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BUY ME OUT FOR THE BALLPARK

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"I don't know if I'd do it even if they offer it to me," Francy says bluntly. "I appraised the arena land for what it would sell for on the open market to any buyer, and the city said I was far too conservative. It was quite a behind-the-scenes story."
Francy is the first to admit he is the practitioner of an inexact art. But he still shakes his head over what happened in 1989. His experience may speak volumes to those who wonder how the land-sale part of the stadium project may turn out if things fall into place for Colangelo and company.

The story Francy is referring to can be found in public records. First, the dollars-and-cents finale to the 1989 condemnation proceedings: The City of Phoenix paid 15 separate landowners at the three-block arena site $10.8 million. The Phoenix Suns' ownership added another $500,000 to the pot.

"An appraiser is supposed to go in without considering the project that is contemplated," Francy says. "It's not fair for a guy to announce a new arena and then force him to pay a bunch more for the land because he's going to improve it. It also isn't right to punish the current landowners for the depressed values that would accompany a slaughterhouse or something."
With that in mind in 1989, Francy went to town. Things proceeded fairly smoothly at first, with the City of Phoenix using Francy's appraisals in settlement negotiations that routinely accompany condemnation proceedings. The city quickly bought out the first ten of the 15 landowners for about $5.5 million--a total roughly $540,000 higher than Francy's appraisal of the properties. That differential between appraisal and purchase price is considered in the ballpark for governmental land dealings.

But the remaining five parcels proved to be a much larger obstacle for the City of Phoenix.

Attorneys representing the remaining landowners threatened to sue if the city didn't fork over far more money than Francy's appraisals had indicated. The barristers posed a question that lingered like a bad dream: Was Phoenix trying to condemn land for private purposes, which is illegal?

Though the City of Phoenix would technically own the arena, Colangelo and the Suns--for-profit, private enterprises by any measure--would become the prime financial benefactors after it opened for business. (Similar questions may be raised about the stadium proposal, observers say, and could gum up the works in land negotiations.)

Maybe a judge should decide, the attorneys for the private-property owners mused. Condemnation proceedings are known to drag on, sometimes adding 25 percent or more to the appraised value of condemned real estate.

Suns owner Colangelo and the team of lawyers representing the city were spooked and, near the end of 1989, they caved in. Without informing Francy, the city hired John Loper to reappraise the remaining five properties.

Dual appraisals are often sought in major land purchases, but the dollar difference between Francy's and Loper's appraisals was dramatic.

For example, Francy had appraised arena-area property owned by John and Pamela Vogel at $1.44 million. Loper said its market value was $1.86 million. The city later cut the Vogels a check for $2.26 million, or about $800,000 more than Francy's appraisal. Real estate types consider that kind of difference between two appraisers to be out of the land-acquisition ballpark.

Francy appraised the final five arena properties at $3.46 million. Loper said the same land was worth a whopping $5.07 million. When it was over, the City of Phoenix (and the Suns, to a far lesser degree) paid the landowners $5.8 million--or $2.3 million more than Francy had envisioned.

"It was funny because I tend to err on the high side in these things," Francy tells New Times. "In condemnations, you often deal with unwilling sellers, and I think they should be given a bit of benefit of the doubt for their troubles. But this one. . . . Wow! Those arena-site landowners did very well for themselves."
Francy cautions that it's still very early in the stadium game, but a few things are clear to him about the set of landowners at the proposed site.

"I don't think they'll strike it as rich as some people think," he says. "They'll do okay, but they're not going to do as well as if this whole thing had happened in 86."
In 1986, Francy points out, the block on Central Avenue due east of Patriots Square Park sold for $100 per square foot. But two years ago--after the Charles Keating revelations, the Valley's real estate dive and the coming of the Resolution Trust Corporation--the same block sold for $35 per square foot.

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