Big Scam Theory

Downtown Phoenix has always had its high points, but the Civic Center boondoggle isn't one of them

First, they took seven cities, noted the attendance and the square footage of convention space, and assumed a relationship -- arriving at a ratio of 59 percent between floor space and delegates. This is simply a wildly manipulated number. Las Vegas was not included. One of America's most successful convention cities, and clearly a geographic competitor, doesn't show up.

How arbitrary is this formula? Consider New Orleans, one of the nation's premier convention cities. According to Professor Sanders, New Orleans vastly expanded its capacity to more than a million square feet only to see the following pattern of attendance: 1999 -- 800,000 delegates; 2000 -- 730,000 delegates; 2001 -- 694,000 delegates; 2002 -- 594,000 delegates.

For all of New Orleans' expansion, delegate attendance declined every year.

We're spending about a billion dollars in taxpayer funds for Civic Center expansion  to attract the likes of these nametag-wearing conventioneers.
Jackie Mercandetti
We're spending about a billion dollars in taxpayer funds for Civic Center expansion to attract the likes of these nametag-wearing conventioneers.
The Phoenix Civic Center.
The Phoenix Civic Center.

It is difficult to believe that our billion-dollar investment begins with such a wildly imaginative formula. Change any of the cities and the ratio changes. The only thing speaking in favor of this rotation of cities is that at the end of the day, it allowed Ernst & Young to conclude that we would garner 375,000 delegates after expansion.

Now this is a mighty assumption, but let's not be argumentative.

Ernst & Young then took seven categories: the number of downtown hotel rooms; the reputation of the convention hall; nightlife and shopping; the appeal of the city and its weather; accessibility of flights; downtown dining; and airport access. They then assigned a number based upon how important these categories were to a number of anonymous convention planners they interviewed. A second number was assigned based upon how well Phoenix did in each category.

The appeal of Phoenix was charted out as if this were actually a mathematical formula, the numbers were calculated and then multiplied by the earlier number calculating the square footage to delegate ratio and, guess what, 375,000 delegates.

Yes, you're right. This is unbelievable.

To the casual reader, this does not appear to be the sort of science that launched the successful Mercury space shot but rather the cross-your-fingers-and-hope-the-loose-tiles-aren't-important science of the space shuttle Columbia.

1986 Booker T. Washington School

For 10 years, New Times rented office space downtown at the Westward Ho Hotel, the San Carlos Hotel and the Arizona Title Building. In the mid-'80s, we found a boarded-up structure at 1201 East Jefferson, the old Booker T. Washington Elementary School. Once the all-black grade school when Phoenix was as legally segregated as the Deep South, the historic, though dilapidated, relic looked wonderful.

There was a problem: Five developers, all intent on tearing down the building, were after the Booker T. property, and the school board had a deal in place with one of them. We went to the neighbors and secured their backing by promising to restore the stately edifice and create a museum honoring the school's unique history. The night the board met to vote, State Senator Alfredo Gutierrez made a rousing and persuasive speech on our behalf. Mayor-elect Phil Gordon, who at the time specialized in historic properties, acted as our developer and, with local architect John Douglas, the grade school was brought back to life.

Our neighbor, Pastor Warren Stewart of First Institutional Baptist Church, led the statewide struggle to secure a paid Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in the late '80s and early '90s. The school parking lot served as a staging area for protesters gathered behind the New Times banner on the annual marches through downtown. It was an ugly chapter in Arizona's history made outrageous when the newly elected governor, Evan Mecham, rescinded the holiday as his first official act. Mecham would go on to defend the term "pickaninnies" as a reference to black children.

Pro-holiday protesters filed past downtown's Tanner Chapel A.M.E., the church where Rosa Parks signed copies of her book in 1992 in support of the movement. That same year, Public Enemy's fictional video "By the Time I Get to Arizona" detonated across the state, inflaming sensitive editorial writers and the bombastic hosts of talk radio. The rappers showed the poisoning of an Arizona official and the car-bombing of a governor for refusing to honor Dr. King. On January 20, 1992, following the MLK march, Nightline devoted an entire broadcast to the MTV video. State voters finally enacted the holiday later that year.

2003 -- Ernst & Young Covers Its Tracks

I found the 18-page report used solely to gin up the number of 375,000 convention delegates to be wholly unconvincing.

Apparently, Ernst & Young agreed.

In its preface, the firm wrote: "Neither our report, nor its contents, nor any of our work were intended to be included, and therefore, may not be referred to or quoted in whole or in part, in any registration statement, prospectus, public filing, private offering memorandum, loan agreement or other agreement without our prior written approval, which may require that we perform additional procedures. . . . [N]one of the contents of this report shall be disseminated to the public through advertising media, news media, sales media, Securities and Exchange Commission or any other public means of communication without prior written consent. . . . [S]uch estimates and assumptions are subject to uncertainty and variation. Accordingly, we do not represent them as results that will be achieved. . . . [T]he actual results achieved may vary materially from the estimated results."

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