Crack Addicts, Political Shenanigans and Indian Relics
David Therrien had a simple proposal for real estate developer Dixon "Duke" Cowley.
In July 2000, Therrien says he approached Cowley seeking to lease an abandoned lumber yard that Cowley had purchased in June 2000 for $1.2 million.
Therrien says he wanted to negotiate a one-month lease for the 7.8-acre site to stage an elaborate robotics art show where machines destroy each other in a spectacular frenzy of fire and noise.
During discussions about the lease, Therrien says he asked Cowley if he would sell the property that once housed the O'Malley's lumber yard. The lumber yard is across the street from a warehouse Therrien owns at Ninth Avenue and Jackson Street in downtown Phoenix.
Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
TicketsTue., Aug. 29, 6:40pm
All You Can Eat Value Pack - Mercury v Sun
TicketsFri., Sep. 1, 7:00pm
Phoenix Rising Football Club vs. Seattle Sounders 2
TicketsSat., Sep. 2, 7:30pm
All You Can Eat Value Pack - Mercury v Dream
TicketsSun., Sep. 3, 1:00pm
Phoenix Mercury vs. Atlanta Dream
TicketsSun., Sep. 3, 1:00pm
Therrien says Cowley wasn't interested in selling the land he had just purchased for $3.50 a square foot for anything less than $8 a square foot. According to Therrien, Cowley had a good reason to expect that the land he had just purchased would soon more than double in value from $1.2 million to nearly $2.7 million.
"I was told by him that he had a county supervisor friend and that the county was going to be using that property for something," Therrien says. "His intention sounded to me like he was just going to speculate."
Arizona has a long history of land speculation, and this particular deal features another local tradition: political friends in high places disposing of tax revenues for private benefit.
Unknown to Therrien at the time was that Cowley was a longtime friend and former business partner of the chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, Don Stapley.
Less than one year after Therrien's meeting with Cowley at his old 40th Street office, Cowley's lumber yard site became the centerpiece of Maricopa County's controversial plan to build a sprawling $25 million homeless compound spread out over 14 acres of prime downtown property.
That plan is quickly becoming a reality.
County supervisors -- including Stapley -- voted in March to purchase the Cowley property and set aside $2 million to acquire the land. Last month, the county filed a condemnation suit against Cowley seeking immediate possession of the property after Cowley rejected a $1.475 million offer to buy the land.
Cowley and Stapley did not return calls seeking comment on Therrien's recollection of his conversation with Cowley.
County spokesman Al Macias says Stapley has had little involvement in the homeless project and suggested that Cowley's purchase of the property was simply a "coincidence."
Coincidence or not, the fact that Stapley has a publicly undisclosed relationship with the owner of a key parcel of land for the homeless compound surprised retired Supreme Court Justice Frank X. Gordon, who is overseeing a regional plan to develop coordinated services for the homeless.
"Whether it is a breach of ethics or anything is not something I'm prepared to pass on," Gordon says.
But the timing and secrecy surrounding Cowley's acquisition of the land is hard to dismiss.
"Sure looks funny, doesn't it," Gordon says.
The appearance of impropriety surrounding the Cowley property could dampen efforts to raise $13 million from private sources to help finance construction of the project.
"That may certainly put some brakes on it," Gordon says.
Construction of the homeless project is a top priority of the county and downtown business interests poised to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in the Capitol Mall district. The county is rapidly expanding its administrative offices into a long-neglected area of downtown that has been overrun with the homeless and rampant drug dealing.
Delaying construction of the project is something the county wants to avoid -- so much so that last winter the county was willing to violate state and federal antiquities laws.
Last February, supervisors instructed county staff to forgo required archaeological testing at the homeless project site during a secret executive session, records obtained by New Times reveal.
"The BOS [Board of Supervisors] provided the instructions to us that archaeological testing is not to be done," states a February 20 e-mail from county facilities management director Norman Hintz that describes the executive session.
Discovery of significant artifacts could trigger a costly and lengthy study of the site.
"I think it is virtually certain that we will find artifacts down there," says archaeologist John Giacobbe, who conducted a preliminary survey of the site known as La Villa.
Anything that may slow down the project is welcome news to a cadre of neighborhood activists and homeless advocates who say the county's project is nothing more than an expensive cosmetic fix.
