Operation Mickey Mouse

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

Eventually, Colangelo vows, there will be no more secrecy surrounding what he and his colleagues want to do. "There will be input from all kinds of people," he says. "I'm all for that. I'm inclusive. This is not an exclusive thing."

If Colangelo seems defensive, that's because he is. He's clearly growing weary of the burgeoning criticism (spearheaded by the street-level arts community and its supporters) of his activities.

"I've taken a lot of responsibility for a long time. I give of my time and my resources because I care. And quite honestly, I'll continue to do that until I just get tired of being used as a target for whatever reason. I don't need it."

Will the Suns gorilla be swinging from the  rafters of a downtown Phoenix development like L.A.'s CityWalk ?
Jackie Mercandetti
Will the Suns gorilla be swinging from the rafters of a downtown Phoenix development like L.A.'s CityWalk ?

Right now, he says, "I'm prepared to continue to go forward. I'm going to try to see some plan through. I don't care who gets credit for it. I don't care who participates in it."

Colangelo believes that if he doesn't take the lead in developing a practical blueprint for the future of downtown, no one else will.

"One thing I have been able to do rather successfully is bring people together . . . rally the troops to try to get something done. If anything, there's been a void of people who can get anything done."

Among those supporting Colangelo's downtown master-plan project is Ken Kendrick, a major investor in the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Phoenix Suns.

A behind-the-scenes investor in the arena, ballpark and Dodge Theatre, Kendrick helped pay Jerde Partnership last spring.

Kendrick says the three entertainment venues controlled by Colangelo are vastly important to downtown, but that they are not enough to trigger the wave of residential investment necessary to spark a successful central city.

Something else is needed, and this is why he thinks hiring Jerde Partnership last spring was an important "tentative first step" toward breathing life into downtown.

"A lot of people see there is a great need for some kind of major league effort at urban redevelopment in the city of Phoenix," Kendrick says. "There is a dearth of housing, a dearth of arts and other kinds of things that make for a vibrant [downtown].

"I'm disappointed about what isn't in downtown," he says.

Like Colangelo, Kendrick has a direct interest in seeing downtown blossom in a way that will benefit him financially.

Along with Mel Shultz, Dale Jensen and Mike Chipman, Kendrick rescued the Arizona Diamondbacks from imminent financial collapse in 2001 with a promise to invest $160 million over 10 years in the team in exchange for a 49 percent stake.

The investment came soon after the Diamondbacks won the World Series but were trounced in the much more treacherous world of Major League Baseball finances.

It is a little-discussed fact that Colangelo, Phoenix's most powerful downtown businessman, was at the helm when the Diamondbacks plunged into more than $300 million in debt and near bankruptcy.

Sources say that despite the investment of $16 million a year in the team by Kendrick and the others, the Diamondbacks have continued to have trouble covering operating costs and meeting the team's payroll.

Colangelo's financial struggles with the Diamondbacks -- in conjunction with his promises that the public's $243 million investment in Bank One Ballpark would trigger a downtown renaissance that has yet to materialize -- raise doubts among many about whether he's the man to mastermind any downtown master plan.

"When you look at the hard numbers of what sort of vibrancy he's created downtown, I think he has missed the mark," observes Kimber Lanning, owner of Modified Arts, a downtown art gallery, and Stinkweeds, a music store in Tempe.

"It happened in such recent history that you would think our city leaders would remember clearly that we just spent all this money on stadiums and we were promised a vibrant downtown and we don't have it," she says.

Colangelo's altruistic statements aside, some sources think the Diamondbacks' precarious financial condition has something to do with Colangelo's notions about what would be good for downtown. That is, are his financial needs prompting him to push for a quick-fix Jerde development that is devoid of soul but would be a certain moneymaker?

Colangelo's Diamondbacks are clearly a financial albatross.

Forbes magazine estimates that the Diamondbacks are currently worth about $269 million. While that value is greater than the current amount of money invested in the team, $227 million, it is less than the $355 million that will be invested once the infusion by Kendrick's group is completed.

The team is also deeply in debt -- with more than $145 million owed for cost overruns related to stadium construction and other expenses. The organization owes players another $175 million in deferred salaries.

Despite winning the 2001 World Series, the team announced that it lost $136 million between 1999 and 2002.

Big debt and steady losses don't add up to a bright future.

Kendrick, for one, doesn't expect to see a profit on his investment in the Diamondbacks in his lifetime.

"I have twins, 7-year-olds," he says. "And I hope they will see some of that money. I expect I never will."

Colangelo's buy-now, pay-later philosophy has forced the team to start slashing its payroll -- from $94 million this past season to a projected $55 million in the 2005 season (which is the main reason Schilling is on the block).

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