One of the West Valley's largest lobbying groups is the latest heavyweight to oppose a proposal to build a private prison in Goodyear.
Westmarc, a public-private partnership that champions the area, recently sent a letter to Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan explaining its official opposition to building a prison at Arizona State Prison Complex-Perryville. The group, which is made up of government, business and education officials, says it represents 15 cities and towns and 70,000 jobs.
Candace Wiest, who chairs Westmarc's executive committee, lives in the Goodyear community of Estrella. She is president and CEO of West Valley National Bank.
Michelle Rider, Westmarc president and CEO, said Wiest's place of residence did not weigh in the group's decision to oppose the prison.
The group took a position after Goodyear'sdirector, Harry Paxton, called Rider before a board of directors meeting and asked to speak to the group, Rider said. Paxton is on Westmarc's executive board and chairs the group's economic development committee. Rider asked Wiest if she could put the issue on the board's agenda and Weist agreed.
"He (Paxton) gave his reasoning for why it didn't make sense and the board . . . thought it was a pretty crazy idea," Rider said, adding Westmarc also formally presented the issue to its Economic Development and Public Affairs committees, which both sent the item to the executive committee.
"It's pretty easy to take a position for an organization like Westmarc," Rider said. "There's not a whole lot of pro in that situation."
Besides Wiest, Rider said, none of the other 28 members of executive committee appear to live in Goodyear.
In the letter, Rider explained the West Valley is at a turning point as a region and developments over the next five to 10 years likely will define the area's future.
"A regional economic development strategy focused on creating job opportunities must be a top priority," Rider wrote. "An expansion of the Perryville Prison will significantly undermine the effort to grow and attract high-quality employers in the West Valley."
Florida-based GEO Group Inc. is proposing to build a 2,000- to 5,000-bed prison for minimum- and medium-security male inmates at the complex. Construction costs are estimated at $100 million to $250 million.
The Arizona Department of Corrections will choose among four companies and five locations to house 5,000 inmates. The other proposed sites are in Coolidge, Winslow, San Luis and Eloy. A decision on the 20-year contract is not expected until at least mid-September.
Westmarc joins several high-profile organizations in its opposition of prison. Those opposed include Goodyear; Duncan Family Farms; the Litchfield Elementary School District and Litchfield Park; Sunbelt Holdings, developer of the Palm Valley 303 office park; and Robson Resort Communities, developer of PebbleCreek; and Goodyear refrigerator manufacturer Sub-Zero Inc.
Those against the proposal say the prison would be too close to Scott L. Libby Elementary School, PebbleCreek residents and Palm Valley 303.
"Goodyear has been very effective in developing similar parts of the city into the home of high-quality employers over the last several years, including Cancer Treatment Centers of America, Sub-Zero and Suntech," Rider writes in the letter to Ryan. "Siting a prison expansion in an area of such high visibility and economic potential would not only seriously impede Goodyear's progress, it would be detrimental for the many other West Valley communities for which the Interstate 10/Loop 303 corridor will serve as a gateway."