Our Hero

The most powerful man in Phoenix explains why he's just a regular guy

Others are more specific about Colangelo's ability to get a seeming thousand things completed at once.

"He will not take no for an answer from anybody--from government, from other business leaders, from me," says Mullen. She remembers Phoenix's NBA All-Star weekend in the winter of '95, when parties for VIPs were planned at several downtown sites. Mullen pronounced the scenario impossible because of security risks that would be created as revelers traipsed from one soiree to another. "He said, 'Pretend like you work for Nike, Margaret. Just do it.'"

She points also to the streetscape projects along Monroe, Adams and Second streets, implemented start-to-finish in 23 weeks in preparation for the All-Stars. "City staff came in and said, 'It is not possible for you to do this project in 23 weeks.' Jerry said, 'We can do it.' He looked at me and said, 'You can do it.'

"He never lets anybody convince him that something cannot be done. But he is also really good at getting others on board."

And thus, says nearly everyone, he has brought downtown to the moment of its renaissance. At last week's ballpark dedication, Mullen whooped that the new ball team's economic impact will exceed $300 million a year. That about 1,500 jobs will be created.

According to its boosters, it's a panacea, this new monument in which the Diamondbacks will play. (Play and lose this season, according to knowledgeable sources. Says Sports Illustrated's Verducci of the Diamondbacks, "They're not terrible. Expansion teams used to be terrible. But they have absolutely no depth. They will lose 90 games."

Says Diamondbacks manager Buck Showalter, "Tom [Verducci] is a writer I respect. I think we'll lose more than 90 games.")

Economists are not so sure our flashy ballpark will be much of a boon to the local economy, however. Experts who study the effects of ballparks and stadiums say that the venues don't make much difference in the end, except to matters of community spirit.

"I would not tell people not to vote for a stadium," says Andrew Zimbalist, professor of economics at Smith College and co-editor with Roger Noll of Stanford of Sports, Jobs and Taxes: The Economic Impact of Sports Teams and Stadiums. "Just don't do it because you think it is going to help the economy."

In their book, Zimbalist, Noll and other economists have studied effects from the mid-Fifties to the mid-Nineties of new stadiums on their cities. They have taken apart local claims that these venues are a shower of greenbacks for their communities, and have concluded that jobs and sales taxes are not created by stadiums, they are merely relocated by them. That someone working at a downtown hotel is simply not working at a hotel in Scottsdale. That a family of four that forks out $100 or more per ballpark outing will cut budgetary corners and not spend that same money on movies, in bowling alleys or by frequenting a Burger King drive-through.

The authors also assert that stadiums actually cause money to flow out of the local economy. That the majority of the money spent at ball games will go to team owners and their players. Owners are usually well-heeled already and will put their share of the money into investments that involve the international economy. Players, whose careers are short, are even more likely to invest than spend, according to Zimbalist.

To run any of this by Colangelo is to be witness to a minor explosion. "There are those who believe in the economic benefit based on development and there are those who say these are just recirculated dollars!" he cries, as though the issue is a matter of faith. "Every time a story appears about economic benefit, the same two professors are quoted. People who sit in an office and have never been in the trenches."

"I am in the trenches as much or more than Jerry Colangelo," responds Zimbalist. "I go to sporting events and I get invited to consult on these projects, so I have a broad base. Plus, I do not have an ax to grind.

"Jerry Colangelo and his cohorts are in the business of getting cities to finance these stadiums and that is why he says what he says. Any owner I have ever spoken to does not get these studies because they have not thought about it in analytical terms. There is no reason for them to. And there is reason for them not to.

"My cousin is Abe Pollin, who owns the Washington Capitals [a hockey franchise] and the [NBA's] Washington Wizards. In my view, he is one of the more advanced people intellectually [among team owners]. I was on a panel with him in November, and I went through the arguments about why there is not a positive economic impact. His response was that he has hired economic studies done by eminent accounting firms that showed there was an economic impact.

"These accounting firms are in the business to legitimize these projects. Their sole concern is pleasing the owner and politicians. They are very biased and, unfortunately, they are using methodologies they don't understand."

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