Operation Mickey Mouse

Could downtown Phoenix get more soulless? Yep! Check out Jerry Colangelo's secret plan.

"There are a lot of people," he insists, "who want a spontaneously generated, diverse economy and culture."

Few are willing to criticize Jerry Colangelo publicly.

Tourists flock to Horton Plaza in downtown San Diego.
John Dougherty
Tourists flock to Horton Plaza in downtown San Diego.

So it isn't surprising that some downtown insiders getting summoned to meetings to discuss raising the more than $1 million to pay for Colangelo's master plan for downtown Phoenix are privately criticizing the big developer's latest foray into city-making.

"Normally, these kind of plans are done with the city," says one prominent business leader who has property that could be affected by the kind of mega-development Colangelo is considering.

"You normally don't have a group of two or three land owners trying to plan everybody else's businesses," he says, asking not to be named to avoid landing on Colangelo's wrong side. "It's sort of unheard of. A lot of people are offended."

Whether he's offending business people or not, Colangelo's working hard to come up with funds for the master plan for downtown Phoenix. Earlier this month, he held a meeting with key downtown players at which property south of Bank One Ballpark and America West Arena in the historic warehouse district was deemed the prime location for a big downtown development.

Land on both sides of Second Street south of the arena is particularly attractive to Colangelo's interests, sources say. It's an area that is already attracting major investment; a luxury condominium project is slated to open in the area early next year.

Typically, it's been difficult to assemble large swaths of downtown property for redevelopment because so many property owners are involved. But the area south of the arena is different. Nearly three blocks between Jackson and Lincoln streets is owned by one entity -- the federal government. Several other blocks already have been assembled by investors. All of this could be easily combined for a Jerde-style shopping-and-entertainment venue that covers half a dozen blocks or more.

The fact that the area is bisected by railroad tracks and considered unsafe makes it a prime target for Jerde, which has prospered by turning slums into large-scale retail venues.

Yet the proposed master plan area is said to encompass more than just the warehouse district. Sources say it could range from Interstate 10 to the north to Lincoln Drive to the south and be bounded by Seventh Street to the east and 12th Avenue to the west.

Though Colangelo refuses to get into the specifics of the proposed project, he confirms that Jerde Partnership has been involved and that he is attempting to raise funds for a next planning phase. A Jerde representative declined to comment.

Colangelo says he has no personal financial interest in property that could be included in a master plan. He insists that his motives are altruistic.

"I'm an urban guy," he says. "I love cities. That's why I love Chicago. That's why I love New York. I enjoy being a part of them. I know all the stuff, the good and the bad."

Colangelo says that without a master plan for downtown, the area would evolve haphazardly.

"There would be hit and miss," he says. "A little deal here, a little deal there. There would be no rhyme or reason."

Colangelo wants to see downtown prosper sooner rather than later, and he obviously thinks Jerde can make that happen.

Colangelo wants the master plan to call for rapid construction of housing and retail establishments surrounding the large cultural and entertainment facilities already present. Among them, naturally, are his babies, the Dodge, Bank One and the arena.

Think of an instant community like Anthem, about 35 miles north of Phoenix, condensed and dropped into downtown.

Phoenix's new downtown, Colangelo argues, should have "pockets" that allow for cultural and ethnic diversity. He says low-income as well as high-end housing must anchor any new development plan. And among the retail and commercial establishments should be "icon" department stores.

Colangelo says he's not out to line his and his partners' pockets at the expense of what is right for Phoenix. He insists that his aim is only to create a prosperous downtown.

"I care about the town, the community, the city, and I don't have a vested interest financially in any development that is going to take place in this downtown," he says. "I just want to see it all happen."

He leaves out that the downtown he envisions would hugely benefit his entertainment interests.

Colangelo needs all the help he can get in attracting more patrons to America West and to the BOB. Despite a recent $28 million face-lift of the arena -- in which an upscale restaurant, a Starbucks and a team shop were added -- attendance is still lagging at Suns games. A two-story nightclub adjacent to the ballpark has also suffered. Controlled by the Diamondbacks and leased to private operators, the bar (currently called McFadden's) has been a financial black hole with two previous operators going under.

Colangelo clearly wants to leave the impression that any master plan for downtown would not be his. He insists that he has merely provided the leadership necessary to get things under way.

"I don't know what's going to happen with this plan," he says. "It's not my plan. It's a plan that people are looking at that seems to make sense. There is going to be all kinds of input, but we need more money to take it to the next step."

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