Colangelo Gets His

Not that you'd know it from reading the cheerleading Republic, but the Godfather's been, uh, demoted

Hey, have you heard the news about Jerry Colangelo?

No, not that he's trying to sell the Phoenix Suns.

Did you know he's already sold his controlling interest in the Arizona Diamondbacks?

That's right. Jerry Colangelo is no longer the grand master of major league baseball in Arizona.

In fact, he's just another employee -- although his eight-year contract with the new ownership group carries a pretty hefty title: chairman and chief executive officer of the team.

But that comes with some pretty heavy-duty strings. For the first time since he was awarded a major league franchise in 1995, Colangelo now must report to others.

This is a rather stunning turn of events.

The power players behind the Diamondbacks are now software tycoons Dale Jensen, Mike Chipman and Ken Kendrick, along with Canadian cable television mogul J.C. Royer.

This four-man posse now owns more than 50 percent of the Diamondbacks' shares and, more important, also controls the general partnership that oversees management of the club.

But Jerry, 64, is not left out in the cold. Although he has sold his financial interest -- for an undisclosed sum -- in the general partnership, he was given an equal vote with the four other investors.

So Jerry's gone from being The Man to being a guy with one of five votes. It's a gigantic dilution of his power.

Colangelo's selling out his sole control of the D-Backs and Monday's announcement of his plans to sell the Phoenix Suns raise serious questions beyond the world of sports, the most important of which is the future development of downtown Phoenix.

But first, you're probably wondering why you haven't heard anything (until now) about Jerry bailing on the D-Backs -- the biggest business sports story in Phoenix in years.

Thank the state's largest daily newspaper for burying the news deep inside a March 3 front-page story gushing over yet another $100 million cash infusion for the financially bleeding Diamondbacks.

In the ninth paragraph of the story -- and well into the jump page inside the paper -- the Arizona Republic, which is a minority investor in the team, threw readers a knuckleball.

Referring to the four big cheeses, the Republic casually noted that they "bought Colangelo's general partnership for an undisclosed sum, which gives them controlling interest in the team."

Talk about burying a bombshell.

The fact that Jerry Colangelo, the most powerful businessman in the city, sold his controlling financial interest in the Arizona Diamondbacks is a historic event that must not go unheralded.

After all, this is the man who is credited with bringing major league baseball to Phoenix, with winning a World Series in the fourth year of the franchise -- a most impressive feat in the world of professional sports.

But winning the World Series and running a financially sound operation haven't gone hand in hand during Colangelo's reign.

The breaking point came because the Diamondbacks desperately needed more money, and the only way investors would kick in another $100 million was if they got financial control of the team.

But at the same time, the fab four didn't want to assume daily management of the franchise, which is why they asked Colangelo's outfit to stay around and do that. In other words, though the Godfather of Phoenix sports may have had to agree to a demotion, he always gets his.

"He's under an employment agreement for eight years," Kendrick says. "That's healthy. It's good for him, and it's good for us."

By downplaying Jerry's removal from control of the team, the Republichas once again perpetuated the myth that Colangelo possesses extraordinary business acumen and is the community's leading visionary.

For 25 years, Jerry and the Republic have been entangled in an incestuous relationship that has benefited both immensely.

Colangelo's professional sports franchises bring increased advertising revenue to the Republic. His teams, meanwhile, have gotten massive free advertising from the Republic's fawning "news" coverage of sporting events.

But it doesn't stop there. The Republic is a major sponsor of Colangelo's two other downtown venues, America West Arena and the Dodge Theatre, and the paper's chairman, chief executive officer and publisher, Sue Clark-Johnson, is a key player in two business groups that Colangelo founded, the Downtown Phoenix Partnership and the Phoenix Community Alliance.

These organizations have actively lobbied local, state and federal officials for funding to help pay for major development projects downtown, including the $600 million expansion of the Phoenix Civic Plaza.

City Hall has reverentially allowed these groups, led by Colangelo, to dictate downtown policy for decades.

As for the Republic, it abandoned its typically harsh anti-tax philosophy when it came to Jerry's sports venues. Rather than sticking to its conservative less-government-intrusionline, the paper had no problem hitting up taxpayers for more than $300 million toward the cost of building and expanding America West Arena and Bank One Ballpark.

The Republic's kowtowing to Colangelo has helped him get immense power to shape downtown Phoenix. Lately, he has attempted to seize another opportunity by hiring a planning company to secretly draw up blueprints for the future of downtown development, with the Republicright there leading the cheers.

All this has brought protests from small downtown businesses, artists and neighborhood groups. They are asking Mayor Phil Gordon to place a one-year moratorium on Colangelo's master-planning process. As usual, Jerry wants to get his by cutting out the little guy and building a massive shopping mall next to the BOB and America West.

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