YOU CALL THIS A REVITALIZED DOWNTOWN?

WAIT 'TIL SQUARE ONE BECOMES A PARKING LOT

"I get so frustrated with him because I think the Ice House is such a good idea, and what happens when those sorts of projects fail is it affects everybody in art," says Margaret Mullin, director of the Downtown Phoenix Partnership of property owners. "If he completes the Ice House and makes it a success, all of us will be trying to help him complete projects, but he hasn't proven that he has that business acumen."
Which Hestenes and Therrien say is nonsense: The only thing holding up their project is the $120,000 in historic preservation money that the city promised them more than 18 months ago and still hasn't delivered. "To me, the city's credibility is what is shot here," says Hestenes. "David is working and making it happen regardless of the city's lack of support."

Therrien's credentials as a critic may not be established, but he is not the only local developer who believes city staff prematurely dismissed more interesting possibilities for Square One, perhaps out of fatigue. Ted Kort, one of Block 21's original developers, went to McKeough and Maus when the Trammell Crow deal fell through, wanting to see if a project was somehow salvageable. "We wanted to know, could we try and put something together whereby you would save some buildings, tear down others, landscape and rent out the buildings at a minimum expense?" says Kort. "We would have started with all the players downtown and said, 'Do you want to be a part of this? Can we come up with enough money to clean it up?'"

But he got the impression that McKeough and Maus weren't willing to explore things further. "They were just pretty much set on taking everything down," he says. "They said, 'We will probably make a parking lot out of it.'"

McKeough counters that a willingness to explore was not the point; the problem was that Kort had brought her an incomplete plan. "Where was the financing?" she asks, her voice rising. And she warns that anyone who believes her department has been cavalier about discarding Square One as a retail site doesn't understand the dynamics of economic development. "I will tell you that we do this for a living. It is tough to judge the retail market these days, but we have a feel for what happens down here," she says. "If it is perceived that we were quick to not consider, it is only because of our knowledge."

There is a great deal more of this point-counterpoint between the critics of the Square One decision and the bureaucrats who researched it, and no easy way to sort through it. The wrangling establishes only this: Leveling Square One into a parking lot was a decision of magnitude, based on disputable assumptions, that should at least have been challenged by someone with the authority to do it.

And yet those in authority--the mayor and the members of the city council--merely rolled over meekly and approved the city staff's plan. The parking-lot proposal passed unanimously, and so hurriedly that Dollin, Therrien and Hestenes had to stand and insist on airing their opposition after the vote had already occurred.

It was a case of government gotten backward. It has lately been a difficult fact to discern, but the function of the Phoenix City Council is to set policy, which is another term for leadership. Once policies are set, it is the task of the city staff to implement them.

When it goes the other way--when staff sets policy, as apparently happened with Square One--the result will be one that does not create management problems for the bureaucrats who must act as caretakers. Smooth maintenance, not the creation of controversy or exciting environments, is the mandate of city employees. Bureaucrats leave inspiration and moral vigor to the politicians.

Why did the process get muddled with the Square One vote? And if the city council isn't doing it these days--if there isn't an insistent, even rigid leader like Terry Goddard out in front--who's looking after the fate of downtown?

@rule:
@body:Because change is noticed slowly, the impression of a city council that is downtown's champion may still endure among Phoenicians. This is because, until he resigned to run for governor in 1990, former mayor Terry Goddard was that rare leader who was willing to stand in the path of pot shots for something he wanted--and he wanted a thriving city center. He was supported in his quest by councilmembers Calvin Goode, whose district includes downtown, and Mary Rose Wilcox and Linda Nadolski, who came to city government from backgrounds of neighborhood activism that acquainted them with the nuts and bolts--and importance--of urban planning. For six years, they sowed the seeds for the harvest of downtown projects that is now being heralded as revitalization. And they went further: To some extent, they transformed Phoenix from a city that had always been hostile to planning, in the way that this frontier town routinely opposes anything that's seen as a limitation on freedom, into a place that recognized the importance of preserving the integrity of neighborhoods and whatever desert beauty had survived unregulated growth.

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