Crack Addicts, Political Shenanigans and Indian Relics

Only in Phoenix is this a formula for a real estate hustle

"St. Vincent's needed to rebuild their building and they said we are not moving," says Supervisor Wilcox.

"They said 'deal with it,'" Wilcox says. "So everybody put on their thinking caps."

The homeless build makeshift shelters in vacant lots scattered across the Grant Park neighborhood.
Todd H. Lillard
The homeless build makeshift shelters in vacant lots scattered across the Grant Park neighborhood.
Steve Zabilski, executive director of St. Vincent de Paul, serves lunches to the homeless.
Todd H. Lillard
Steve Zabilski, executive director of St. Vincent de Paul, serves lunches to the homeless.

It was in this time period that Cowley purchased the O'Malley property on June 26, 2000. Cowley purchased the property with only a 2 percent ($25,000) down payment, county real estate records show.

Four months after Cowley acquired the land, the county hired Dollin in October 2000 to develop architectural concepts for a homeless development near 12th Avenue and Madison.

Dollin published his report on March 20, 2001. He proposed a basic homeless services center to be built on the city and county land between 12th and 13th avenues and south of Madison. The plans included a 400-bed shelter, a learning center, a new health clinic, an overflow shelter, a dining room and a police substation. Dollin's plan included everything the homeless needed, except Cowley's land.

Eight days after releasing his report, the directors of CASS, Healthcare Clinic for the Homeless, St. Vincent de Paul and St. Joseph the Worker endorsed development of the homeless campus near 12th Avenue and Madison.

Citing the Dollin report and the service providers' endorsement, supervisors, including Stapley, approved a resolution on April 4, 2001, calling for creation of a homeless campus near 12th Avenue and Madison.

One problem: Dollin's plan bordered, but did not include, Cowley's parcel.

Suddenly, Cowley's real estate investment was not looking so good. If Dollin's recommendations were implemented, Cowley's lumber yard property was going to be next to a homeless services project that attracts a seedy clientele.

A second architect was brought in, and talk soon turned to an expansive, almost visionary, "campus" for the homeless, a "campus" that clearly required more land. Cowley's land.

The thought of new buildings in a collegial atmosphere generated excitement. As enthusiasm grew, the size of the homeless project increased. Before long, Cowley's land was quietly absorbed into the project.

Another problem: Cowley's property was going to cost more money under architect number two's proposal than had been anticipated under Dollin's compact design.

So shortly after the county acquired Cowley's land, it dumped the college campus concept and replaced architect number two with architect number three.

Architect number three pushed a "shopping mall" approach that will save several million dollars in construction, have none of the graciousness of the "campus" but all of Cowley's land, with room to spare.

Here's how it happened.

The supervisors' April 4, 2001, resolution to build the campus near 12th Avenue and Madison also allocated $90,000 to Orcutt/Winslow Partnership to develop a preliminary design for the campus.

Architect Paul Winslow says soon after his firm began studying the site, a concern surfaced that the city and county land did not provide enough space for the homeless project.

At that point, Winslow says the county indicated that the lumber yard property could be included in potential designs.

Facilities management director Hintz says a committee that included supervisors Jan Brewer and Mary Rose Wilcox along with service providers made the decision to direct Orcutt/Winslow to include the lumber yard in potential designs.

Orcutt/Winslow released its preliminary design report on June 29, 2001. The report greatly expanded Dollin's homeless campus concept to include Cowley's lumber yard property in addition to the city and county property.

Instead of finding that he'd cornered land next door to a haven for the mentally ill, the homeless, and the city's largest open-air crack market, an unusual investment strategy at best, Cowley found himself sitting on top of the key parcel in a wonderful, new, downtown campus.

While the Orcutt/Winslow report advocated using the lumber yard property, it incorrectly identified the owner of the land as the "O'Malley family" rather than Cowley.

Less than a year after telling David Therrien in July 2000 that the county had plans for his property, Duke Cowley's lumber yard parcel had quietly become the centerpiece of the county's homeless project.

A project, records indicate, that appears to have been bloated in order to accommodate all of Cowley's property.

The Orcutt/Winslow report provides an illuminating series of sketches that shows the evolution of the homeless campus from a relatively compact site occupying city- and county-owned land to a sprawling campus that includes the Cowley property. (The report is available at

The sketches were compiled after two, daylong meetings in May 2001 that included state, county and city officials, business leaders and the homeless service providers.

With the lumber yard property now in the mix, homeless service providers were encouraged during the planning meetings to think big.

"It was rather exciting, I remember, just being able to dream," says Father Krueger, director of the Andre House, which provides free dinners to the homeless.

One could hardly fault the charitable agencies their fantasies. For decades they'd fought for attention and funding and here was the government urging them to think outside the box. The almost giddy enthusiasm of the opportunity obscured the land play.

With the space limitations removed, the geographic size of the project more than tripled, from Dollin's four acres to Orcutt/Winslow's proposal of more than 14 acres.

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