Flashes 04-06-2000

Kiss Your Butte Goodbye

The next target on the downtown Tempe development agenda: "A" Mountain, a.k.a. Tempe Butte.

The construction, proposed by MCW Holdings and embraced by city officials, involves dynamiting a sizable chunk of ASU's beloved hillock to accommodate more retail stores, living space and movie theaters at the base. Permission for a significant amount of development has already been granted; no environmental impact studies are planned or required.

Hayden Ferry South, as the new complex is called, was originally approved by the Tempe City Council in December 1997. The construction managed to stay below community radar until September, when developers floated an idea to scrap the original, more modest construction plans in favor of an 18-story monstrosity that would effectively dwarf every structure in downtown Tempe -- including "A" Mountain.

Even Tempe Mayor Neil Giuliano heard the wail of residents over the cha-ching of cash registers when that idea hit the news, and he went on record in favor of a more restricted project. In a meeting last week at the Tempe Mission Palms, the Rio Salado Advisory Commission met with residents, developers and city officials. Propped on easels were concept sketches that showed how the Hayden Flour Mill, a historic structure annoyingly situated in the middle of MCW Holdings' property, will be reimagined: "Existing grain elevators" will become "40 suite Boutique Hotel," "Existing flour mill" will become "Office/retail."

Will Mill Avenue be renamed Office/Retail Avenue for total congruence? The Flash is unsure.

The residents carried an air of exasperation, as if this fight was their last stand.

"The butte belongs to everybody, it's the people's butte," said ASU justice professor Randall Amster, who claims 1,700 resident signatures on his petition against the development. "It's the last remaining piece of Sonoran Desert landscape in downtown Tempe, and it should not be sold off to the highest bidder."

Except, of course, that it already has.

Longtime Tempe developer Ross Robb, who, together with partner John Benton, is viewed by butte-huggers as an unstoppable Pac-Man gobbling desert landscape and small businesses, was defensive about the proposal, but provided no reassurance.

"We don't dispute the passion surrounding this issue," Robb said. "We work to make a profit, we're not ashamed of that."

Residents at the meeting, however, expressed the most derision at comments made by Downtown Tempe Commerce Commissioner Rod Keeling.

"We want to save the butte as well," Keeling said. "But we don't think the development threatens the butte. Our concern is the connecting of downtown and the lake. Street mall and pedestrian connectedness are very important, we are talking about window interests."

It was the phrase "window interests" that did it.

"If [pedestrians] don't have a window to look at boxer shorts or ball caps, [Keeling] is worried that they will turn around and walk back," resident Richard Dillon railed from the podium. "That little area between Monti's and the mill is the last little piece that's what Tempe used to be like. Unless you've got a pipeline to God, there would be no way to rebuild it."

Residents hope the council will exercise the "no build" option, which would require that the city purchase the property from MCW Holdings, an option which isn't an option at all.

"I'm sure in terms of contracts and everything else that there would probably be a pretty severe lawsuit [if the no-build option was exercised]," said Rio Salado marketing coordinator Mary Fowler.

"I think the decision is already made," added city council candidate Gretchen Wolfe. "This is all for naught."

The Rio Salado Advisory Commission will likely present its proposed development guidelines at a May 11 city council meeting.

$tate of $ilence

When Matt Chew was fired from his position at the Arizona State Parks Department last month for writing disparagingly of the development of Kartchner Caverns ("Spelunk, Spelunk, Fizz, Fizz," March 16), his superiors hoped he'd go quietly. In fact, they even drew up papers to that effect.

According to a document titled "Confidential Settlement Agreement and Mutual Release," the Parks Department offered Chew $9,721 for a consultant's assignment if he'd "submit a voluntary resignation" and then promise not to talk to anyone, particularly anyone in the media, about goings-on in the department. "Exhibit A" was a ready-made resignation waiting only for Chew's signature, and it was attached to the proposed consultant contract. Needless to say, Chew didn't sign, and instead has sent out copies of the proposed agreement stapled to a copy of his appeal of the firing, which is still pending.

"It's a public issue," Chew says, "and I wasn't going to turn around and betray my own purpose by saying, 'Sure, give me some money and I'll go away.'"

At His Nader

Green Party presidential candidate and consummate consumer advocate Ralph Nader did some stoop-shouldered stumping in Tempe last week, speaking to the 200 or so remaining liberals at Arizona State University.

The dreary Murdock Hall lecture room was perfect for Nader, a man who seemed less like a presidential candidate and more like a grumpy poly-sci professor. And a poly-sci lecture is pretty much what he gave -- a speech called "Corporate Dominance and the Critical Decline of Democracy in the 21st Century." Nader wearily bashed corporate welfare, corporate influence in politics, corporate advertising and, well, just about everything corporate. The White House, he says, has become a "corporate prison."

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