Critics complain that the project fails to provide what is needed most -- drug treatment, funding to treat the seriously mentally ill, creation of halfway houses for released convicts, jobs and, most important, low-cost housing.
"This is just a plan to free up land for development downtown and to contain and manage homeless people," says longtime homeless housing advocate Louisa Stark.
Despite nearly two years of public meetings, few people involved in the homeless project know that Board of Supervisors chairman Don Stapley's former business partner owns most of the land being assembled for the site.
There's a good reason for this. The county took steps -- intentional or not -- to obscure the ownership of the lumber yard property from the public.
A widely distributed June 2001 preliminary site plan for the homeless project incorrectly identified the owner of the lumber yard as the "O'Malley family," even though a Cowley-led real estate partnership purchased the land a year earlier.
The county never corrected the mistake and continued to refer to the site in internal documents as the O'Malley property.
Neil Urban, a county official overseeing development of the campus, says the county wasn't trying to hide the ownership of the land from the public but that everyone simply referred to the lumber yard site as the O'Malley property.
At the same time the county was telling the public the land was owned by the O'Malley family, county spokesman Al Macias says Stapley privately disclosed his prior business relationship with Cowley to county administrator David Smith.
Macias says Smith "believes it was sometime about July of last year that the quote unquote O'Malley property came into play as part of the campus. That's when David was told by Don that the owner of the property, Mr. Cowley, and he had done business sometime in the past."
Macias says Smith was not concerned about Stapley's previous business ties with Cowley.
"It was not going to impact our negotiations" to purchase the land for the campus, Macias says.
Even after Stapley's July 2001 disclosure of his ties to Cowley, Smith continued to refer to the property in internal county documents as the "O'Malley" property.
Smith did not relay information about Cowley's relationship with Stapley to Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, who was supporting development of the homeless project and in whose district the facility would be constructed.
Wilcox says she was not aware that Stapley's friend was the owner of the property until told by New Times.
"It doesn't trouble me," she says. "Don is not doing the negotiating. We have county professionals doing that."
Smith did not return calls seeking comment.
Stapley's relationship with Cowley is raising concerns among top county employees.
Facilities management director Hintz, whose office is directing the project, says he didn't know Cowley was involved in the project until told by New Times. Hintz says he knew the property had been sold to SMT Investors, but he did not know that the company was controlled by Cowley.
Nor did he know about Stapley's relationship with Cowley.
"What you are telling me is news to me," Hintz says.
Hintz says he's concerned that Stapley did not disclose his relationship with Cowley prior to voting in favor of the county purchasing land from a former business partner.
"I would recuse myself from those actions by saying, 'Hey, I had a relationship with this particular individual or this particular group,'" Hintz says.
Cowley's name doesn't appear connected to the lumber yard property in county documents related to the homeless project reviewed by New Times until early this year -- 18 months after he purchased the property.
This is not the first time Stapley and Cowley have been connected to a questionable real estate project.
A recent land speculation by the pair resulted in substantial fines and a consent decree. What's more, Wilcox's suggestion that no harm can result from the Stapley-Cowley relationship because Stapley is not directly negotiating the price misses the point. Cowley's nose is inside the tent and taxpayers will foot the bill on his speculation.
In 1995, Stapley and Cowley teamed up in a series of real estate transactions that outraged Pinal County officials and eventually led to an investigation by the state Real Estate Department.
Stapley -- in interviews with state investigators -- admitted to acting as a "straw man" in a sham real estate transaction engineered by Cowley involving land near Maricopa County's San Tan Regional Park about 15 miles south of Apache Junction.
The state alleged Stapley's purchase of 40 acres -- half of which he immediately sold to Cowley's daughter -- was part of an illegal lot-splitting plan to skirt state subdivision regulations. The Attorney General's Office filed a complaint against Cowley and his partners in March 2000. Stapley, who was already a county supervisor when he purchased the San Tan land, was not named in the complaint.
Cowley signed a consent decree settling the charges in May 2000 and has since paid $87,500 in fines to the state and Pinal County.
Stapley profited handsomely from the San Tan deal, turning a $40,000 investment into a $120,000 net profit in two years ("Stapley Manner," June 1, 2000).
