Thug Love

As long as the Godfather's gangsters roam City Hall, will Jerry's reign ever be over?

This was the kind of sweet package that could have attracted top bidders from across the country. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the city to create something special -- a latter-day Orpheum Theatre.

But what happened was . . . we got screwed again.

Fairbanks' staff put a ridiculously short three-week deadline on receiving proposals for such a huge project. This unrealistic time period to prepare a proposal for a $35 million endeavor eliminated everyone on the planet that was in a position to submit a suitable plan except for (guess who?!) Colangelo's outfit.

Colangelo: The Tony Soprano of local sports.
Jackie Mercandetti
Colangelo: The Tony Soprano of local sports.

The city manager's lieutenants dutifully submitted Jerry's plans to the council, and they were naturally approved. All during this fast-track deal, the daily press never once reported the short deadline.

So instead of taking the opportunity to create a 21st-century architectural gem worthy of hosting performing arts in downtown Phoenix, we got Jerry's dreadful Dodge Theatre.

But let's back up to the $40 million Civic Plaza East Parking Garage reaming that came just before the Dodge Theatre debacle. Once again, taxpayers were bent over and violated by Fairbanks, with the assistance of Krietor, Mayor Gordon's aforementioned chief aide.

Records I uncovered revealed that Fairbanks cut a deal in 1993 with Maricopa County for the city to provide substantial assistance to the county in its construction of the BOB. The problem was, Proposition 200 restricted the city from spending more than $3 million for any facility connected with a stadium or convention center without voter approval.

But in a January 1994 secret session, the City Council approved a "redevelopment plan" for property near the ballpark site that would include a retail and parking project worth up to $50 million. It was a clear signal that the city would give Colangelo the additional parking he wanted.

More important, the city's commitment allowed Colangelo to cut the estimated cost of the stadium project by $40 million, making it easier for reluctant county supervisors to go along with an unpopular plan to impose a $243 million sales tax to help pay for the ballpark.

Helping grease the skids on the parking deal was then-city employee Brian Kearney, who kept the Godfather informed on the plan's details.

In March 1994, Colangelo told Kearney (now executive director of the DPP, where he continues to take orders from Colangelo) that he expected the city to build at least 1,500 parking spaces for the stadium.

There was no doubt that the Godfather's City Hall gangsters would do what he said.

Fairbanks had to come up with a plan to build the garage so that it didn't appear connected with the baseball stadium or the civic plaza, because of the spending restrictions imposed by Proposition 200.

Now here's where it really gets amusing. The city asked a private parking consultant to somehow generate a study showing a severe parking shortage in downtown that had nothing to do with sports crowds.

Needless to say, that was going to be a huge challenge.

The consulting firm came up with seven studies before it finally showed the dramatic parking crisis that City Hall demanded to see. The final report by Kaku Associates called for parking for a downtown Aquarium that was never even under serious consideration, much less ever built.

Krietor, then-city economic development director, told Fairbanks the study showed a parking deficit of 3,500 spaces by 2005 -- and City Hall announced plans to build the 3,000-space, mega-million-dollar garage. It wound up justifying the maneuver by saying it would (get this!) service the sparsely attended Arizona Science Center about a block north of the ballpark site.

The city's sleight of hand came to light only when an unexpected problem cropped up. Greyhound Lines announced it had no intention of giving up the property for the garage. The city began a condemnation suit, and all sorts of nasty information became public.

It was great reading.

Especially the part about the one and only Krietor coming up with the idea for the city to get by Proposition 200 restrictions by declaring that the Phoenix Convention Center wasn't really a convention center. Shazam, money for the center could be used to deliver the garage to Jerry!

Greyhound and the city later settled, and the city got the land for the garage, which naturally is rarely used except for Diamondbacks events and has lost an average of $283,000 a month since it opened in August 1999.

So, when it comes to the Godfather of Phoenix sports, we must be very, very skeptical of what we hear from City Hall. With the same old cast of characters in place, why should we believe Mayor Gordon that anything will be different? That Jerry Colangelo won't be green-lighted to roll over small business people and stick a soulless, Jerde-designed mega-mall downtown?

All I can do at this point, mayor, is reiterate that talk is cheap -- and stress that we'll be watching.

E-mail, or call 602-229-8445.

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