Venetian Blind

Will Scottsdale voters preserve "The West's Most Western Town," or opt for "a little bit of Venice"?

"Right now, the canal is a barrier between this hugely successful mall and the rest of downtown Scottsdale. The idea is to let culture and commerce flow freely across the water."

Besides, Campana says, let's be realistic: "We'd lose the Fifth Avenue Area, yes, but the Fifth Avenue Area is clearly in decline. They've led a subsidized existence there for quite some time."

The buildings in the Fifth Avenue Area are old. Some might be called dilapidated. And they were not built to make use of the canal's scenery. All the structures along the canal on Stetson Drive have their backs to the water.

John Mollard, whose antique shop would be condemned to make room for the Canals of Scottsdale, torches the deal developers wanted him to sign.
Paolo Vescia
John Mollard, whose antique shop would be condemned to make room for the Canals of Scottsdale, torches the deal developers wanted him to sign.
The Canals plan calls for the Scottsdale Galleria to house the Museum of Progress, including a giant, interactive globe in the ghost mall's grand atrium.
The Canals plan calls for the Scottsdale Galleria to house the Museum of Progress, including a giant, interactive globe in the ghost mall's grand atrium.

Many storefronts in the area are as empty as the ones in the Scottsdale Galleria, even though leases in the Fifth Avenue Area are much cheaper than in downtown Scottsdale's nearby, better-known retail center, Old Town Scottsdale.

But the leases are also potentially much shorter. After all, the district has a sword poised over its head.

There are probably several reasons why the Fifth Avenue Area, despite a few, scattered success stories, is failing: One is Scottsdale Fashion Square, directly across the canal. Another is a lot of the money in Scottsdale has moved north. Also, longtime shopkeepers and property owners in the area blame the construction of the Galleria, which disrupted access to an already obscure district.

And they blame the City of Scottsdale.

"We were tricked," says Judy Peters, who owns buildings on Sixth Avenue, which houses an herb store, a make your own pottery business and Santa's Back Door, a seasonal holiday shop.

In 1996, the City of Scottsdale approached Peters and other Fifth Avenue District property and business owners with a deal: The city asked the owners to support the creation of an enhanced-services district -- a special taxation area -- which assesses each owner a small amount and puts the money into a collective pool of about $750,000, which would be used to improve and market the district.

There was one catch: To create the special tax district, the city would have to declare the area a slum, which would give the city greater powers of condemnation.

"If we'd known what they had planned, no one would have given them more power," Peters says. "We never were told anything about their true intentions. All we heard about was how they were going to improve the banks of the canal. Well, they have a big idea of a canal bank."

City of Scottsdale Director of Redevelopment Gary Roe has said repeatedly that the owners were "explicitly informed of the possible consequences." Also, he has said, the city planned to declare the area a slum whether the owners agreed to it or not.

John Mollard, a retired Southern California real-estate agent who owns an antique shop on Sixth Avenue, has a poster hanging in his window. It's a fictitious newspaper's front page -- the September 7, 2000, issue of the "Scottsdale Gazette."

"Scottsdale Bankrupt" screams the headline.

The story begins, "Due to the generous incentives given the developers of the Canals of Scottsdale, the City of Scottsdale has declared bankruptcy," then goes on to describe empty gondola rides, the stench of dead fish, and Mayor Campana fleeing town, Baby Doc-style.

A sign on the same pane of glass blares "Rob From the Poor and Give to the Rich -- The City of Scottsdale Way!"

Mollard is a long way from poor. Poor is living in a shack on a hillside in Mexico. Mollard lives in a lavish apartment above his shop, surrounded by God knows how many antiques, paintings and Japanese artifacts.

Mollard says a real-estate broker representing the Canals of Scottsdale approached him recently with a paper to sign: It was an option to buy his property.

"It wasn't an offer to buy my property, it was an offer to tie it up in escrow for 10 years so I couldn't sell it to anyone else," says Mollard. "Then, if they wanted to buy it, they could. When I saw what they were offering, I shoved this thing at the guy and said, 'Get the fuck off my property.'"

Thanks to the city's powers of condemnation, one day soon, Canals developers may be telling Mollard the same thing -- in so many words.

According to the agreement between Canals developers and the city, if there are any stubborn property owners in the redevelopment zone -- Mollard says it will take a crane to remove him from his home -- the City of Scottsdale will use its powers of condemnation to take possession of the property, then deed it to the developers.

Federal law requires the city pay condemned property owners "fair market value" for their land and buildings.

Campana says ousted owners "will be well taken care of."

"We're a nice, thriving, well-to-do community, and we will do this the right way," she says.


From the sidewalk the Scottsdale Galleria looks like a cocaine lord's South Beach compound on Miami Vice -- two high-profile, pink buildings connected by a sky bridge.

Inside it looks like the set for Lair of the Valley Girl Zombies.

The marble columns are as massive as the silence.

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