Jerry's World

Jerry Colangelo and his pals have gobbled up the lion’s share of public development dollars. If downtown’s to be saved, City Hall’s got to share the wealth.

"I don't know of any artist or art-gallery people who feel that the Downtown Phoenix Partnership has helped First Fridays or the arts community," says Kimber Lanning, owner of Modified Arts on East Roosevelt.

Because of the Partnership's strong-arm tactics, there was vigorous opposition a few years ago when it attempted to expand its geographic area.

Angelos Peter Romas, a New York attorney representing a downtown property owner opposed to the expansion, notes that the Partnership acts as a "shadow government" by imposing taxes on small property owners that primarily benefit large businesses. He referred to the fact that the city allows the Partnership to assess public and private property in a 90-block downtown area.

Without the city's help, artist-developer Beatrice Moore is converting old warehouses  on Grand Avenue into affordable artist studios.
Jackie Mercandetti
Without the city's help, artist-developer Beatrice Moore is converting old warehouses on Grand Avenue into affordable artist studios.
Mayor-elect Phil Gordon promises to break the iron grip on downtown of Colangelo and the Downtown Phoenix Partnership.
Jackie Mercandetti
Mayor-elect Phil Gordon promises to break the iron grip on downtown of Colangelo and the Downtown Phoenix Partnership.

Though the Partnership provides security personnel to downtown businesses, Romas claims its true purpose is to manipulate government spending for the private business interests of its board of directors.

"The city and the Downtown Phoenix Partnership are all in bed together," says Romas. "Let's face it."

Partnership Executive Director Brian Kearney counters that the DPP is simply a "business-improvement district trying to protect the investment that has been made [downtown] and facilitate additional investment in the area."

But whose investment? The taxpayers', or those of the Partnership's influential board of directors?

It goes without saying that there is a considerable gap between the development philosophies of artists like Beatrice Moore and those of Colangelo and the Partnership. But it is a chasm that both sides must be willing to cross -- and the time to do it is now.

Despite the fact that that the public's $300 million investment in Colangelo's entertainment facilities has failed to spur a downtown renaissance, there is reason for hope.

Thanks largely to the strong support of Vice Mayor Greg Stanton, the city is investing millions of dollars to build a cutting-edge biotechnology center that has started a chain-reaction of downtown investment.

The biotechnology project, combined with the promise of a light-rail system to connect downtown Phoenix and downtown Tempe, led to a stunning announcement last month by Arizona State University President Michael Crow. The university, Crow proclaimed, plans to build a downtown campus for 12,000 graduate students.

Within half a dozen years, downtown Phoenix could have what it has been missing for decades -- a few thousand young, smart, creative people living, working and playing in the shadow of the historic Adams Hotel.

How City Hall prepares for this rare opportunity -- and what it does to keep the momentum going -- will determine whether Phoenix can lay legitimate claim to the title of "world-class" city it has been bandying around for decades. It won't be enough to just cater to the big-business interests of Jerry and his partners on the DPP. City government will have to make sure small businesses and the artist community have a place at the table if Phoenix's downtown is finally to burgeon.

"I am an urban person," Jerry Colangelo says, as he relaxes in a comfortable leather chair inside his spacious Bank One Ballpark office.

"I think right now Phoenix is a second-tier city. I would like to be in the first-tier. I have done my share to try to raise the bar with the things I'm personally involved in."

The Chicago native is best known as the man who controls the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Phoenix Suns. But Colangelo engineered his evolution into sports czar by doing what he does best: developing real estate on a grand scale.

His projects have ranged from the Cotton Center industrial park on the border of Tempe and Phoenix to a vast new planned city 40 miles west of downtown on 35,000 acres of unspoiled desert called Douglas Ranch.

Yet the $500-million sports-entertainment complex in downtown Phoenix is Jerry Colangelo's biggest accomplishment.

Colangelo says these big venues -- America West, the ballpark, the Dodge -- came about because he saw opportunity in downtown Phoenix when other businesses were fleeing it in the 1970s and early 1980s.

A pivotal moment came in the early '80s when construction began on the Arizona Center downtown. Through a public-private partnership among the city, the Arizona Public Service Company and the Rouse Company, Arizona Center was to become the first major new structure downtown in decades.

"Immediately after that, I came along with the purchase of the Suns and indicated that we needed to have a new arena. My druthers were, I wanted to be downtown. I felt that we belonged in an urban setting. That's where I thought the future was for arenas and stadiums."

The location on which Colangelo focused was downtown's deteriorating warehouse district, also known as "The Duce," a nickname derived from the produce distributors that lined both sides of the railroad tracks south of Jefferson Street.

The Duce was a rough-and-tumble zone, but it also was an area where a number of artists were utilizing cheap warehouse space to do their work and make their homes. At the time, the city of Phoenix was considering making the area an arts-and-entertainment/historic-preservation district. The desire was to gradually convert the warehouses into a series of nightclubs, restaurants, galleries, studios (where artists would live and work) and street-level stores. The hope was that the district's synergy would invigorate downtown.

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