Cash Cabal

Powerful developers must be stopped from sullying scenic Papago Park with another Valley resort

Gammage, who usually loves media limelight, is trying to distance himself from the plan to develop Papago.

"I don't want to be the focus of everybody's attention," Gammage told me.

Gammage says all he's done so far is host a one-day meeting where developers and city officials brainstormed about possible development ideas for the park.

Attorney Grady Gammage Jr. (inset) hosted a meeting on developing Papago Park (above).
Peter Scanlon
Attorney Grady Gammage Jr. (inset) hosted a meeting on developing Papago Park (above).

"Exactly how it evolves from this point forward, nobody has figured out," Gammage insists.

Pardon me, Grady, but your history shows that you leave nothing to chance when it comes to development. Here's what your résumé states:

"Mr. Gammage has spent the last twenty years representing real estate development projects such as master-planned communities, high-rise buildings, regional shopping centers and sprawling tracts of subdivisions."

It goes on to note that you opposed the "Citizens Growth Management Initiative" in 2000 sponsored by the Sierra Club and other environmental groups that would have put brakes on the Valley's relentless sprawl.

Instead, according to your résumé, you supported the "Growing Smarter Plus" plan that gave builders the green light to spread farther out into the desert.

The Growing Smarter (more aptly the Growing Dumber) plan passed.

I suspect that you're backpedaling away from the Papago Park development plan because you already received a vicious backlash from those rightly suspecting that you and your building buddies are lusting over the park.

Papago is one of the Southwest's most important cultural and environmental gems. The park -- which once included the twin buttes on the south side of the river where Sun Devil Stadium now sits -- provides spectacular views of the Valley in a relatively undisturbed desert setting.

The famous rock outcroppings mark the narrowest point of the once-free-flowing Salt River. The park's centerpiece sandstone formation, Hole-in-the-Rock, was used by the Valley's former inhabitants, the Hohokam, for astronomical observations.

The Hohokam noticed that a hole in the ceiling of the rock shelter creates a ray of light that changes positions on the floor throughout the year, depending on the seasonal movements of the sun across the sky. These observations allowed the Hohokam to mark the winter and summer solstices and the spring and fall equinoxes with precision.

Papago Park is also home to the privately operated Phoenix Zoo and the spectacular Desert Botanical Garden. Simply put, Papago offers an easily accessible and inexpensive respite from the ruthless and ugly urban grid that developers and their gutless lackeys on city councils across the Valley have created.

The park has a long history of incursions by development interests. It was part of the Papago Sonora National Monument created by President Woodrow Wilson in 1914. But that designation and important development protections that went with it were abolished by Congress in 1932. The loss of national monument designation led to the military's using part of the park as a German prisoner-of-war camp in World War II. After the war, the camp served as a Veterans Administration hospital. The Arizona National Guard now operates a base on the park's western flank.

The federal government sold 1,200 acres of the park to Phoenix in 1959. Years earlier, the federal government in 1935 conveyed 443 acres to Tempe to be used as a municipal park. Tempe has since disposed of 147 acres, including giving 20 acres to the Salt River Project in 1955.

The park's divided jurisdiction between Tempe and Phoenix has served to some degree to protect it from overdevelopment. Neither city has been willing to make substantial investments to upgrade public facilities, including the Papago Golf Course.

I welcome an effort by municipalities to work together to make carefully considered, low-impact, noncommercial improvements to the park.

But building new trails and defining the park's perimeter with better signs is far different from the massive project that developers are now quietly formulating.

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