Quarterback Sneak

To get the stadium they want, Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill and Tempe Mayor Neil Giuliano are playing fast and loose with the rules of the game

"There really isn't much left for us to do," he says.

At least publicly.

Which is the way Giuliano likes it.

Arizona Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill is investing more 
than $50 million to develop land adjacent to the 
Cardinals' new stadium.
Arizona Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill is investing more than $50 million to develop land adjacent to the Cardinals' new stadium.
Tempe City Councilman Dennis Cahill worries the 
stadium deal could collapse.
Kevin Scanlon
Tempe City Councilman Dennis Cahill worries the stadium deal could collapse.

The 44-year-old federal relations manager with Arizona State University likes to keep the details of governance off the front page of newspapers so that staff and council can manage the city's affairs without lurching from one uproar to another.

"Public perception is very important," says Giuliano. "You have to manage that."

Giuliano should know.

The four-term mayor faces a recall election next month in the wake of a public relations disaster after he tried to get the city to end United Way funding for the Boy Scouts because the group discriminates against homosexuals. He backed down after the situation escalated into a huge controversy, but the damage was done. Giuliano, who is gay, became the subject of a successful recall campaign to hold a special mid-term election.

Badly needing a major political victory to stymie the recall, Giuliano has focused his efforts on landing the Cardinals stadium. Part of his strategy is to create the appearance that Tempe government operates openly, when, in fact, the opposite is true, particularly when it comes to the stadium.

Tempe has kept citizens in the dark for more than nine months about the details of its financial dealings with the Cardinals and the Tourism and Sports Authority. Other than a misleading two-page press release outlining the city's preliminary stadium agreements -- which falsely asserts there is "no impact to Tempe residents" -- there has been little public discussion about the financial details.

Instead, the city council has met at least 22 times since November 29, 2000, in secret executive sessions to discuss issues related to the stadium.

Giuliano says given the tight deadlines for stadium construction, it's very unlikely the city will hold lengthy public hearings on Tempe's final financing plan to provide land, parking and infrastructure for the stadium.

"The small details in the financial documents are not going to be anything of great significance," he says.

That depends on what you define as significant.

Typically, a city will conduct a detailed cost-benefit analysis of a project of this magnitude before determining whether it's a good investment for the city. In many cases, this includes hiring an outside consultant, typically a major accounting firm, to analyze the deal. Scottsdale, for instance, hired a consultant to analyze every financial detail of the doomed Los Arcos project that would have provided a new arena for the Phoenix Coyotes. That project has since moved to the West Valley.

Tempe, instead, has opted to keep the analysis in house.

"I am comfortable with our professional staff," Giuliano says.

Perhaps because it is far easier to keep that information carefully contained inside the bowels of city government. Despite records indicating that the city has engaged in careful analysis of the Cardinals deal, the city is refusing to turn over those documents.

What information that is available reveals that contrary to the city's assertion that there will be no impact on taxpayers, Tempe is providing about $23 million to prepare the stadium site, most of which won't begin to be recouped for at least eight years.

In addition, the Cardinals advanced $18 million to Tempe to allow the city to offer the stadium site to the Tourism and Sports Authority for free. This was a crucial provision that put Tempe on par with the west Valley's financial proposal, which also was providing free land.

The Tourism and Sports Authority was mandated by Proposition 302 to give priority to sites that were providing free land, parking and infrastructure. If the Cardinals had not advanced Tempe the funds, the stadium site would have very likely ended up in the west Valley.

"I don't think there is any question at all that the thing was on the way to the westside until the Cardinals stepped up said, 'Here's the money,'" sports authority board member Arnett says.

The team's $18 million comes with two key stipulations:

First, the Cardinals would be repaid $10.8 million of the advance from stadium revenue before Tempe would collect a dime for its outlays. The Cardinals' loan is not expected to be repaid before 2009. The balance of the Cardinals $18 million would be spent on non-utility improvements at the stadium site and would be credited against the team's future lease payments for its South Tempe training facility.

Once the Cardinals get back their $10.8 million, plus interest, Tempe will begin to recoup approximately $5 million, plus interest. This repayment won't take place until after 2009 and won't be paid back for between five and seven years, says Pat Flynn, Tempe's assistant city manager.

The Cardinals will then be next in line to collect $17 million that the team was projecting to be spent on parking structures but that will now help finance the acquisition of 12 acres needed to move the stadium from beneath the flight path of the north runway at Sky Harbor Airport.

Repayment of the $17 million is expected to take more than 20 years.

The extremely complicated repayment plan leaves $3 million in Tempe advances uncollected for more than 35 years. By then, the amount with interest will exceed $10 million. But Flynn concedes it's unlikely that will ever be collected because the life of the stadium is only 30 years.

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