they (government) overturn it they’re crossing a line.”

Naman shot former Phoenix City Councilmember Wilcox when the council was involved in a debate surrounding the use of tax funds to build the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball stadium back in 1997.

When asked if he owns a weapon now, Naman responded that he did not.

After Naman’s public statements, Phoenix City Councilman Michael Nowakowski, apologized to Wilcox.

At some point, Nowakowski reportedly requested that the Phoenix police look into Naman’s statement as threatening. 

On Saturday the Phoenix police banned Larry Naman from several city facilities, including sports arenas—this, after reviewing Naman’s remarks at the City Council meeting Wednesday.

Other’s in opposition spoke and compared the proposed deal with the Suns as a “parasitic” one—often pointing to the team’s lack of success and owner’s (Robert Sarver) own personal wealth as reasons against it. 

A local viral sensation, Greta Rogers, was very outspoken at the last city council meeting—as she criticized both the city and Suns owner, Sarver—Rogers returned for the final council meeting and Wednesday’s vote. 

I’m three times that old and my facility is going pretty well,” Rogers said in reference to the facility’s (Talking Stick Arena) near 30-year age.

Those in favor of the renovation or a “yes” vote on the deal described the economic impact the Suns bring to downtown, with many businesses benefiting on game nights. One speaker pointed out that Talking Stick Arena is more than just the Suns home court but also a live entertainment venue with many concerts and shows nearing 130 ticketed events annually.

The social impact of the arena was also a strong argument that was repeated in support of the renovation citing more than 200 non-ticketed events for charities and others taking place there annually.

Of the 30 plus speakers, about 75 percent favored a “yes” on the deal, or—the Suns’ position.

Many of the proponents were from the Suns organization including Suns president, Jason Rowley.

Proponents of the renovation were organized and offered prepared statements.

Opponents that spoke were comprised of individual citizens that were vocal about their disapproval of using taxes to fund private franchises.

The final results of the city council vote were 6-2 in approval of the renovation. This was met with applause from of the crowd in attendance.

Tyler Buckland
90 year-old Greta Rogers speaks in opposition to Talking Stick Arena renovation.

The vote was originally planned for early December 2018, but was postponed to the January 23 vote.

District five councilmember, Vania Guevara, had previously stated she was not in favor of the renovation but voted in favor on Wednesday.

Guevara stated five public meetings on the topic in her blogging platform—as a reason for her changed view and becoming more informed.

In the midst of another losing season and sitting last in the western conference standings the Phoenix Suns will take victories when they can and the council vote was the outcome they wanted.

“The real work starts now, I mean we got to make sure we make the best use of these funds and really put that to work and make this building as good as possible and make it last as long as possible,” said Sarver, the owner of the Phoenix Suns.