MALIGN NEGLECT

Big public relations points go to those who serve the low-income, the elderly, kids and minorities.

Consequently, city departments, neighborhood organizations, churches, unions, housing advocates and a multitude of social-service agencies have written volumes on how horrible South Phoenix is, all in the hope of being funded to help alleviate the dire conditions they have described.

In 1980, the three-square-mile area between Seventh Avenue and 24th Street, from Southern Avenue to Roeser Road, was labeled Target Area B by the city. The designation has brought $20 million in government spending since then. The same general area has been named an enterprise zone, a redevelopment area, a drug-free zone (which came complete with signs announcing the "zone" at major intersections), a Neighborhood Fight Back area and, most recently, an Empowerment Zone.

Besides direct government funding, more than $10 million has passed through private agencies to build new homes, fix old homes, clean up junk, paint over graffiti, find jobs and give kids something to do. But, somehow, there's never enough money, and things don't seem to get finished. And another year brings another new program to fix things.

Phoenix spent $2.7 million building and improving three parks, a recreation room and a community center. Another $7.6 million upgraded water and sewer lines and fixed some major streets. The city spent $7.3 million trying to repair and remodel a few of the dilapidated houses that should never have been built in the first place.

Included in the programs was money for Tanner Gardens, a HUD complex of town houses near 18th Place and Broadway that became a hot spot for drugs and an array of other crimes.

Spread thinly across a three-square-mile area over 14 years, the money did little but bring false hope to the people who live there and keep an army of administrators in office supplies.

"Some of these neighborhoods are in such bad shape, and resources are limited," explains Patrick Hendrick, a project manager for the city's Neighborhood Services Department and a former South Phoenix resident. "The [target] area was too big. [Even] if you had a smaller amount of money, you could have made a bigger difference somewhere."
In 1990, the city's first Neighborhood Fight Back program on 24th Street and Broadway became a private, nonprofit agency. It was called the Community Excellence Project. It was expected to mark a change in direction.

The community would now be running this business on its own, keeping the anticrime, pro-cleanup momentum going without the government.

There was a small problem, though. The city didn't trust the community to do it.

At least half of the board of directors for Community Excellence was comprised of people from outside the neighborhood.

Corporate movers and shakers who apparently did not have time for careful management--including John Salgado of First Interstate Bank; Bill Shover, director of public affairs for Phoenix Newspapers, Inc.; Mike D'Muro, head of Mechtronics in South Phoenix; and Don Logan, a Scottsdale administrator--were placed on the board to guide the less-experienced neighborhood representatives.

By 1993, the organization had run through more than $250,000 in grant money, lost its nonprofit status, been slapped with more than $8,000 in tax liens, acquired $30,000 in debt and faced a claim for $20,000 in back pay by its former director.

While creating this financial nightmare, CEP organized repeated neighborhood cleanups, registered voters and hosted youth recreation programs. The board's current president, Gareth Lewis, and executive director, Gail Knight, refused to comment on what CEP has accomplished since then.

In 1990, most of South Phoenix north of Southern Avenue was labeled an enterprise zone, which allowed businesses in the neighborhood to receive tax credits for residents they employed.

But neither the state nor the city, which administers the program, ever bothered to find out if it worked.

"It's impossible to know who has come down there," reports Steve Prokopek, the city's project manager. "We don't even know who's been taking the [tax] credit. No one kept track."
The Fiesta Bowl Float Pavilion moved in on Broadway Road and then closed after it lost a contract to build floats. Mechtronics moved in at 16th Street and Broadway. It stayed, but Phoenix filled up Sky Harbor Center with industries employing people who live in other parts of the Valley.

When all else failed, the city bought what it couldn't fix and tore down what was in the way. It is now the proud owner of 20 acres of vacant land in South Phoenix, waiting to be developed.

After nearly 15 years and more than $30 million in assistance, South Phoenix has the highest tax rates in the Valley, almost half of the city's low-income housing, the largest percentage of industrial business in Phoenix--and none of the types of development its residents so desperately want.

And the grant derby is still running.
For its next southern venture, Phoenix has applied for a $100 million federal Empowerment Zone grant, which would fund programs from Southern Avenue to McDowell Road.

The feds, through HUD, plan to award six grants nationwide, and Phoenix has done its political best to grab one of them. A part of the project is patterned after development efforts in San Antonio, Texas, home to HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros.

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