Cowley wasn't the only investor in the lumber yard property with ties to Stapley.
Wilford A. Cardon is another longtime Stapley friend and former business partner. Cardon and Stapley built shopping centers and office buildings together in the 1980s. The two shared an office suite on East Southern Avenue in Mesa until Stapley moved out a little more than a year ago, according to Cardon's secretary.
It was Cardon who introduced Stapley to Cowley many years ago, Stapley told state investigators probing the San Tan case. Cardon and Cowley are lifelong friends who served as Mormon missionaries together in Brazil.
County records show that Cardon was the lead investor in Cowley's real estate partnership that purchased the lumber yard in June 2000. Cardon subsequently sold his 85 percent interest in the property to Cowley and his relatives.
Cardon did not return a phone call seeking comment.
How much money Cowley stands to make on the homeless campus land flip remains to be seen. He purchased the property for $1.2 million and the county has already budgeted $2 million to buy the land.
A court ruling April 30 gave the county possession of the land. Cowley has six months to vacate the property. The purchase price of the land, however, will be determined in a jury trial sometime in the next two years.
Cowley has rejected the government's offer of $1.475 million for land he secured with a mere $25,000 down payment. He anticipates a perfectly legal windfall in the courts and has taken steps to ensure his good fortune.
Cowley has hired condemnation attorney Dale Zeitlin to argue his case.
Zeitlin brings a strong track record when it comes to county condemnation cases. He won a $4.7 million judgment ($54 per square foot) for two acres condemned to build Bank One Ballpark 12 blocks due east of the lumber yard. The county had offered only $900,000 for the ballpark land.
Since purchasing the land nearly two years ago, Cowley has been transferring large amounts of construction materials, school buses and other equipment to the site, says neighbor David Therrien.
"A lot of that stuff has come in recently," Therrien says.
County supervisors -- including Stapley -- approved a March 6, 2002, resolution requiring the county to pay Cowley not only for the land, but also for the costs associated with relocating property from the site.
The resolution gives Cowley the option of selling the equipment -- some of which is in an obvious state of disrepair -- to the county.
Cowley's lumber yard property is one of three parcels the county wants to link together to create the homeless project -- which the county likes to refer to as a "campus."
The county already owns four acres between 12th and 13th avenues straddling Madison Street. The property includes a 400-bed homeless shelter operated by Central Arizona Shelter Services, the county-funded Healthcare Clinic for the Homeless south of Madison and a fenced parking area to the north. Both providers would be included in the project.
The City of Phoenix owns a vacant 4.6-acre lot immediately to the south of the county land that extends to the railroad tracks paralleling Harrison Street. The city is prepared to give the land to the county for the project.
Cowley's 7.8-acre site extends from Ninth Avenue west to 12th Avenue and lies generally between the railroad tracks and Jackson Street.
Linked together, the L-shaped property would encompass more than five city blocks in downtown Phoenix.
Plans to consolidate a handful of downtown homeless services scattered across four blocks into a more compact, less visible area have been actively discussed since the mid-1990s.
Some interests -- primarily downtown business groups -- wanted the homeless moved out of the downtown area. Sites near Maricopa County's Durango Jail complex were frequently suggested. But those suggestions never went anywhere.
Landscape architect Michael Dollin -- who has worked on a series of homeless studies for nearly a decade -- says plans to move the homeless shelter facilities out of the downtown area never materialized because of the difficulty of relocating the shelter and other homeless service providers into a new area.
Dollin pointed to massive neighborhood resistance to Phoenix's effort to open a winter overflow shelter in a south Phoenix industrial area about 10 years ago. The shelter opened, but with strict limitations on when it can be used.
"No one seemed to have any desire to go out and fight that battle again," Dollin says.
But in early 2000, business interests, led by the Phoenix Community Alliance, once again began advocating relocating the homeless shelter and support services out of the downtown area. The Arizona Republic published an editorial in April 2000 suggesting that a homeless campus be created near 27th Avenue and Buckeye Road -- not far from an old landfill.
The renewed attempt to move the homeless out of downtown created an immediate backlash.
St. Vincent de Paul executive director Steve Zabilski says his charity has operated a free dining hall at Ninth Avenue and Madison Street since 1954 and had no interest in moving away from downtown.
