Big Scam Theory

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

Following one of the interviews inside the Civic Center, I walked across the street to the Hyatt's Network restaurant. It was half full of conventioneers getting lunch. The menu, like every menu for six square blocks, offered burgers and wings. This is why tourists are so disagreeable. They dumb down the restaurants and the streetscape.

The waitress brought me a Cobb salad dominated by the palest yellow iceberg lettuce. Only a tourist would eat such fare. I paid my bill and left.

1989 Séamus McCaffrey and Fitz
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.

My first boy was born in downtown. During prolonged labor, my wife and I watched the outmanned Phoenix Suns against the Los Angeles Lakers on television.

Pregnant with our first child, my wife had enrolled in a Lamaze class. More accurately, she had enrolled us. A fiendish idea devised (oh, here's a surprise) by the French, the woman is expected to abandon thousands of years of medical advances and renounce all painkillers during childbirth. Instead, the victim blocks out the excruciating pain with deep breathing. The husband, identified as a "coach," pretends to have something to do by uttering nonsense phrases like, "Push! Push! Breathe!" I viewed this as end times.

I showed up at the first class, following a staff party, late, totally ripped, and having to borrow money from my wife to pay the cab driver. The teacher of this Molière farce made me stand up and introduce myself. I did so. I went on to explain that I thought Lamaze was a barbaric practice. I sat down. I stood back up.

"And another thing, don't call me coach."

The next day on the way into work, my wife listened in horror as the entire incident was recounted by one of the morning drive-time shock jocks. The reporting was so precise, so full of telling detail, that my wife considered taking a sick day, fearful the station broadcast might have been heard at her prissy law firm.

She enrolled us in a second downtown Lamaze class in which we were the only participants. Chastened, but no less chagrined, I achieved a perfect attendance record.

On the way to the hospital delivery room in downtown Phoenix, my wife handed me a brown paper bag. Inside was a ball cap emblazoned with the words, "Don't Call Me Coach."

During the first horrifying wave of pain, my wife put all things French behind her and rather insistently demanded an epidural block.

My son arrived. He is a downtown boy. This memory will never leave me.

After leaving the hospital, I met my friend Tom Fitzpatrick at a downtown Irish pub. Fitzpatrick was a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and the biggest hellion this town had ever seen.

The owner of the pub, Séamus McCaffrey, sent over a shot of his best whiskey with instructions to pour some on the infant's head (metaphorically). I was still rattled from the sheer brutality of the birth and the looming responsibilities. Fitz did not portray himself as a good father. But like the baseball manager who could never hit the curve as a player himself, Fitz knew what to say to a nervous rookie:

"Children forgive you."

That's not what you read in books. Never.

I hope Fitz was right.

He died a little more than a year ago, but I still see him downtown all the time. We never did have a drink together in any of the convention hotels.

2003 -- Money Is No Object

It might surprise you to learn that the analysis used to secure nearly a billion dollars in taxpayer funding decided that cost was not a factor. Cost is dismissed by Ernst & Young and never mentioned by Elliot Pollock.

Some estimates predict this expansion will be the most expensive per square foot in the history of convention centers. Neither study considered how such expenditures would affect the project. Neither study contemplated what it would cost conventioneers to come to Phoenix's Taj Mahal compared to convention edifices in other cities.

While it is true that expensive convention towns like San Francisco and San Diego keep busy, Phoenix does not have as much to offer tourists as those towns. It is obvious that for people who come to Phoenix, cost is a huge issue. According to current records of the Phoenix Civic Plaza, 70 percent of all delegates for conventions lasting three days or more are scheduled during the blazing desert summer when conventioneers can take advantage of intolerable weather discounts instigated by daily temperatures of upward of 110 degrees.

The point is, most of the conventioneers who come here are not paying top dollar during their stays, further calling into question the planners' rosy projections.

1990 Club 902 and Romley

Not every bar in downtown Phoenix was a Century Sky Room.

Some downtown establishments, like Club 902, the biggest crack bar in town, were flat evil.

In 1990, I wrote a series on the 902. I discovered that County Attorney Rick Romley had a hidden interest in the saloon that paid him $1,000 a month. At a time when President George Bush was announcing that the war on crack was being won in Phoenix, Maricopa County's top prosecutor held an investment note on downtown's most notorious crack bar. Police Chief Ruben Ortega's officers protected the bar and did not turn over incident reports to the state liquor board as required by law. The cops on the beat made hundreds of busts at the 902, but the paperwork just disappeared. On February 7, 1990, I reported that state liquor chief Hugh Ennis had read enough and was closing Club 902 permanently.

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