Big money sways small Arizona town

TEXT OF STORY

Steve Chiotakis: If you've been to the Grand Canyon, chances are you've passed through Tusayan, Ariz. It's a small town just to the south, it only has 500 people. So why did Italian investors just spend a bundle trying to influence an election there? Claudine LoMonaco checked it out.


Claudine LoMonaco: Tusayan is a half-mile strip of highway lined by hotels, nestled in ponderosa pine forest. But it has one very big thing going for it: It's just a mile from the entrance to Grand Canyon national park.

Tourists spend millions of dollars every year on everything from helicopter tours to pancake breakfasts. Tusayan's economy depends on that money, but some want to bring in even more.

Thomas DePaulo: Retail services, a sidewalk cafe, a piazza.

You heard right: a piazza. That's Thomas DePaulo. He represents a group of Italian developers who own a lot of land in the area. In years past, they've proposed building an outlet mall and a 5,000-room resort.

While some worried the plan would commercialize the Grand Canyon, others worried about increased competition. Clarinda Vail owns the Red Feather Lodge:

Clarinda Vail: Can that, you know, many more rooms come on the market in the area and not, you know, put hotels out of business?

Ten years ago, Vail rallied voters in Coconino County to reject the plan. But the developers didn't give up. They launched a campaign to incorporate the community of Tusayan as its own town, with its own town council. That way, they'd only have to persuade five council members to approve their plans, not an entire county. Here's one of the groups highly produced videos:

Tusuyan Video Campaign: Tusuyan can do better; We just need to believe in ourselves; My dream for Tusuyan? A town that's strong and independent.

The Italians developers spent more than $300,000s to persuade about 200 voters. And they won. Last month, Tusayan officially became Arizona's tiniest town. But the designation has been challenged. Those against have filed a lawsuit charging voter fraud.

I'm Claudine LoMonaco for Marketplace.

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