The Republic editorial spurred St. Vincent de Paul to resurrect plans to rebuild its dining room. The charity made it publicly known that it had no intention of leaving downtown.
"There was a real rich history and tradition there," Zabilski says. "It was not our desire to move."
St. Vincent de Paul's opposition to moving out of the area was significant. The charity serves 800 free lunches a day. The homeless begin lining up for meals by midmorning. The line stretches east down Madison Street, snaking beneath the shadows of the county's new morgue and 700-space parking garage.
There would be no point in building a new homeless campus elsewhere if St. Vincent de Paul was going to continue serving free lunches and attracting hundreds of homeless into the downtown area.
"St. Vincent's needed to rebuild their building and they said we are not moving," says Supervisor Wilcox.
"They said 'deal with it,'" Wilcox says. "So everybody put on their thinking caps."
It was in this time period that Cowley purchased the O'Malley property on June 26, 2000. Cowley purchased the property with only a 2 percent ($25,000) down payment, county real estate records show.
Four months after Cowley acquired the land, the county hired Dollin in October 2000 to develop architectural concepts for a homeless development near 12th Avenue and Madison.
Dollin published his report on March 20, 2001. He proposed a basic homeless services center to be built on the city and county land between 12th and 13th avenues and south of Madison. The plans included a 400-bed shelter, a learning center, a new health clinic, an overflow shelter, a dining room and a police substation. Dollin's plan included everything the homeless needed, except Cowley's land.
Eight days after releasing his report, the directors of CASS, Healthcare Clinic for the Homeless, St. Vincent de Paul and St. Joseph the Worker endorsed development of the homeless campus near 12th Avenue and Madison.
Citing the Dollin report and the service providers' endorsement, supervisors, including Stapley, approved a resolution on April 4, 2001, calling for creation of a homeless campus near 12th Avenue and Madison.
One problem: Dollin's plan bordered, but did not include, Cowley's parcel.
Suddenly, Cowley's real estate investment was not looking so good. If Dollin's recommendations were implemented, Cowley's lumber yard property was going to be next to a homeless services project that attracts a seedy clientele.
A second architect was brought in, and talk soon turned to an expansive, almost visionary, "campus" for the homeless, a "campus" that clearly required more land. Cowley's land.
The thought of new buildings in a collegial atmosphere generated excitement. As enthusiasm grew, the size of the homeless project increased. Before long, Cowley's land was quietly absorbed into the project.
Another problem: Cowley's property was going to cost more money under architect number two's proposal than had been anticipated under Dollin's compact design.
So shortly after the county acquired Cowley's land, it dumped the college campus concept and replaced architect number two with architect number three.
Architect number three pushed a "shopping mall" approach that will save several million dollars in construction, have none of the graciousness of the "campus" but all of Cowley's land, with room to spare.
Here's how it happened.
The supervisors' April 4, 2001, resolution to build the campus near 12th Avenue and Madison also allocated $90,000 to Orcutt/Winslow Partnership to develop a preliminary design for the campus.
At that point, Winslow says the county indicated that the lumber yard property could be included in potential designs.
Facilities management director Hintz says a committee that included supervisors Jan Brewer and Mary Rose Wilcox along with service providers made the decision to direct Orcutt/Winslow to include the lumber yard in potential designs.
Orcutt/Winslow released its preliminary design report on June 29, 2001. The report greatly expanded Dollin's homeless campus concept to include Cowley's lumber yard property in addition to the city and county property.
Instead of finding that he'd cornered land next door to a haven for the mentally ill, the homeless, and the city's largest open-air crack market, an unusual investment strategy at best, Cowley found himself sitting on top of the key parcel in a wonderful, new, downtown campus.
While the Orcutt/Winslow report advocated using the lumber yard property, it incorrectly identified the owner of the land as the "O'Malley family" rather than Cowley.
Less than a year after telling David Therrien in July 2000 that the county had plans for his property, Duke Cowley's lumber yard parcel had quietly become the centerpiece of the county's homeless project.
A project, records indicate, that appears to have been bloated in order to accommodate all of Cowley's property.
