MORE

Un-Urban Development

Protesters rally against a downtown stadium site.
Kevin Scanlon

The possibility of locating a third major sports venue in downtown Phoenix is triggering opposition from a loose coalition of artists, historic preservation advocates, neighborhood leaders and urban designers.

"I'm very negative on the idea of the stadium anywhere downtown," says former Phoenix mayor Terry Goddard.

Goddard, who is still actively involved in community development issues as Arizona coordinator of the federal Housing and Urban Development, says the stadium will seriously damage efforts to build new housing in the downtown core.

The area targeted for the stadium -- between Fourth and Seventh streets and Fillmore and Garfield streets -- has long been planned to become a high-density residential and mixed-use commercial district that would be within walking distance of downtown high-rises.

"This is something the downtown desperately needs," Goddard says. "It does not need another stadium. You can put that almost anywhere for the glory of the tribe," he says, referring to the willingness of hard-core football fans to drive anywhere to attend a game.

Support for the downtown site comes primarily from two civic groups that receive a portion of their funding from the City of Phoenix -- the Downtown Phoenix Partnership and the Phoenix Community Alliance.

Brian Kearney, president of the Downtown Phoenix Partnership, says the downtown site provides the most centralized location in the Valley that would also be suitable for events other than football.

"We would have a collection of venues in the downtown and Copper Square area that is probably unmatched anywhere," Kearney says. "That will give us the ability to host events of all shapes and sizes at all times of the year, including some we can't hold now."

Phoenix Mayor Skip Rimsza, who initially opposed locating the stadium downtown and acknowledges that it won't make any money for the host city, is now becoming a supporter.

Rimsza says he changed his position because no other proposed site is located along the planned light-rail transit system.

Even though the city will lose money on the stadium, a downtown Phoenix site may make the most sense from a regional standpoint because of existing freeways, parking, hotels and the future light-rail transit line, he says.

"It's possible that the downtown urban site could be the least expensive site for . . . the total public investment," Rimsza says.

Arizona State University urban design architect Nan Ellen says the Cardinals' stadium would add another "big box" building to the downtown landscape that already suffers from the lack of small businesses that attract pedestrians.

"We don't have a finely grained urban fabric, and that is what we desperately, desperately, need," Ellen says.

The stadium, she says, would add to the already massive structures dominating the downtown's eastern boundary along Seventh Street -- Bank One Ballpark and the Phoenix Civic Plaza.

The downtown stadium site, she says, would be a perfect location for the development of a residential and arts district.

A downtown arts and warehouse district that was beginning to jell has been largely destroyed by construction of America West Arena, Bank One Ballpark and Maricopa County's new jail and administration complex.

Artists slowly have been relocating into the area now targeted for the Cardinals' stadium. About two dozen artists -- with colorful signs and theatrical performances -- protested the proposed downtown site last Thursday outside Phoenix city hall.

Their protests may have had an impact -- a citizens' advisory panel approved on a 6-5 vote a nonbinding resolution that the city council select an alternative site at 40th Street and Loop 202 as Phoenix's submittal to the state Tourism and Sports Authority.

The city council will vote this week on which site to recommend to the TSA, which is expected to narrow its choices to two in March. If the TSA selects either one of the Phoenix sites, the city would have to hold a May special election. The city is restricted from spending more than $3 million on a stadium project without voter approval.

City economic development officials estimate it will cost Phoenix taxpayers about $70 million to prepare either site for the stadium.

The city has not yet conducted an economic cost-benefit analysis of the stadium, nor has it determined how much money the city will lose in lost property taxes. The stadium will be owned by the TSA and not subject to property taxes.

Putting the stadium in downtown Phoenix could undermine nearly a decade of work and about $20 million in city and federal funds aimed at rehabilitating one of the city's oldest neighborhoods.

As president of the Garfield Neighborhood Association, Helen Trujillo has heard all the arguments in favor of building the Cardinals' new stadium across Seventh Street from her downtown Phoenix neighborhood.

None of them have impressed her so far.

To Trujillo, there is only one question that really matters to residents living in the neighborhood that has the highest concentration of old -- and in some cases historic -- homes in the city.

"If you had a choice, would you invest in a big, beautiful home across the street from a stadium?" she asks. "Do I have to tell you anything else?"

Residents of the neighborhood due east of the proposed downtown site live in a tightly knit community that is struggling to regain its foothold after decades of neglect, poverty and violence.

Trujillo says residents are against a downtown stadium location because it will increase traffic, pollution and noise.

To sports economists, it is no surprise that the football stadium is a financial loser to the host community and feared by urban residents.

"These things are not a catalyst for economic growth and development," says Robert Baade, a sports economist with Lake Forest College in Illinois.

The infrequency of using the facility, plus the major infrastructure expense the host city must incur -- in Arizona's case, anywhere from $60 million to more than $100 million -- makes it very difficult for any city to recover its investment, he says.

Instead of acting like a shopping mall, where people visit and spend money every day, a stadium is only occasionally used.

"What do you do with the dead time when events are not being conducted?" he asks.

Even when the stadium is used, it doesn't create high-paying jobs for employees. The stadium, in effect, acts as a giant vacuum of the money paid by spectators, which then falls into the hands of a few people -- players and owners.

"It's just a shell game," Baade says. "It's not a very good investment of public funds."

That is the conclusion Mesa Mayor Keno Hawker has reached. Mesa is considering withdrawing its proposed site unless a $21 million funding gap can be closed.

"The TSA was planning for a bidding war from city to city," Hawker says. "Some of the elected officials are now looking at what we get in return for being the host city. In the long term, it may not be a benefit to spend that kind of money on one project."


Sponsor Content