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.

Other older buildings on the stadium site have been altered or damaged in ways that make them less appealing historically, says Roger Brevoort, preservation planner for the City of Phoenix.

The Stern Produce building was designed by the firm of Lescher and Mahoney, considered to be among the most important architects in the early history of Phoenix. The downtown post office and the Orpheum Theatre are among other historic buildings drawn by the duo.

As important as its architecture, to historians, at least, is the Stern building's status as a reminder of the citrus industry's role in the local economy in the early 20th century.

Brevoort notes that the existence of one historic structure can't and won't scotch the stadium deal, but preservation authorities will encourage the developers to try to save such a building, or incorporate it into their plans, as the Baltimore Orioles recently did at Camden Yards.

Another example of such a use is the Suns' private health club, which operates in the restored Sun Mercantile Building, a historic structure located just east of America West Arena.

Stern Produce predates its current home, which it has occupied for about a decade. The business itself began in 1917, the year Bill Stern started farming in Phoenix, near what is now the intersection of Grand Avenue and Interstate 17. His grandson, also named Bill, now runs the company out of a basement office below the loading docks. Stern Produce employs about 70 workers to deliver fruit and vegetables to local restaurants. The workday starts early--Bill Stern the younger is in his office by 5:30--and most of the company's 30 or so delivery trucks are parked back on the yard by 1 p.m.

"We've just now started talking with realtors," says Stern, a young-looking 46. And he's just begun to investigate the value of his building, as well as relocation costs for his business. "That's our only dilemma right now, whether to go forward with what we're doing here or find a new building."
Stern's company shares a skybox with another company at America West Arena. "My friends say I should arrange for season tickets in the negotiations," he says, chuckling just a little. Connected to the Stern Produce warehouse via an underground tunnel is the former citrus warehouse that now houses the Charlie Case Tire Company.

The company wholesales several brands of tires to dealers and fleets, operating in several western states and Mexico, and does some retail drive-up business at the old warehouse. The company, which also employs about 70, is run by Claude Case, son of founder Charlie Case, who died in 1983.

Charlie Case sold his first tire in 1937, out of a gas station at 18th Street and Van Buren. He later became a bit of a Phoenix institution; his commercials--Charlie My Boy" was the theme--made him a public figure, and he successfully ran for the Phoenix City Council in 1968. But he didn't like the job, and quit after one term. The Case building, at 234 North Seventh Street, was erected as a cold-storage warehouse for citrus growers in the same year Charlie Case sold his first tire. It long was used as an annex to an older building directly to the south across Jackson. The building has had several uses over the years, including a stretch as a furniture warehouse. The little-known tunnel under Jackson was sealed years ago, according to Claude Case, when a fire broke out at the Stern building and water leaked through the tunnel and damaged furniture stored across the street.

Charlie Case took his business to the old cold-storage plant in 1977, when the City of Phoenix condemned property at Seventh Street and Jefferson he had occupied since the 1940s. Much to Claude Case's chagrin, the parcel on which his dad's old store sat remains an empty lot.

Like his neighbors on Jackson Street, Claude Case is sitting tight, wondering where and when the stadium-development dominoes may fall. "I am aware that there's been some speculation that there may be a stadium here," he says, "but I've got bigger fish to fry than to worry about something that's sort of idle speculation at this point. To me this is not yet real. This is neither a threat nor an opportunity.

"Maybe sometime in the future, if all of a sudden I see bulldozers next door. . . .

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