The Orcutt/Winslow report provides an illuminating series of sketches that shows the evolution of the homeless campus from a relatively compact site occupying city- and county-owned land to a sprawling campus that includes the Cowley property. (The report is available at www.hscampus.org)
The sketches were compiled after two, daylong meetings in May 2001 that included state, county and city officials, business leaders and the homeless service providers.
With the lumber yard property now in the mix, homeless service providers were encouraged during the planning meetings to think big.
"It was rather exciting, I remember, just being able to dream," says Father Krueger, director of the Andre House, which provides free dinners to the homeless.
One could hardly fault the charitable agencies their fantasies. For decades they'd fought for attention and funding and here was the government urging them to think outside the box. The almost giddy enthusiasm of the opportunity obscured the land play.
With the space limitations removed, the geographic size of the project more than tripled, from Dollin's four acres to Orcutt/Winslow's proposal of more than 14 acres.
Oddly enough, the amount of square footage for homeless service buildings increased only marginally, from Dollin's projection of 126,000 square feet to 161,000 square feet.
Winslow says the geographic size of the project grew as proponents got on board the concept of a "college campus" design with lots of open space and areas for homeless to congregate.
In addition, as discussions continued about the design for the campus, two more homeless service providers beyond the four that had already endorsed the downtown site expressed interest in being included in the project.
"When we added more agencies, we needed more space," says CASS executive director Mark Holleran.
Orcutt/Winslow's design notably features freestanding buildings for most of the half-dozen service providers along with 211 secured-parking spaces for employees and volunteers -- more than 100 additional spaces than Dollin's proposal. The plans, however, ignored the one-half block of county-owned land north of Madison that is currently used for surface parking and could accommodate a parking structure.
The Orcutt/Winslow design includes wide plazas and open space with only 28 percent of the 14 acres used for mostly one-story buildings.
If this campus for the destitute of soul and body was as gracious as any state university, that was by design.
"We wanted people to feel like they were on a college campus," says St. Vincent de Paul executive director Steve Zabilski.
"Feel" aside, designers also say there was a practical reason for dispersed buildings.
The freestanding buildings, Winslow says, allow the charities to maintain their identity -- which is important in their fund-raising efforts.
Not that the design was entirely visionary; certain realities intruded.
A six-foot-high fence would surround the site with secured gates leading into employee parking areas.
The plazas would serve as staging areas where the homeless would gather before meals -- out of sight of downtown workers.
To keep the homeless from appearing in public, designers want the campus to provide as many services as possible within the walled compound.
"The campus is a city within a city," the Orcutt/Winslow report states.
And like a city, it also is inefficient.
St. Vincent de Paul would continue to serve lunch from a new 21,700-square-foot facility.
The Catholic charity Andre House would be the dinner provider from a separate 16,400-square-foot building.
The Andre House and St. Vincent would each house 1,200-square-foot kitchens, according to the plans.
While such duplication appears to be wasteful, project proponents say it is necessary to satisfy the demands of the charities that donate food and other services to the homeless.
"It's two different groups providing two different meals," county project manager Neil Urban says. "They have a very strong sense of identity and strong sense of mission and they can't compromise that for certain expediencies."
With the completed Orcutt/Winslow site plan encompassing the lumber yard property in hand, the county began taking formal steps to acquiring the land owned by Supervisor Stapley's friend and former business partner, Duke Cowley.
On August 28, 2001, county administrator David Smith ordered his staff to obtain an appraisal for the lumber yard, which he still referred to as the "O'Malley" property. The appraisal set the stage for the county's eventual filing of a condemnation suit on March 20 to acquire the land.
No sooner had the condemnation suit been filed than the county, once again, reversed its course on the design of the homeless project.
Instead of hiring Orcutt/Winslow to fine-tune its "campus" concept into a final design -- a concept that justified the purchase of the Cowley property -- the county hired another firm that is proposing a far more compact and less expensive project.
The April 8, $194,000 contract to BPLW Architects was awarded after BPLW submitted a plan that would consolidate all the homeless service providers under one roof.
Suddenly, the sprawling campus concept is out; the compact shopping mall concept is in. And the need for Cowley's land diminishes.
BPLW says the building "shell" can be constructed for $5.1 million, with homeless service providers responsible for an additional $8.5 million in improvements -- for a total cost of construction of $13.6 million.
