Colangelo Eats Crow

ASU President Michael Crow's emergence provides Phoenix a preferable alternative to Jerry

The campus wouldn't be lumped in just one location. The university plans to utilize existing buildings and new structures across the urban landscape. Officials are currently scouring downtown for potential sites, and expect to have a formal list by the end of June. Completion of the campus is expected by 2009.

Most of the facilities will be within a five-minute walk of half a dozen light-rail stations to be built in the next few years. Light-rail is crucial to ASU's plans, since it will connect downtown Phoenix with ASU's main campus in Tempe.

The buildings making up ASU's downtown campus will not just be used for academic purposes; there will also be a housing, office and retail component to the massive undertaking.

Michael Crow: Downtown's savior?
Emily Piraino
Michael Crow: Downtown's savior?

What ASU plans to do is a radical departure from the way downtown has developed in the past. The idea behind the major core-city projects of the last 20 years -- including the Arizona Center, the Mercado, America West Arena, Bank One Ballpark and the Dodge Theatre -- is to pull people inside, strip them of their cash and dump them back on downtown's desolate streets.

This despite Jerry Colangelo's vow that the BOB and the arena would revitalize our inner city.

Last fall, it appeared that our future would be hijacked by the Godfather of Phoenix Sports and his cronies, who seemed intent on jamming a giant downtown shopping mall down our throats.

Phoenix Futures -- Colangelo's network of moguls from the banks, utilities and the daily newspaper -- has busied itself developing a master plan for downtown that would have the unstated, but obvious, goal of enriching each member of the group.

I'm told that the Phoenix Futures will present its big idea to the city council in June, and expects the city to adopt the master plan by the end of the year.

That's the way things have always been done around here. The Godfather tells the city what to do, and the city does it.

Will it be different this time? Gordon has repeatedly said the city will be reviewing the ASU and the Phoenix Futures plans and will ultimately develop its own plan for downtown.

To make sure this happens, Phoenix should hire its own master-planning consultant to help sift through the competing ASU and Phoenix Futures ideas.

Without an impartial mediator, ASU will be at a clear disadvantage.

Phoenix Futures has tapped the leadership of two downtown business organizations to spearhead its planning effort -- Downtown Phoenix Partnership president and CEO Brian Kearney, and Phoenix Community Alliance president Don Keuth.

Joining them are two of the Godfather's best buds: prominent Phoenix architect Mo Stein and consummate downtown mover and shaker Mel Schultz, a partner of Colangelo's in his far-flung real estate investments, as well as a lobbyist for Pinnacle West Capital Corporation, the holding company for Arizona Public Service Company.

The Downtown Phoenix Partnership, founded by Colangelo, receives more than $1 million of its annual $2 million budget from the city, which means that Kearney's enjoyed huge influence over what gets developed downtown.

Keuth and Stein also have their hooks in Phoenix city government. Both serve on the nine-member Phoenix Planning Commission, which will sit in judgment over Phoenix Futures' master plan (though Stein tells me he won't participate in Planning Commission discussions about the plan because of his role with Phoenix Futures).

With such an impressive list of henchmen at its disposal, Jerry's downtown master plan -- created by mega-mall designer Jerde Partnership of Venice, California -- not long ago would have seemed a slam dunk.

What has happened is, Crowe and ASU, whether they wind up dominating the thinking about the future of downtown or not, have had a powerful effect already on what Colangelo and his partners believe they can get away with.

During last week's city council planning session, Keuth suddenly announced that Phoenix Futures won't bring in the massive shopping mall that downtown business insiders say was once envisioned and what Colangelo himself suggested to me last fall.

This is big news and a major change of direction. I like to half-joke that Jerry and his partners are eating Crow, because they fear the city won't approve another gigantic destination project.

Phoenix Futures now stresses that it wants to see a mix of national and local retailers clustered around light-rail transit stops. It wants a number of downtown streets narrowed. It wants low-cost retail space to be available along those streets for small businesses.

This doesn't mean that big chain operations won't dominate its plan, it just means that Phoenix Futures is moving toward inclusion of something else.

Phoenix Futures projects the need for 10,000 additional downtown housing units in the next decade and estimates that the area should add a million square feet of retail space in a 1.5-mile-square area. (The Biltmore Fashion Park has about 600,000 square feet of retail space.)

The development group now is also talking about pedestrian-friendly streetscapes, lots of shade, remodeling Patriots Square, protection of historic structures, mixed-income housing, a downtown farmers' market and making it safe for existing small businesses.

Whichever way City Hall goes, what's on the drawing boards has definitely improved. Who do we thank for that? Well, ASU, of course, but also the downtown artists and small business people -- whose cacophony of gripes about Colangelo's unfair dominance in downtown have often been reported in these pages.

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