By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Most likely the DPP and the City Manager's Office had started the snowball rolling--without accurately canvassing the neighborhood or without caring to see who was buried in the avalanche.
The council members were suddenly faced with a scenario that was decidedly un-Republican: small businessmen being assaulted with new and unreasonable assessments.
Several council members whispered among themselves that this initiative was really about . . . BASEBALL!
And they were not about to be embarrassed by any more baseball giveaways.
The vote on forming the district was postponed until October 9, but before it could return to the council floor, the Streets and Transportation Department yanked the vote from the council's October 9 agenda. It had prepared the documents needed to invoke the emergency clause--a mechanism that would short-circuit any chance of a referendum once a vote was made--and then it withdrew that as well.
Spokesmen for the mayor now say the East Warehouse initiative is dead until the city, the DPP and the property owners come to some sort of proper agreement. A meeting was scheduled for November 5 between the city and the property owners to discuss what went wrong and what should happen next.
Inside the City Manager's Office, the backpedaling threatened to spin City Hall right off its foundation. Both David Krietor in the Community and Economic Development Department and Thomas Callow in Streets and Transportation have told New Times that the Downtown Phoenix Partnership was just one of the providers that would have been considered to manage the fledgling improvement district. This claim is almost humorous given that Margaret Mullen and the DPP--and no other contractors--turn up over and over and over in the files of both Streets and Community and Economic Development. It was Mullen and the DPP who commissioned the two studies of the warehouse district and Mullen who worked to answer each and every protest letter from property owners in the proposed district.
Mullen now speaks of the project as if she were just trying to help the businesses in the district and that she threw herself into the project as she would any other, at 100 miles per hour.
The underling in the Streets Department who was in charge of all things relating to improvement districts, a pleasant fellow named Andy Almaraz, was unceremoniously transferred to a new assignment.
Spurious rumors floating around the city bureaucracy say that Almaraz dared to go mano a mano with Margaret Mullen and Jerry Colangelo over the creation of the district. Another scenario has him walking naively into a meeting with figures showing that the pro-improvement district landowners were really not in the majority.
Almaraz admits that something happened over this project, but he won't say what.
"I'd rather not comment because it's kind of a touchy situation," he says.
And when asked if he had helped facilitate the protesters, he simply says, "Property owners cannot be denied their legal rights. The process of the project cannot violate any of the property owners' rights to protest for any reasons."
The official company line--after several halfhearted denials that Almaraz's transfer was anything more than a routine career enhancement--says that Almaraz's assistants had indeed missed some crucial deadlines and committed other unnameable errors.
"We had some trouble in the improvement district section, and that trouble boiled down to difficulties with some other departments, difficulties with some other projects and, cumulatively, we just decided to change management," says Thomas Callow in the Streets Department.
The transfer sent a quiet message that there would be consequences if the city's and the partnership's shared agenda was not met.
Meanwhile, on Friday, October 25, as Bob Dole stirred political flames a few blocks away in Patriots Square Park, an entire block of the warehouse district suddenly caught fire and burned to the ground.
Within days, front-end loaders were hauling off the bricks and the ashes. The block's owner tells New Times that he is preoccupied, that he's just lost his entire business and doesn't want to talk about it.
Fire investigators say the fire was probably accidental, though no one would likely know for sure.
The neighbors winked at one another and joked that whatever the cause of the blaze, someone had just gotten himself a new parking lot.