This is substantially less than the $19.3 million the expansive Orcutt/Winslow project was projecting.
The county has allocated $7 million for the project -- including acquisition of the Cowley property.
Like Orcutt/Winslow, BPLW estimates 161,000 square feet of space will be needed by the various homeless service providers, including the duplicative food service charities. But under the BPLW plan, the building footprint could be condensed to four acres if all the buildings are single-story.
Far less area would be needed if multiple stories are used.
So far, only the CASS homeless facility is planned to have multiple stories. Zoning in the area allows up to eight-story buildings -- although waivers are needed to go beyond four stories in the Capitol Mall district.
Combining a kitchen, a health-care building, the 400-bed shelter and the learning skills center into a multiple-story building could greatly consolidate many homeless services into a smaller geographic area and possibly eliminate the need for any of Cowley's property.
The county, however, has yet to seriously consider such a design, although that may change, says facilities management director Hintz.
"Those are very real design options that ought to be looked at," he says.
Calls to BPLW seeking comment on its plans were not returned.
Urban said BPLW's plans are continuing to evolve.
"We expect to have something worked out in the next six weeks," Urban says.
By that time, the plans may have to include one less provider.
Andre House has several concerns about being included in the project. Its board of directors, located in South Bend, Indiana, has not yet approved the collaboration.
The board has imposed several stipulations that must be met. Andre House wants to control its own land and building with a separate entrance to the street. The charity also wants to set its hours of operation and have final say over building design.
So far, the county, Father Krueger says, appears willing to meet these demands.
In addition, Father Krueger says, the Andre House is strongly opposed to any plan that includes building a "solid block wall around the campus" that would discourage people from coming to the facility.
This stipulation may be a little more problematic. The preliminary BPLW plans show solid walls interspersed with security gates surrounding most of the site.
"If they are looking at building something like a compound, I wouldn't want anybody like my mother or my sister in a place like that," Krueger says.
The county's homeless project coincides with the rapid expansion of county administrative facilities that soon will encroach on an area of downtown that is a no man's land of drug dealers, hookers and the homeless.
The county is nearing completion of a new morgue and parking lot that abuts St. Vincent de Paul's charity dining room at Ninth Avenue and Madison Street, where hundreds of homeless congregate daily to eat free lunches.
The county plans to begin work next year on a 20-story administration tower at Seventh Avenue and Jefferson Street that will provide a panoramic view featuring a thousand or so homeless people shuffling between two soup kitchens, a 400-bed shelter and a free health clinic.
County officials have not hidden concerns about employees traversing the drug-infested area where homeless sleep in alleyways and defecate on sidewalks.
"I'm not going to deny that county and state development were catalysts for building a homeless campus," Supervisor Wilcox says.
Streets leading into the homeless zone are routinely posted with "road closed" barricades. Anyone driving through the area is inevitably approached by drug dealers openly selling crack. Hookers work the street providing sexual favors for as little as $5 -- just enough to buy another hit of crack. (The area has the highest syphilis rate in the city.)
The traffic barriers create Phoenix's own version of a West Bank refugee camp -- a place outsiders must tread with care and where police travel only in pairs. Police say the barriers have greatly reduced nighttime traffic into the area seeking to buy drugs.
The homeless wandering the streets of downtown Phoenix tend to be a very hard-core group of people who will need intensive treatment to reintegrate them into society.
An amalgamation of the seriously mentally ill, recently released prisoners from the county jail and state prison, drug addicts, drunks, prostitutes, veterans, undocumented workers, the crippled and the unlucky mingle in a loose confederation.
Many become targets of predators who stalk the homeless seeking opportunities to sell drugs, mug and steal.
The battalion of homeless routinely traverses a bleak four-block circuit starting at St. Vincent's for lunch, Andre House for dinner, the Healthcare Clinic for the Homeless for occasional medical treatment and Central Arizona Shelter Services for a nighttime cot and a shower.
CASS, however, only has room for 400 men and women each night, leaving hundreds to sleep wherever they feel safe from each other and the police.
