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Business groups line up against proposed Goodyear private prison

Building a private prison in Goodyear would torpedo that city’s economic development prospects and one business has already balked at moving there if it happens, business groups opposed to the prison say.

The business groups — Valley Partnership, DMB Associates, and Westmarc — have recently notified Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan that a new prison would scare away the quality businesses that the city is expecting to attract in the near future.

“A prison has a little bit of a chilling effect on such uses as retail, hospitality, especially residential,” said Richard R. Hubbard, president and CEO of Valley Partnership, whose board of directors voted Sept. 9 to oppose the proposed prison.

The opposition of the business groups is on top of a Quaker organization’s lawsuit filed Sept. 12 to halt the procurement process altogether.

Judge Arthur Anderson of Maricopa County Superior Court refused on Sept. 14 to immediately stop the process, but he scheduled a Sept. 20 hearing to decide whether it should be put on hold until the Department of Corrections completes a required cost-benefit analysis comparing state and private prisons.

The Department of Corrections will choose among four companies bidding on five locations to add 5,000 beds to the state prison system. Besides, Goodyear, other cities under consideration are Winslow, Yuma/San Luis, Eloy and Coolidge. All of those cities except Goodyear have been supportive of building a prison in their respective communities.

The department can begin awarding the contracts as early as Sept. 16, but no decision has been made or deadline set, said Barrett Marson, department spokesman.

Marson also had no comment on the opposition.

Cassidy Campana, a spokeswoman for DMB Associates, said the company rarely jumps into the political fray, but the company is concerned about the impact the prison would have on its massive development, Verrado, in Buckeye, which is just west of Goodyear.

The development has 1,700 homes built so far and has the capacity to build 11,000 on a vast tract of 8,816 acres.

DMB President and CEO Eneas Kane wrote in a letter to Ryan and Gov. Jan Brewer that when the Perryville state prison was built in the city 30 years ago the area was largely rural, but it has become dramatically urbanized.

“This change in character and the potential for future growth and economic development opportunities in the vicinity surrounding Perryville makes the proposed expansion inappropriate and ill-advised,” wrote Kane.

Romina Khananisho, Goodyear’s lobbyist, said the proposed Goodyear prison has already put one project on hold.

She said Goodyear was in the running for a company’s Western regional distribution center, which would have brought about 300 jobs, but the company has delayed a decision until after the Department of Corrections awards the contracts.

“It was a pretty big project,” Khananisho said.

Khananisho said she couldn’t reveal the name of the company.

She said Goodyear has never liked Perryville, which houses 3,400 female prisoners, because of controversies surrounding it when it was built. She also said the Goodyear City Council has always been opposed to the proposed private prison, which would be built on land adjacent to Perryville.

The Goodyear City Council passed a resolution in opposition to the proposed prison and instructed the city to consider “any and all action necessary” to stop it from being built, including lawsuits.

Khananisho said the city had informed Ryan of its opposition last year when a first round of requests for proposals went out. The bidding process was stopped after the July 2010 escape from a private prison in Kingman.

“We had been talking with Director Ryan back then saying, ‘Look if we take this to council, they are not going to approve it, there’s no way they’re going to be OK with an expansion of Perryville,’” Khananisho said.

She said the city even told Ryan that it doesn’t have the capacity to provide wastewater services to the prison and it isn’t going to.

Michelle Rider, Westmarc president and CEO, said the new prison would also hurt efforts at improving the image of the West Valley.

“We’ve got an image in the market of being crime central, nothing is out there, that kind of thing and now we’re going to have a prison expansion,” Rider said.

GEO Group is the only company bidding on the Goodyear site and company spokesman, David Leibowitz, said there are no plans to pull its bid in reaction to the opposition.

Leibowitz said GEO has also bid for a site in Yuma, so ideally the company would like to be awarded a contract of 3,000 beds in that city where the community is in favor of a prison, and 2,000 beds in Goodyear.

“The smaller size of the Goodyear facility likely would go a long way toward calming some of the fears we’ve heard expressed in Goodyear,” Leibowitz said.

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