By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Although the property owners south of the tracks indicated that they wanted to join the DPP as full-fledged members, the DPP determined otherwise, as noted in a facetious memo from one city apparatchik to another.
"Surprise, MCM [Mullen] now wants a sep[arate] district!" it read.
The buildings along Jackson Street were already included in the DPP. Rather than move the boundaries south of the railroad tracks, Mullen and the board decided instead to establish a separate territory from the tracks south to Lincoln and from Seventh Street to First Avenue, which the DPP would manage according to the needs and wishes of the majority of the landowners.
The partnership worked up a first-year budget of $100,000 for the new "enhanced municipal services district." Of that money, $68,000 was to pay for 60 hours a week of security guides, two at a time; $21,000 would go toward including the area in the partnership database and in various publications. The last $11,000 would pay the partnership for its work.
Nothing would help provide what the property owners wanted most: sidewalks and streetlights and police protection.
"I'd like to see them come by with a street sweeper and sweep our streets as much as they do across the tracks," says Phil Stearns, whose business manufactures water-treatment equipment.
Alex Reynoso, president of an engineering firm, says, "My biggest complaint is that every time there's an arena function, the people leave trash, broken bottles and McDonald's containers. We find ourselves every weekend sweeping down our gutters and washing down our sidewalks."
The food warehouses and factories and engineering firms in the district didn't need guys on bicycles to hand out brochures or call the cops after dark; they had their own burglar alarms and security guards. They didn't depend on foot traffic for their businesses, and they went home at 5 p.m.
"It's nothing more than a Block Watch equivalent, that's where the $68,000 is going," adds Gerald Stovall, president of an automobile-bumper manufacturer south of the tracks.
The only businesses who might immediately profit from the security guides would be the parking-lot owners catering to ballpark events. Their patrons would be able to more safely walk back to their cars after a game and trust that their cars were still in one piece.
But the land speculators who wanted to redevelop their properties saw this as the first step in stabilizing the neighborhood. And so the debate polarized between them and the businessmen who wanted to keep operating their businesses without adding $400 to $3,000 per month to their overhead for services they didn't need and didn't want.
Tracy Hom is a Chinese immigrant who, with her husband and her stepdaughter, has operated a food warehouse in the district for 20 years.
"They want us to share their expense," she says. "We do small business. If I want to do a project, I pay for it with my own pocket. But you want other people to pay?"
As the debate raced toward its resolution before the City Council, it seemed as if the speculators, with the majority of frontage feet in the district, would win out over the protesters.
And they had the Downtown Phoenix Partnership and the city manager's staff on their side.
The formal protest hearing aired before a council meeting on September 18. The original time line had placed it at the end of August, but functionaries in the Streets and Transportation Department had missed some deadlines and the meeting had to be pushed back to meet the legal protest guidelines.
Mullen was furious, as described by one internal memo in the City Manager's Office referring to "a VERY PAINFUL conversation with Margaret," who apparently wanted the protest hearing moved up.
If it had been moved up, one city councilman confides, the district would have passed handily through council.
"Hopefully, we don't have any more internally caused problems with this I.D.!," the memo ends.
City council members had been briefed on the proposed improvement district and had been assured that nearly everyone in the district was in agreement. But at the September 18 hearing, all hell broke loose.
According to City Council minutes, the property owners in favor of creating the district represented 46 percent of the property frontage, slightly less than a majority. More important, the protesters only constituted 32 to 35 percent, and the law requires that 50 percent plus one be opposed in order to stop the project.
But as person after person rose to speak against the district, the council members started asking questions of their own. Mayor Skip Rimsza asked what would happen if the property owners couldn't pay their assessments, and a city attorney answered that liens would be made against their property and after five years the city could sell the property for the amount of the lien plus interest.
Once the district was established, they figured, it would be easier for the district's managing body to get increased assessments through the council.
"It was a shocker for everybody," says Councilman Sal DiCiccio. "We were told there was practically no opposition to this, but the room was full of people protesting."
"After it came to City Council, it was very clear that what we had been led to believe was not the case," adds Councilman Cody Williams. "It should have started with a group of folks in that area where everyone was polled on what they might be willing to pay for. What happened was backwards to the process and I think it got along further than it should have."