The dreadful march has persisted for two decades, triggered by a deep recession in the late 1970s, the destruction of several thousand low-income hotel rooms in downtown Phoenix and the Reagan administration's policy of kicking the seriously mentally ill out of institutions and onto the streets.
With no place to go and no services to assist, Phoenix homeless built a tent city, prompting a 1983 Newsweek cover story with a headline declaring Phoenix to be a "city without a heart."
The city of Phoenix opened CASS the next year to serve as a temporary 400-bed homeless shelter.
Nineteen years later, the wretched stomping grounds of the downtown homeless are finally attracting the attention of Phoenix business leaders and Maricopa County elected officials.
Homeless campus proponents say the project will replace dilapidated homeless service structures spread across a four-block area where the homeless now receive shelter, meals and health care.
The campus, they say, will serve as a "gateway" where homeless can quickly find jobs and housing elsewhere in the region.
More important, proponents say, the homeless campus will clear the way for redevelopment of the area that lies within the Capitol Mall region. Investment in the Capitol Mall -- which stretches from Seventh Avenue to the state Capitol -- has become a high priority for powerful downtown business interests led by the Phoenix Community Alliance, which is chaired by Jerry Colangelo.
"You're not going to be able to make inroads on Capitol Mall unless you do something with the homeless," says Martin Shultz, vice chairman of the Phoenix Community Alliance and leader of the fund-raising campaign for the homeless campus.
Critics argue the campus is nothing more than an expensive plan to contain the homeless inside a sprawling compound that will engulf more than five downtown blocks. Despite the expense, the proposed campus provides no additional shelter beds and few new services than already exist.
This raises the prospect that hundreds of homeless will still have no place to sleep at night and will be forced to find shelter in the neighboring community.
County officials are now considering a plan that would allow the homeless to sleep in areas inside the campus.
"That is a possibility," Urban says.
Residential areas to the south of the proposed homeless campus are opposed to the project saying it will only provide a cosmetic solution to the homeless by sweeping them off the streets during the day when workers are downtown, before they are turned loose at night to camp in vacant lots and neighborhood parks, says Grant Park neighborhood activist Julian Sodari.
Upgrading the current facilities, Sodari says, may attract even more homeless to the downtown area to take advantage of better facilities. There are about 13,000 homeless scattered throughout Maricopa County, officials say, with downtown Phoenix having the highest concentration.
"It's a terrible thing for this neighborhood," Sodari says.
Condemnation attorney Dale Zeitlin says he's looking forward to representing Cowley when a jury is convened to determine the price the county must pay for the lumber yard property.
Zeitlin declined to say how much his client thinks the land is worth.
"We'll let the jury decide," he says.
Whatever amount the jury decides, questions will linger over the timing of Cowley's purchase of the lumber yard property and what role his relationship with Supervisor Stapley played in that decision.
Stapley's undisclosed relationship with Cowley smacks of classic insider profiteering where personal and political friendships stand to cost taxpayers millions of dollars.
The political shenanigans set the tone for the entire project.
The homeless campus is deeply flawed because it offers no new beds or increase in fundamental services to deal with drug abuse, the seriously mentally ill and the routine release of prison and jail inmates -- including sex offenders -- into the downtown streets.
"The entire community is trying to find out how we are going to deal with this," says CASS executive director Mark Holleran. "We haven't been able to resolve this issue for 17 years. It may be another 17 years, unfortunately."
The seemingly intractable problem of assisting the homeless is also creating inflexibility among homeless service providers and a waste of resources.
Rather than agreeing to consolidate meal distribution to the homeless, two faith-based charities intend to operate separate dining rooms and kitchens within the homeless campus. St. Vincent de Paul will serve lunch from one dining room, while Andre House will serve from another.
There is one area, however, where the county appears to be moving in the right direction. The county has reversed its position to forgo archaeological testing on the site that is expected to turn up a treasure trove of pre-Hohokam artifacts.
Project manager Urban says the county will conduct archaeological testing on the site in August. Depending on what is found, additional field excavation work that could take several months may have to be conducted before construction on the homeless campus begins.
That is welcome news to homeless housing advocate Louisa Stark, who says the county could spend the $25 million on the homeless in far more productive ways.
"I think that is wonderful. I think that is fabulous. That will stop the bulldozers for at least a short period of time."
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Phoenix, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.