Colangelo Gets His

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The Republic's kowtowing to Colangelo has helped him get immense power to shape downtown Phoenix. Lately, he has attempted to seize another opportunity by hiring a planning company to secretly draw up blueprints for the future of downtown development, with the Republic right there leading the cheers.

All this has brought protests from small downtown businesses, artists and neighborhood groups. They are asking Mayor Phil Gordon to place a one-year moratorium on Colangelo's master-planning process. As usual, Jerry wants to get his by cutting out the little guy and building a massive shopping mall next to the BOB and America West.

A probable showdown looms later this spring between Colangelo and the mayor, who has proclaimed that the future of downtown development is the top item on his agenda. What we're all waiting to see is if Gordon has the guts to buck Colangelo and his buddies, including the execs at the Republic.

That is, will the mayor give innovative small business people and artists -- the real soul of any vibrant downtown -- a seat at the table? Practically all the public redevelopment money has gone to Jerry and his gang, and that has to stop.

Forget about that World Series victory.

Let's take a look at Jerry Colangelo's bottom line.

Last April, Forbes magazine estimated that the Diamondbacks were worth $269 million. That might seem like a lot of money, and it is.

Unless you're among the team's investors who already have $227 million out the door and commitments to invest another $227 million over the next 10 years -- to bring total equity investment by 2014 to $454 million.

Ken Kendrick tells me that investors are banking on the Diamondbacks doubling in value by then -- which means the team must increase in value at an average rate of 7.3 percent a year.

This is wishful thinking.

Last year, the Diamondbacks' value fell by 1 percent, according to Forbes.

There is clearly no guarantee that investors will see their money back anytime soon. And given the history of the team, it is very likely that investors will be asked to kick in even more money in the future.

Strike one against Jerry.

Now, let's move to the debt side of the balance sheet.

The fast-track design and construction of Bank One Ballpark led to huge cost overruns that had to be absorbed by the team. Those overruns were driven by Colangelo's demand that the stadium be built with a retractable roof to allow for natural grass.

Not a bad idea to go for a quality environment, but Colangelo grossly underestimated the cost. The Diamondbacks are now carrying $145 million in long-term debt -- which drains revenue that could have been used to field a serious contender.

Strike two.

Colangelo's oft-stated baseball business plan held that if a winning team were put on the field, the fans would come in droves even in lean years. Jerry persuaded star players to defer $170 million in salaries, which allowed him to field a great team that won a thrilling World Series against the Yankees.

But attendance has steadily declined, making Jerry wrong again. Now the deferred salaries must be paid, further cutting into the kitty to pay current players. That's why all we heard about last season was the youth movement. Young no-name players work cheap, and of course have little chance of propelling a team into the playoffs.

Strike three.

We have to face it -- his partners have. Jerry Colangelo blew it on the equity end of the business and left the team mired in debt.

I may be one of the few people who remember that Colangelo's original plan wasn't to go for broke to field a quick contender. He told me in the early days of the franchise that he wanted to build the D-Backs slowly by utilizing young players with low salaries. He said then that he would slowly but steadily build a fan base that way.

But he panicked after the team's first year in 1998 when season-ticket sales for the next year plummeted. Rather than staying the course, he pulled out the credit card to buy the World Series championship.

So much for his touted acumen as a brilliant downtown businessman and visionary.

Yet, until the latest turn of events, Colangelo has always gotten pretty much everything he wanted.

He got county supervisors to impose an unpopular $243 million sales tax to help build the ballpark.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty

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