Parking Mirage

City pretends that parking garage next to stadium is not a favor to Colangelo's Diamondbacks

The rejection came on the heels of objections by representatives of major downtown business interests.

The Downtown Phoenix Partnership, via Colangelo confidante Margaret Mullen, and Arizona Public Service Company, through president Mark DeMichele, complained bitterly about having the Greyhound terminal remain downtown.

"The downtown business community has no desire to keep Greyhound downtown," Mullen wrote the city on December 18.

DeMichele followed suit the next day with a letter to the city concluding: "If we are to continue the progress we have made in downtown development and build a truly great city, then this facility needs to locate elsewhere."

The city responded quickly to Mullen's and DeMichele's letters. In January, the city staff requested a change in downtown zoning ordinances. The change essentially banned Greyhound from relocating anywhere in the downtown area. The city council approved the zoning change in March.

Greyhound responded forcefully, launching a powerful counterattack in the condemnation case. The company began deposing top city staffers who were involved in negotiations between the city and the Diamondbacks.

Last month, Greyhound alleged in the suit that the city's efforts to condemn its bus-station site and build a parking garage there violated the Proposition 200 ban on big-ticket-sports spending. The allegations were made in direct and colorful language not usually found in court pleadings:

"The city's arrogance in proceeding to do whatever it damn well pleases by pretending that the garage is for the Civic Plaza and not the baseball stadium ought to offend the sensibilities of any honest thinking individual," the company argued.

Greyhound alleged that the parking garage violated Proposition 200 coming and going. If the garage was primarily to benefit the baseball stadium, it violated the proposition's ban on sports-related spending. But the proposition also bans big-ticket spending on the convention center, and Greyhound claimed the garage violated that prohibition, because the garage was to be funded through the Civic Center Fund.

"You can't use taxpayer money in magnitude of $40 million to build a parking garage for the baseball stadium or convention center under Proposition 200," Greyhound attorney Martin Aronson says.

Backed into a corner, the city put forward a novel idea: It suggested that the Phoenix Civic Plaza and Convention Center really wasn't a convention center. The city claimed that only 5.8 percent of the total attendance for Phoenix Civic Plaza events between 1988 and 1995 was related to conventions; ergo, it could not be considered a convention center.

Greyhound Bus Lines and the city continued exchanging nasty legal barbs in court as the trial date of April 23 approached. A breakthrough was reached over the weekend of April 13 when city officials flew to Dallas to meet with Greyhound officers.

The city offered Greyhound $300,000 in cash, one year free rent at a city-owned site at 22nd Street and Buckeye Road and tax incentives if the company would drop the lawsuit and agree to move out of its downtown terminal by October 31.

The council approved the settlement offer on April 17. Greyhound is expected to accept the deal.

If the Greyhound bus station relocation appears to be settled, opposition to the parking garage is slowly mobilizing.

Keith Morrow, a community activist who played an instrumental role in the development and passage of Proposition 200, says his group is reviewing the parking-garage plan and Greyhound Bus Lines' allegation that it violates Proposition 200.

"We have money set aside to challenge this type of thing," Morrow says.
It is too early to say whether the group--the Alliance of Northeast Phoenix Residents Associations--will move forward. Morrow says the case must first be reviewed by the group's attorney, Phoenix lawyer Gil Shaw.

Shaw was also actively involved in the development of Proposition 200 and says its drafters were concerned about the city attempting to use "sneaky" methods to fund construction of major projects that would benefit the baseball stadium or the convention center without voter approval.

Shaw is convinced the parking garage is the city's tithe to Colangelo's sports altar.

"There was a decision to go ahead and build the stadium downtown because the city was committed to building a parking garage at that site," Shaw says. "That's how they fudge on Proposition 200."

Proposition 200 was passed by voters in October 1989 in the midst of concerns that the city was going to use public funds toward the construction of a massive domed stadium. Voters also were worried about the expenditure of city funds to finance construction of an amphitheatre and new convention facilities.

There are no penalties specified by the proposition if the city steps outside its spending restrictions. However, any taxpayer can file a special claim in Maricopa County Superior Court challenging any city expenditure believed to violate the proposition.

If the court upholds the claim, the city cannot spend the money.
Phoenix city attorney Philip Haggerty says he is confident the city can withstand any legal challenge to the parking garage based on Proposition 200.

A taxpayer claim can't be filed against the city until it approves the expenditure of funds for actual construction of the parking garage, Haggerty says.

The council is expected to approve construction funding in the next few months.

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