Slummin' in Scottsdale

With his new residence built atop his antique shop, John Mollard thought he was set for life. He couldn't have imagined that the same city that encouraged him to build his home was laying plans to declare his neighborhood a blight, seize his property and

At age 61, John Mollard likes things consistent. Close. Convenient. And he's done his best to set up his life so that it stays that way.

The same restaurants and the same meals, for example. Most days it's raw fish here or raw fish there, the sushi not only a favorite of his but a concession to his heart, which will require surgery in a few years.

The familiar places also keep his stress level down, which is important.
But today he's agitated. He's come to Ra, a restaurant a mile or so from his downtown Scottsdale home, and Mollard's favorite sushi chef is nowhere to be seen. It drives him to distraction.

"Tai not here today?" he asks his waitress about five different times in a soft, hesitant voice, as if he asks one more time Tai will magically appear.

He dreads having to explain his order. Mollard wants off-the-menu dishes, the trademark of a regular customer. He manages to convince a chef to make what he wants, but he can't help muttering about his disappointment that Tai had taken a day off. And did he mention he has a heart condition?

Mollard doesn't look like a cardiac patient. He seems to be in good shape for his age, and his look is casual but urban. He wouldn't seem out of place if he lived in the Village and dealt art or wrote books.

Instead, the former Los Angeles real estate broker deals antiques and lives on a street of small shops in downtown Scottsdale.

Like his diet, Mollard designed his living arrangements to be the model of constancy and convenience. Two years ago, he added a second floor to his antique store on Sixth Avenue, a lavish space filled with his own antiques and Japanese artifacts, and then moved in. Most things he needs, including raw fish, good friends and shopping, are within walking distance. Mollard even put in an elevator.

After a lifetime of work, Mollard was set. He planned never to leave his beloved downtown home.

The City of Scottsdale, meanwhile, told Mollard that it was thrilled with his little project, and helped him carry it out.

And then, only months after it was completed, the city decided to demolish it.

At the same time city council members were encouraging Mollard to make Sixth Avenue his permanent home, Scottsdale city staffers were plotting to raze the street in one of several urban redevelopment projects that seem to have become the city's obsession.

Mollard had made the mistake of owning property that lies between the Arizona Canal and the white elephant known as the Scottsdale Galleria--two things the city wants transformed into a sort of retail and cultural theme park. Everything close by will be transformed as well, and Mollard's home will become a waterway, an underground parking lot, or even a sushi restaurant.

He has no choice in the matter.
But he doesn't seem to realize that. Perhaps trying simply to express how much his home means to him, Mollard vows that he won't budge. "They'll need a crane to get me out of there," he says, sounding more pitiable than resolute.

But it's hard to blame Mollard for not knowing the score. A check with some of his neighbors shows that they're similarly unsure where they stand, and a request to the city shows that Mollard has yet to receive a single communication from the municipality about its plans to lay waste to his neighborhood.

And that's not the only fishy detail in the city's eagerness to turn its downtown into a sort of cowboy Venice. Local property owners and activists say Scottsdale's treatment of Mollard is part of a pattern of questionable uses of eminent domain, cozy negotiations with developers and alarming examples of corporate welfare.

The city rejects those criticisms, claiming to be acting in the best interests of the majority of Scottsdale's citizens, even if it hasn't acted in the best interests of John Mollard.

Mollard, meanwhile, grasps for answers, unsure what he should do next. More than once, he says condemning his building would be like condemning him.

If that's true, then he's a dead man walking. And one who doesn't seem to realize that he's already lost his last appeal.

John Mollard must live in the nation's nicest slum.
He's standing on his second-floor balcony looking over the tree-lined neighborhood around his building. Quaint shops and restaurants line both sides of Sixth Avenue near his antique store. There's a small hotel. A pottery place. An herb store. Professional offices.

The slum even has a French bistro.
Across Scottsdale Road to the east looms the Galleria, an empty marble monument to overzealous 1980s development. To the north, the Arizona Canal cuts a diagonal toward the intersection of Scottsdale and Camelback roads. A short distance to the west, Camelback passes under a still-unfolding retail bridge, built on a plot of air given up for free by the city of Scottsdale to Nordstrom and the Scottsdale Fashion Square.

To the south and east of Mollard's store, Old Scottsdale and its kitschy boutiques, nightclubs and restaurants spread out.

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