Colangelo Eats Crow

One day isn't enough. Phoenix should be celebrating Cuatro y Cinco de Mayo.

A two-day party would allow us to fete not only the Mexican Army's smashing defeat of the French Foreign Legion on May 5, 1862, but also the founding of Phoenix on May 4, 1868.

Next year, if things go right, Phoenix could host a two-day festival in the heart of downtown to extol the Mexican victory, which played a crucial role in the American Civil War, and honor the date Phoenix was officially recognized as a town.

But before that should happen, Mayor Phil Gordon and the Phoenix City Council first must drive a stake through the heart of Phoenix's narrow-minded downtown business community headed by Jerry Colangelo -- clearing the way for a renaissance led by artists, small business people, downtown residents and Arizona State University.

By next year, with bars serving alcohol until 2 a.m., thanks finally to the Legislature, I'm hoping there will be a grand opportunity for the city to rejoice over the end of Colangelo's unfettered power to dictate downtown development.

"There are certain individuals who think they are the center of the universe," says downtown businessman and former Arizona legislative leader Alfredo Gutierrez, referring to Colangelo and his business buddies.

"But they have just met Michael Crow, who is the center of the universe," Gutierrez says. "And this is good, in terms of what might happen downtown."

If you've just rocketed in from outer space, Michael Crow's the frenetic president of Arizona State University, who's also an advocate of first-class urban design. The former executive vice provost at Columbia University, Crow was named ASU president in July 2002. Crow thinks on a global scale, is connected at the highest level of government and has the resources of a major research institution at his fingertips.

He's a huge leap forward when it comes to leadership talent in Arizona. No longer need we bank on some huckster from Chicago (whose claim to fame's managing a slew of overpaid athletes) to call all the shots in our core city.

Crow, 48, wasted nary a nanosecond here before launching his long-term plan to create what he calls the New American University at Arizona State. Not only does Crow brashly intend to vault ASU into the ranks of the world's great research and academic institutions, he believes the university must be fully integrated into its community.

Crow wants to abandon the college town concept and inject Phoenix's inner city with the vibrant diversity of a university campus. His ambitious plans to transfer a bunch of ASU colleges to downtown, creating a campus of more than 15,000 students, can only bring massive benefits.

This is not an effort that stops with merely leasing a couple of buildings and furnishing them with computers and chalkboards. ASU intends to transform downtown's brutal landscape into a happening urban core that works in harmony with our extreme desert climate.

"ASU's eager to work with Mayor Phil Gordon and the city of Phoenix in true partnership," intones Crow.

The university's entry into downtown Phoenix is among the most important developments in the city's relatively short history. Crow's arrival on center stage provides Gordon a desperately needed alternative to Colangelo and his business cohorts, who've failed to turn around downtown despite receiving hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars for sports and entertainment venues.

"ASU gets it on what's needed to make a great downtown and therefore make Phoenix a great city," Gordon told me a few days after the city council held a special April 26 meeting to hear presentations on downtown by ASU and Colangelo's group, Phoenix Futures.

Councilman Greg Stanton also supports ASU's vision for downtown Phoenix. He says the university's plans are clearly a notch above those so far mustered up by Phoenix Futures.

"Make no mistake, of the two plans, I want to make sure we accomplish the goal of having a real downtown university in the foreseeable future," says Stanton, who played a key role in creating the joint ASU, University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University biotechnology campus that will soon emerge at the corner of Seventh Street and Van Buren.

Following the architectural maxim that "great cities are characterized by the casual use of open space," ASU has assembled an impressive array of national, university and local architects and urban designers to figure out how best to create a great urban center in this desert metropolis.

"If we are not doing civic good along the way, we will go back to the drawing board," says Wellington Reiter, dean of ASU's College of Architecture and Environmental Design, who is spearheading the university's downtown team.

ASU wants to transform downtown into a hospitable microclimate -- even in our blazing summer months -- with the widespread use of shade and solar energy.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty