By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Giuliano says he had tacit approval from Salt River Project officials that they would welcome the stadium site on SRP land at the Papago Park Center, an office park that the utility has been slowly developing since the mid-1980s.
But, Giuliano says, SRP made it clear to him it didn't want to have the Papago Park Center site under formal consideration by the Tourism and Sports Authority until after the 2000 election. SRP's chairman, Richard Silverman, was on the Plan B Task Force. Giuliano said SRP didn't want to appear to be steering the stadium to its land.
Three weeks after Proposition 302 passed, Giuliano went to a Tourism and Sports Authority meeting and told the board that Tempe was pulling the site it submitted prior to the election at McClintock Drive and Rio Salado Parkway and replacing it with the SRP site. Tempe records indicate the city had given scant attention to the McClintock Drive site.
Tempe submitted a formal stadium site proposal for the SRP location to the Tourism and Sports Authority on January 5. A month later, the Tourism and Sports Authority voted to pick the SRP site. The motion to approve the SRP site was made by Tourism and Sports Authority board member C.A. Howlett, who now works for America West Airlines.
Howlett, however, is also a former SRP executive. One of his primary jobs was to develop Papago Park Center.
After voting to put the stadium in an office park he once was in charge of developing, Howlett has since recused himself from all Tourism and Sports Authority matters involving the stadium. An America West spokesman said Howlett continues to be a presence in other Tourism and Sports Authority activities, including funding of Cactus League facilities, construction of youth sports fields and tourism promotions. These were all perks promised to voters as part of Proposition 302.
Meanwhile, John F. Long's letter to Attorney General Janet Napolitano alleges that "Tempe unilaterally and unlawfully withdrew its proposed site" and replaced it with the SRP land.
Not only was the SRP land inappropriately selected by the Tourism and Sports Authority, Long's complaint says, but state law requires the land used for the stadium be owned by the authority. Under the current deal, SRP retains ownership of the land and leases it to Tempe, which, in turn, subleases the property to the sports authority.
Long also alleges that Tempe has failed to live up to the terms in a binding memorandum of understanding it signed in February with the Tourism and Sports Authority, including:
Executing the ground lease for the stadium by August 1.
Advancing $3 million for the ground lease by August 1.
Obtaining FAA approval of the stadium site by June 1.
"We understand as of this date [August 10], Tempe has not met any of these critical obligations," Long states.
Tourism and Sports Authority chairman Jim Grogan is all smiles as the interview begins late last week. Grogan was appointed chairman of the authority by Governor Jane Hull and has been a central figure in the effort to build a stadium since 1999 when Mesa voters soundly defeated the push for an all-purpose sports facility.
At times, the former lawyer for Charles Keating's infamous Lincoln Savings & Loan who became ensnared in the Keating Five scandal was downright ecstatic during an hourlong conversation.
His well-appointed office is located in the same north Scottsdale business center as the Hunt Development Company.
Grogan emphasizes that he -- along with the rest of the nine-member Tourism and Sports Authority board -- are volunteers simply trying to help their community.
He acknowledges that the project has had a few rough spots in the early going. He swears everything is back on track and that construction is set to begin as soon as the FAA approves the stadium's new location a few hundred yards from the original site that the FAA deemed last month to be a "navigation hazard."
The new site, Grogan says, is virtually guaranteed FAA approval.
"It solves all the issues," Grogan promises.
Of course Grogan told fellow Tourism and Sports Authority board members June 14 that the old location didn't need FAA approval because it would be less than 200 feet high.
A month later, the FAA told the Tourism and Sports Authority that the stadium would be a navigation hazard as long as it exceeded 115 feet in height. The FAA notice brought the stadium construction project to halt, triggering a mad scramble to find a quick solution to a vexing problem.
The proposed solution is to move the stadium to the southeast onto a parcel adjacent to the original site, but no longer on the center line of Sky Harbor Airport's longest runway. (The newest proposed stadium site is now located between Sky Harbor's north runway and the airport's middle runway.) The authority hopes to get FAA approval by August 20. The FAA has indicated it will make a decision by September 11.
Grogan says once the FAA issues an approval, the project will begin full steam.
But what if the FAA still has concerns?
"That's not in the stars," Grogan says with a trust-me smile.
The project, he promises, will be underway before October 1, when time constraints could become insurmountable.