BUY ME OUT FOR THE BALLPARK

IT'S GOING TO TAKE A LOT MORE THAN PEANUTS AND CRACKER JACK TO BUY THE LAND FOR THE DOWNTOWN STADIUM.

"In theory, there is no windfall at all," says longtime land attorney Jay Dushoff, who specializes in representing landowners who face condemnation proceedings. "You value the property as of the date of condemnation, excluding from your mind any of the positive aspects or negative aspects of the proposed public improvement."
Theory and reality can differ, however.Deciding fair market value can be a mystical process, particularly in a fringe area of downtown where there are few benchmarks for what any given lot may be worth.

"Where do you look for comparable sales?" Dushoff asks. "Downtown has always been its own market."
The City of Phoenix, for instance, spent $10 million--or more than $100 a square foot--for just one downtown block in the heady days of the early 1980s. That parcel, called Square One, is now a parking lot.

Two years ago, however, a downtown block similar to Square One sold for just $35 a square foot.

Therrien, whose investments in the warehouse district include the Icehouse art gallery, says land on Jackson Street west of Central Avenue is selling these days for only about $2 a square foot. But, he notes, a row of old buildings across Jackson Street from America West Arena recently sold for a rumored $40 to $50 a square foot.

Values for the land and the eventual price tag for taxpayers will be hashed out in the condemnation process.

The process itself is straightforward. The government goes to court and files a condemnation on the land. It hires an appraiser to determine a fair value. If the landowner doesn't agree with that figure, he can hire his own appraiser, and the fight is on.

If the county and the landowner just cannot cut a deal, the whole mess may be trotted out before a jury, which finally decides how much money the landowner should get.

The government also has to pay relocation costs for businesses that are forced to move. If, for example, a produce company is forced to find a new place of business, the county would pay for the entire move.

Condemnation certainly would serve Colangelo's interests when it comes to one of his stadium project's most precious commodities--time. If the county wishes, it can condemn property and take control of it almost immediately.

Says attorney Jay Dushoff, "The purpose of immediate possession is that if the only argument is 'How much money?', then the public should have the right to put together the parcels and break ground on the proposed public improvement."

Colangelo has indicated that if Phoenix is awarded a major-league franchise, a stadium would have to be built at breakneck speed. Grabbing the land as quickly as possible would be essential, say sources familiar with similar situations.

And if the 1989-90 experience with America West Arena is any indication, such haste may drive up the amount of taxpayer money needed to acquire the downtown site.

@rule:
@body:Bob Francy peered out the window of a downtown Phoenix high-rise last week and imagined he was Jerry Colangelo.

"I tried to pick out some alternative stadium sites just for the hell of it," says the veteran property appraiser. "But the site they've picked honestly makes some sense to me."
Francy's 20 years of experience and sound reputation in assessing downtown Phoenix's turbulent real estate market keeps him in plenty of work. Freelancing for the City of Phoenix, he has appraised numerous properties the city took by "condemnation" for its Civic Plaza expansion, the realignment of Jefferson Street and other prominent projects.

But Francy hasn't been told, officially or informally, that he's in line to appraise the stadium site. And he says he'll be surprised if he does get a call, considering what transpired in 1989, after the city hired him to appraise the land on which America West Arena now sits.

"I don't know if I'd do it even if they offer it to me," Francy says bluntly. "I appraised the arena land for what it would sell for on the open market to any buyer, and the city said I was far too conservative. It was quite a behind-the-scenes story."
Francy is the first to admit he is the practitioner of an inexact art. But he still shakes his head over what happened in 1989. His experience may speak volumes to those who wonder how the land-sale part of the stadium project may turn out if things fall into place for Colangelo and company.

The story Francy is referring to can be found in public records. First, the dollars-and-cents finale to the 1989 condemnation proceedings: The City of Phoenix paid 15 separate landowners at the three-block arena site $10.8 million. The Phoenix Suns' ownership added another $500,000 to the pot.

"An appraiser is supposed to go in without considering the project that is contemplated," Francy says. "It's not fair for a guy to announce a new arena and then force him to pay a bunch more for the land because he's going to improve it. It also isn't right to punish the current landowners for the depressed values that would accompany a slaughterhouse or something."
With that in mind in 1989, Francy went to town. Things proceeded fairly smoothly at first, with the City of Phoenix using Francy's appraisals in settlement negotiations that routinely accompany condemnation proceedings. The city quickly bought out the first ten of the 15 landowners for about $5.5 million--a total roughly $540,000 higher than Francy's appraisal of the properties. That differential between appraisal and purchase price is considered in the ballpark for governmental land dealings.

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