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By Ray Stern
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By Stephen Lemons
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Have you noticed the haze hovering over the Valley? Attribute it to exhaust venting from smoke-filled rooms where bureaucrats, civic boosters, lawyers and business types are plotting to get a $335 million football stadium built on their turf. Voter approval of Proposition 302 has triggered furious competition among communities that want the Arizona Cardinals' stadium built on their turf.
But in Arizona, you can't be a mover or shaker without an inherent edifice complex. It's genetic.
"Politically, there's a lot of jousting that's going on, and I'm not sure where it all leads," says sports mogul Jerry Colangelo of the stadium sweepstakes.
Colangelo would like it to lead downtown, where his Suns and Diamondbacks are already ensconced. And what Jerry wants, Jerry usually gets.
Can aspirants in Mesa, Tempe, the west Valley or the Fort McDowell reservation stave off downtown's late entry into the facility fracas? We'll find out soon enough. The Tourism and Sports Authority (TSA), a nine-member unelected board that wields powers of condemnation, will choose the site by early February.
Critical to the decision is how to pay for the stadium's attendant infrastructure -- parking, streets, utilities, etc. Proposition 302 requires the host to provide this infrastructure, which, by the way, is one of the most inelegant, annoying words in our vocabulary.
Downtown locales under consideration are southeast of Bank One Ballpark, primarily on land owned by Union Pacific Railroad; the Phoenix Union High School campus; and an acreage between Interstate 17 and the Salt River. A consultant is scrambling to produce a feasibility study on these sites by New Year's. Expect infrastructure estimates to come in low, based on the claim that the vaunted Copper Square has infrastructure out the ying-yang. Some 30,000 parking spaces are ready-made, and the hotels have vacancies.
Tempe is proposing a site north of the Salt River on Salt River Project land, and is joining Mesa in a proposal for a site that straddles the Tempe-Mesa line near the intersection of the 202 and 101 freeways. Projected infrastructure costs at the Mesa-Tempe site: $122 million.
The Fort McDowell Indians are offering tribal land along the Beeline Highway, while a coalition of west Valley cities wants the stadium built on land to be donated by developer John F. Long near 99th Avenue and Thomas Road. A consultant says the west Valley site's infrastructure would cost $46 million. Fort McDowell officials did not return phone calls.
Though the Legislature put Proposition 302 on the ballot in the spring, downtown Phoenix interests hid in the weeds, withholding a proposal to host the stadium until after the November 7 election. It's a tactic that rankles the other competitors.
The statute authorizing Proposition 302 states, "Before the election . . . the tourism and sports authority . . . shall . . . select one or more sites for the multipurpose facility."
Unambiguous language? Apparently not. The TSA claims that nothing precludes it from accepting proposals after the election date as well. Don't be surprised if an unhappy suitor sues the TSA over this question.
The TSA's liberal reading of the statute allowed downtown to become a real -- if tardy -- player. The downtown business community, buttressed by Colangelo's personality, possesses formidable throw weight.
Yet downtown faces significant obstacles -- the time line, the possibility that another election will be required and, of course, infrastructure.
Phoenix's charter requires a public vote before more than $3 million can be spent on sports, entertainment or convention venues or their infrastructure. Time is short. The contractor's guarantee to pay for stadium cost overruns -- a key stipulation -- will vanish if construction does not begin by August 1.
TSA chairman Jim Grogan says any host that causes the deadline to be eclipsed must step up and guarantee overruns. That's a dicey prospect -- domed stadiums routinely obliterate their budgets.
Possible plebiscites further complicate matters. The TSA hopes to select a site in late January. Phoenix would be hard-pressed to put the question to voters before May.
"There's no question that an election is a contingency that would weigh heavily on the minds of a TSA board member," Grogan says. "Frankly, any election at any site would be a contingency that would weigh heavily on us."
West Valley boosters plan to avoid the charter -- and an election -- by having Phoenix release the land, which would then be annexed by Avondale. West Valley voters heavily favored Proposition 302. Of course, Phoenix could also nix the west Valley's dreams by refusing to give up the land.
The Phoenix Downtown Partnership has joined the Convention and Visitors Bureau in urging a downtown site. (The city council agreed to pay up to $50,000 to fund the study of downtown sites. Earlier, the city had contributed $25,000 to a study of the west Valley site.)
Colangelo believes the stadium should be built in conjunction with an expansion of the Phoenix Civic Plaza.
"If it's an expanded Civic Plaza and stadium, that's where you get the greatest synergism," he says. (Heh, heh. He said synergism.)
He is unenthusiastic about two stand-alone facilities. Colangelo's vision would require the city to rethink its dubious plan to double the size of the Civic Plaza, a project expected cost at least $500 million -- and probably much more -- in its own right. How would it work?