YOU CALL THIS A REVITALIZED DOWNTOWN?

WAIT 'TIL SQUARE ONE BECOMES A PARKING LOT

Mayor Paul Johnson, who says he regrets Short's departure, also points out that all department heads underwent budget cuts (and disgruntlement) this year. Even this rationale, and the reality of our decimated economy, do not explain away a priority for long-range planning that places it third from the bottom, however. It is difficult to imagine what could explain it, besides ignorance.

If the city council is downplaying planning in general, the Square One decision suggests that, in particular, it isn't paying enough attention to downtown. Although the councilmembers almost invariably pay lip service to the heart of the city--I think downtown is exceptionally important and is starting to come back to life!" declares Mayor Johnson--their real attention is usually focused elsewhere. According to some observers, this is an unfortunate outgrowth of district representation. "A lot of people on the council could care less about downtown, including the mayor," says urban designer Michael Dollin. "They have downtowns in their own districts."

But every bit of the council's neglect can't be thus accounted for. For one thing, these councilmembers who think business is everything cannot escape the fact that, as the only area within city limits with healthy sales-tax revenues and a great potential for more, downtown is good for business. And for another thing, there are signs that even councilmembers with a genuine interest in downtown have abdicated their responsibility for watchdogging it.

Take Craig Tribken. The former chair of the Encanto Village Planning Committee, he is well-known for his support of the General Plan. He is pointed at by insiders as the councilmember destined to lead the next downtown charge. Ask him about his vision for Phoenix and he begins referring to downtown as a "fundamental psychic anchor," and he frets about "the important issue of residential flight out of the central city. The most important issue bar none." And yet he voted to turn Square One into a parking lot almost unthinkingly.

He is asked, "Why did you vote for a measure that violates the 25-year plan?"
He hesitates, clearly embarrassed. "Does it really? I was not aware of that," he says. "I wish someone had pointed that out." He adds, "I was glad that David Therrien came down to the meeting and challenged the staff's presumptions about the parking-lot proposal--as though unable to challenge anything himself.

Why was he so careless with his vote? Perhaps because he and other councilmembers take their cue for downtown policy to a startling degree from the Downtown Phoenix Partnership, the association of property owners that has formed an improvement district. Tribken admits this influence outright, as do some of his associates, and Margaret Mullin, the DPP director, cannot recall a single issue in the one-and-a-half years since the association was formed when a city-council vote has countered her association's will.

It's not a bad thing in one way--who's more likely to watch carefully over downtown interests than the investors whose dollars are there? But it does mean that business interests and not a concern for downtown aesthetics or the city center's impact on Phoenix is the basis for downtown decisions. It does mean that nobody is looking at the big picture. It also means that especially moneyed downtown business owners carry disproportionate clout with the council.

Some observers point out that the situation amounts on one level to a limitless potential for abuse: that power mongers who are also DPP members, such as the Phoenix Suns' general manager, Jerry Colangelo, could use the DPP to manipulate the city council into decisions that benefit them directly. These observers speculate that Colangelo or anyone else wanting to develop Square One will save considerable demolition costs if the city spends its own $1 million to clear the site of bothersome buildings instead of requiring that million from interested developers.

Colangelo himself is very evasive about his personal interest in the Square One site: He doesn't confirm or deny it.

He does call the block "a great piece of property" and a "rallying point" for those interested in downtown's future. He does rave with genuine feeling about the pleasures of maintaining an office in his new America West Arena, where he claims he leaves his door flung wide open to the grunts of belching buses and other urban background music. He does volunteer his "vision" for a "master plan" that would include the Square One site, the parking lot east of Patriots Square, the acreage that's now the bus terminal and the parking lot south of Symphony Hall, saying that he'd like to see all this land become a retail mall that would be a focus for downtown and that would play off the foot traffic heading toward and away from his beautiful arena. "I am interested in seeing it happen, and whether or not we could participate remains to be seen," he says.

He does say that a primary purpose of the Downtown Phoenix Partnership is to "pressure the city council."

He does not, in short, say one word that would reassure onlookers that his interest in Square One will not result, if it hasn't already, in undue influence brought to bear, in ways that will line his own pockets, on councilmembers who have dropped the reins anyway when it comes to downtown.

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