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.

But the remaining five parcels proved to be a much larger obstacle for the City of Phoenix.

Attorneys representing the remaining landowners threatened to sue if the city didn't fork over far more money than Francy's appraisals had indicated. The barristers posed a question that lingered like a bad dream: Was Phoenix trying to condemn land for private purposes, which is illegal?

Though the City of Phoenix would technically own the arena, Colangelo and the Suns--for-profit, private enterprises by any measure--would become the prime financial benefactors after it opened for business. (Similar questions may be raised about the stadium proposal, observers say, and could gum up the works in land negotiations.)

Maybe a judge should decide, the attorneys for the private-property owners mused. Condemnation proceedings are known to drag on, sometimes adding 25 percent or more to the appraised value of condemned real estate.

Suns owner Colangelo and the team of lawyers representing the city were spooked and, near the end of 1989, they caved in. Without informing Francy, the city hired John Loper to reappraise the remaining five properties.

Dual appraisals are often sought in major land purchases, but the dollar difference between Francy's and Loper's appraisals was dramatic.

For example, Francy had appraised arena-area property owned by John and Pamela Vogel at $1.44 million. Loper said its market value was $1.86 million. The city later cut the Vogels a check for $2.26 million, or about $800,000 more than Francy's appraisal. Real estate types consider that kind of difference between two appraisers to be out of the land-acquisition ballpark.

Francy appraised the final five arena properties at $3.46 million. Loper said the same land was worth a whopping $5.07 million. When it was over, the City of Phoenix (and the Suns, to a far lesser degree) paid the landowners $5.8 million--or $2.3 million more than Francy had envisioned.

"It was funny because I tend to err on the high side in these things," Francy tells New Times. "In condemnations, you often deal with unwilling sellers, and I think they should be given a bit of benefit of the doubt for their troubles. But this one. . . . Wow! Those arena-site landowners did very well for themselves."
Francy cautions that it's still very early in the stadium game, but a few things are clear to him about the set of landowners at the proposed site.

"I don't think they'll strike it as rich as some people think," he says. "They'll do okay, but they're not going to do as well as if this whole thing had happened in 86."
In 1986, Francy points out, the block on Central Avenue due east of Patriots Square Park sold for $100 per square foot. But two years ago--after the Charles Keating revelations, the Valley's real estate dive and the coming of the Resolution Trust Corporation--the same block sold for $35 per square foot.

What that means, Francy continues, is that landowners at the proposed stadium site may not be in for a windfall.

"You've had a lot of positive impact downtown," he says, "but a lot of downside, too--the banks bailing out, the dumping of properties by the RTC, a lot of downward pressure. What the net effect will be, who the hell knows?"
But Francy says he's "absolutely, positively" confident the stadium land won't sell for anything close to the $100-per-square-foot figure some dreamy-eyed speculators have been tossing around in after-hours sessions at Tom's Tavern.

"Jackson Street is pretty industrial, with the exception of a few commercial ventures [begun] because of the arena," he says. "If some appraiser goes in and says it's worth $100 [per square foot], he ought to have his buttons cut off. I guess we'll see, won't we?"
@rule:
@body:Of all the landowners where Jerry Colangelo wants his baseball team to play, none is sitting prettier than Phoenix Newspapers, Inc.

The state's largest newspaper has lucked into a speculative real estate situation likely to add millions more to its already healthy coffers. If the stadium happens at the currently contemplated site, Maricopa County will condemn and then purchase an entire block of R&G property.

PNI, the parent company of the Arizona Republic and Phoenix Gazette, bought the block for a song back in 1958. The paper acquired the property because it was conveniently located near Southern Pacific's downtown railroad tracks. But the R&G has moved its printing plants to Deer Valley and Mesa, and the storage warehouse is of little use these days to the paper.

Stories published by the papers have noted the potential conflict of interest in the case of county supervisor Betsey Bayless, whose family owns a small piece of property where the stadium may sit.

But the papers rarely have mentioned their own far more consequential land ownership, and then that information has been buried.

Depending on the final appraisals, PNI stands to receive millions for the property, which it had been trying unsuccessfully to unload since its printing operations moved to the suburbs. At $20 a square foot, for instance, PNI would receive about $1.8 million. At $40 a square foot, the company would receive about $3.6 million.

The Republic and Gazette continue to trumpet the coming of the stadium in columns and unsigned editorials.

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