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By Monica Alonzo
Records withheld by the city of Tempe and obtained by New Times reveal that Tempe was planning to submit the Papago Park Center site to the Tourism and Sports Authority for the Arizona Cardinals football stadium before the November 7, 2000, election, but withheld those plans from the public until after the vote.
In the weeks leading up to the election, Tempe formally notified the TSA and voters that its preferred location for the stadium was a 200-acre parcel located at McClintock Drive and Rio Salado Parkway. But soon after Proposition 302 was narrowly approved, Tempe dropped the McClintock site and substituted Papago Park Center.
The TSA selected Papago Park Center last February as the site for construction of the $335 million retractable-dome, removable-field stadium to serve as host for the Arizona Cardinals. Papago Park Center is part of a commercial development owned and operated by Salt River Project, the state's second-largest electric utility and one of the biggest employers in Tempe.
Tempe's site-selection maneuvering coincided with official statements by the TSA that potential stadium sites needed to be submitted before the election -- a position TSA reversed immediately following the vote.
In addition to misleading the public about the stadium site, Tempe records also show the city planned to bypass legally required public bidding for sewer improvements at the Papago Park Center site after it was picked by the TSA.
The Papago Park Center site has generated controversy since last winter when the TSA was warned by Phoenix officials that the site could pose serious problems for Sky Harbor Airport because it was situated directly under the flight path of the north runway -- the airport's longest and most sophisticated landing strip.
Construction on the stadium was halted in July after the Federal Aviation Administration issued a preliminary report stating the stadium was a "presumed" navigation hazard. The TSA moved the stadium site 1,600 feet east on the Papago Park Center property in an effort to calm FAA concerns, but it still remains mired in problems.
West Valley developer John F. Long is preparing to sue the city and the TSA in the wake of Attorney General Janet Napolitano's decision last week not to investigate numerous improprieties alleged by Long. City of Phoenix officials are also preparing to go to court to stop construction of the stadium.
Phoenix lawyer Brad Holm told the TSA board of directors Monday that Phoenix will file a lawsuit seeking a temporary restraining order if the authority moves forward with construction or purchases steel for the project prior to receiving FAA clearance.
The FAA is expected to determine the suitability of the new site by October 7, when a 30-day public comment period concludes.
The TSA ignored Phoenix's lawsuit warning and voted to begin excavation of the site and purchase $6 million worth of steel from a European mill prior to the FAA ruling.
Three weeks before last November's stadium vote, Tempe Mayor Neil Giuliano convened an informal city council meeting to discuss submitting sites to the state TSA.
For Tempe, retaining the Arizona Cardinals, the Fiesta Bowl and getting on the Super Bowl rotation was a top priority. As Giuliano opened discussion about the stadium at the October 12, 2000, issue review session, the deadline for submitting potential sites to the TSA was fast approaching.
Giuliano controlled the discussion, saying it was his "sense" that the city should not submit the Papago Park Center site, at Priest Drive and Washington Street, to the authority for consideration. Instead, Giuliano said the city should submit a parcel at the intersection of McClintock Drive and Rio Salado Parkway.
Giuliano's suggestion to bypass the Papago Park Center site was greeted with shrugs of agreement from other members of the city council during the videotaped meeting.
No one questioned the suitability of the McClintock site -- a 200-acre parcel owned by Maricopa County that the city has long known to be plagued with serious environmental problems.
Despite Giuliano's statement that the Papago Park Center site should not be submitted prior to the election, documents show that Tempe was already planning to push for this particular location.
The council's decision to submit the McClintock site to the TSA came just two days after Tempe economic development director Jan Schaefer said in an e-mail that she was certain that Tempe would submit the Papago Park Center site to the TSA.
In an October 10, 2000, e-mail to Papago Park Center manager Gena Trimble, Schaefer said: "As a follow-up to our telephone conversation of a couple of weeks ago, the City of Tempe is currently planning to submit Papago Park Center site to the Tourism and Sports Authority as a potential football stadium site."
A few weeks after the stadium proposition was narrowly approved by voters, Tempe dropped the McClintock/Rio Salado site and submitted the Papago Park Center site -- the same location that Giuliano said a month earlier should not be submitted.
The Papago Park Center location was eventually selected by the TSA for the stadium on February 13 -- in large part because Tempe officials assured the TSA the site would not pose a problem for the airport. That proved not to be the case.