By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
The canonization of Jerry Colangelo as the savior of Phoenix will continue this week as the local media stumble over themselves to heap accolades on him as he's inducted September 10 into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Be prepared for full-page spreads in the Valley's two major daily newspapers extolling Colangelo as if he had found the cure for AIDS, balanced the federal budget and delivered Osama bin Laden's head to a thankful Dubya.
Yeah, Jerry deserves high marks for helping land Phoenix a professional basketball team way back in 1968. The Phoenix Suns are generally competitive, entertaining and have reached the NBA Finals twice. But the Suns have never won the Big One.
Nevertheless, Colangelo has proven himself to be an exceptional leader in the world of professional basketball. He deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. Congratulations!
But let's keep this in perspective.
While Colangelo may know the game of basketball, that doesn't mean he understands the art of business.
In fact, this guy doesn't understand the meaning of the word budget. He's become wealthy spending huge sums of other people's money to the point that he nearly bankrupted a major community asset, the Arizona Diamondbacks.
And as for claims that he's been the guiding force in downtown Phoenix's redevelopment, well, yeah. But have you been downtown after dark lately?
Other than during the First Fridays art walk, downtown still sucks.
This is despite more than $1.5 billion worth of public investment in big box projects, including Colangelo's three babies -- the Dodge Theatre, America West Arena and Bank One Ballpark -- along with the ongoing expansion of the Civic Center and the pending construction of a 1,000-room luxury convention center hotel.
What do these projects have in common?
Jerry pushed for all of them, the taxpayers footed most of the bill, and private interests will walk off with the profits. None of the projects completed to date has benefited more than a handful of downtown businesses after dark, and if history is any guide, the expanded Civic Center and the new convention hotel will be financial disasters for taxpayers.
Cheering on the taxpayer fleecing is Jerry's propaganda mill, the Arizona Republic.The newspaper shamelessly promotes these expensive monolithic projects -- whose architecture kills any sort of pedestrian scene downtown -- without reporting the true underlying costs to taxpayers.
But thankfully, Colangelo's wings finally have been clipped by his former Diamondbacks business partners, who actually understand what a bottom line is. The Republic is beside itself in despair because its water boy pushing for huge taxpayer-subsidized developments has suddenly lost his clout.
In the last couple of weeks, we have been subjected to endless hand-wringing by the institutional daily over Colangelo's unceremonious ouster as Diamondbacks dictator. The Republic, which is part-owner of the baseball team, ripped the D-Backs' new controlling partners for giving Colangelo "an undeserved bum's rush."
Please, it's about time!
Colangelo's economic fiasco with the Diamondbacks demonstrates perfectly that just because someone knows sports doesn't necessarily mean he understands much else. Colangelo ran the Suns and the Diamondbacks as fiefdoms.
Which was fine, as long as they were making money.
Jerry sold the debt-laden Suns earlier this year for $400 million, and everybody made some money -- but nowhere near as much as has been widely reported.
But the Diamondbacks are a different story. Colangelo bet home plate on a premise that turned out to be wrong. He believed mortgaging the future for a 2001 World Series ring would build lasting fan support.
Instead, it's brought us a pitiful team, declining attendance and massive debt. The finances spun out of control years ago. As Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling were sending the Yankees packing in November 2001, Colangelo was desperately courting investors to keep the team financially viable.
Bankruptcy loomed as the Diamondbacks hoisted the 2001 World Series trophy into the air.
Soon after the World Series parade, Colangelo announced that he had rounded up four rich investors who had agreed to pump in $160 million over the next 10 years. The investors gave him carte blanche to spend the money and run the team with one caveat -- stay within budget.
But Jerry didn't come through in 2002 and busted the budget again in 2003.
The freewheeling spending was too much for the investment team led by Paradise Valley resident Ken Kendrick. Earlier this year, Kendrick and his partners agreed to round up another $100 million. But this time, there were some strings attached. Jerry had to share power -- he became just one of five votes in the managing partnership.
With this kind of investment on the table, it's not surprising that the guys coughing up the cash wanted more say in the team's operations. Jerry, however, just wanted Kendrick and company to drop off the money and let him run the show.
After all, Colangelo is accustomed to this wonderful arrangement.
For 15 years he has manipulated elected officials into steering hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money into building arenas, stadiums and parking garages and then turning over the keys to the facilities to him.
While politicians don't have a personal attachment to taxpayer money they give away, private investors certainly have an attachment to their mega-bucks. And Jerry didn't like the fact that investors, led by Kendrick, demanded that he share power.