Longform

BUY ME OUT FOR THE BALLPARK

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Therrien concedes that the stadium might drive up the value of land he owns west of the proposed site, and he could end up profiting from the deal.

But, he says, the papers' financial interest in the deal "is nothing to sneeze at. It ends up being an awful nice piece of leverage to get some favorable stories written about your project."

@rule:
@body:Strip away the hyperbole about sun-dappled afternoons at the ballpark, forget the prestige and fountain of riches that supposedly would follow major-league baseball to Phoenix.

If the downtown stadium deal is to come together, only two things really matter--land and money.

And on both fronts, Jerry Colangelo and his investors need help from Maricopa County and its taxpayers, or the deal is dead.

A 25-acre chunk of land will have to be assembled from the jumble of warehouses and vacant lots that skirt the southern skyline. The targeted site is south of Jefferson Street between Third and Seventh streets, just southeast of America West Arena.

In addition to Colangelo's obvious interest in the geographic consolidation of his sports holdings, there are other reasons to locate the new ballpark on the downtown site.

Last summer, Maricopa County officials approached Margaret Mullen and Brian Kearney to review more than a dozen possible sites for a ballpark. To reach their conclusions, Mullen--the executive director of the Downtown Phoenix Partnership--and Kearney--program manager of Phoenix's Commercial and Economic Development Office--used "a conglomeration" of numerous previous site studies.

Mullen and Kearney were asked to evaluate potential locations based on a checklist of Major League Baseball's requirements for new ballpark construction.

They faced a tight deadline. The stadium is supposed to be completed by April 1997 and will take at least 24 months to build.

Certainly, Mullen adds, Jerry Colangelo's own desires were also factored into the mix. (According to Mullen, Colangelo wanted, among other things, a location that wouldn't negatively affect residential neighborhoods.) Not a big surprise: The downtown plot now favored by Colangelo seems a sound fit for the stadium, at least based on site-selection criteria suggested by Colangelo and organized baseball.

Baseball, for example, requires any new stadium to have 5,000 adjacent parking spaces managed by the occupant ball club, Mullen says. In addition, 15,000 unreserved parking spaces must be located within six blocks of the park. Those parking requirements are easily met by this downtown location. The proposed plot is held now by only ten landowners, Mullen says, reducing the number of deals that must be cut for the land. There are no houses with occupants to force out, and only one historic structure to consider. Other nearby sites have less favorable parking prospects, more potential land-ownership entanglements and a greater impact on residences. Mullen cautions that site selection is not final, and county Board of Supervisors chairman Jim Bruner says other possible sites--including vacant land on the corner of 40th Street and McDowell--are still in the game. But there is no question where Colangelo and the investors who have allegedly pledged $100 million to buy a team want the stadium.

How much taxpayer money would be needed to buy the proposed site is impossible to determine with certainty this early in the game.

To date, stadium backers and county officials have been offering $100 million as a rough estimate of what it will cost to buy land, relocate businesses and make needed changes such as closing streets and moving utilities.

But the county Board of Supervisors--acting as the board of the county Stadium District--is being asked to do more than raise taxes to pay for the land and build a stadium.

Most likely, observers say, the county will be asked to assemble the needed parcel, using the power it is afforded to condemn land for the public good.

In effect, the supervisors will be sending economic ripples through a host of businesses and individuals. Condemnation will enrich some, force others to move from the area whether they want to or not and determine which nearby, untouched landowners will be able to cash in if the value of their property leaps after the stadium is built.

Those likely to be affected are not necessarily strangers to the supervisors. In his last campaign, Board chairman Jim Bruner received campaign contributions of $120 each from Larry Yount and his wife. Yount and his baseball-playing brother, Robin, own land on the proposed stadium site. Bruner also received $200 from the political action committee of the Dial Corporation, a key investor in the baseball team.

Supervisors Ed King, Tom Rawles and Mary Rose Wilcox also received contributions from the Dial PAC: Rawles and Wilcox $240 each and King $100 given after he won office. Rawles also received personal campaign contributions from two of the company's highest-ranking officers.

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