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

Second, and far more important, is that the Cardinals' $18 million contribution requires Tempe to cede all development rights for 37 acres surrounding the stadium to the Cardinals. This guarantees that the football team controls potentially lucrative development rights to build a luxury hotel, restaurants, retail and office space adjacent to a world-class, multipurpose facility heavily subsidized by taxpayers.

It's difficult to say how much the Cardinals believe the development rights are worth. One indication is how quickly the team agreed to pay a reported $12 million premium to pick up the development rights on the adjacent 12 acres that were suddenly acquired late last month.

All the revenue streams coming back to Tempe and the Cardinals are based on a crucial assumption that the stadium will generate $1.5 million in taxes and parking funds each year for repayment. This assumes average attendance of around 57,000 per year for Cardinal games -- not far from the 50,003 for the 2000 season played at Sun Devil Stadium.

The Cardinals hope to play in their sleek new stadium 
by August 2004.
The Cardinals hope to play in their sleek new stadium by August 2004.
Tourism and Sports Authority chairman Jim Grogan is 
confident stadium construction will begin by October.
Kevin Scanlon
Tourism and Sports Authority chairman Jim Grogan is confident stadium construction will begin by October.

"This repayment scenario assumes a lot of things," says Flynn. "It assumes they have a decent team on the field."

Tempe not only is borrowing money from the Cardinals, the city is also providing millions of dollars worth of property tax breaks for the team's planned hotel, restaurant, retail and office development.

Flynn says the property tax breaks -- which will last at least eight years -- will help the Cardinals finance the future parking structures, as surface parking lots surrounding the stadium are converted into buildings.

Nowhere has the city projected the value of the tax breaks compared to the cost of building the parking structures. The Cardinals, however, will be required to pay Tempe schools $100,000 a year.

Flynn acknowledges there is a dearth of financial analysis at this point, unlike other projects proposed for sports teams in the Valley. Firm projections will only be made once final agreements are reached.

"The devil is in the details, and these are still being negotiated," Flynn says.

And once the devil finally rears its head, it will be too late for careful and thoughtful public review, because Giuliano promises to get the city council to move quickly on the financial agreements. They likely will face little scrutiny other than from councilman Hugh Hallman, who is known to pore over the fine print.

Tempe's sleight of hand on the stadium's financial deal extends into zoning issues as well.

Giuliano says the city has no intention of subjecting the stadium to normal planning and zoning hearings. The city, he says, believes the Tourism and Sports Authority is exempt from zoning requirements because it is another governmental body.

While government operations are generally exempt from municipal zoning, there are exceptions.

The Veterans Memorial Coliseum -- which like the Tourism and Sports Authority operates as a state agency -- is subject to City of Phoenix zoning. A 1986 Arizona Appeals Court ruling states that "the general rule which bars municipal zoning of state functions does not apply to proprietary operations of the state."

The coliseum, the court ruled, is a propriety operation of the state.

Likewise, the Bank One Ballpark is owned by a governmental body -- the Maricopa County Stadium District -- and is subject to City of Phoenix zoning.

A staff attorney for the stadium district also said the ballpark was considered to be a "proprietary" operation, thus it was subject to the city's zoning.

Tempe's reluctance to hold zoning hearings on a $331 million project -- one that is still under design and whose overall layout will be crucial in how quickly the city will be repaid for its up-front investment -- seems shocking.

However, planning and zoning cases require several public hearings and take time to schedule and complete. More importantly, any zoning decisions could be subject to a referendum by the voters, which could thwart the project.

There are two potential zoning problems facing the stadium. First, the land, which is owned by Salt River Project, is subject to a 140-foot height limitation. The stadium is nearly 200 feet high.

Second, the 12-acre parcel that the Tourism and Sports Authority believes will meet FAA requirements is zoned multi-use general (MG), with a primary emphasis on residential use. The old site was zoned for light industrial use.

"They (city council) would have never thought of putting the stadium into the MG district," says Tempe city planner Sean Prior, because the city wanted dense residential uses in that area.

Zoning attorneys say Tempe's plan to bypass planning and zoning hearings could lead to legal challenges not only to the city's zoning laws, but to any building permit that is issued.

But Giuliano says he's not concerned about a challenge.

"We will just get it dismissed," he says.

Giuliano's cavalier attitude toward public review of the Cardinals stadium deal becomes somewhat sinister when he describes how Tempe worked with Salt River Project to keep the Priest and Washington site under wraps until after the November 7, 2000, election.

Giuliano says he first raised the Salt River Project site as a possibility for the Cardinals stadium in December 1999, when the governor's Plan B Task Force that laid the groundwork for Proposition 302 was just beginning to meet.

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