Furious George

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Another sticky issue has been the city's Downtown Redevelopment Plan and its attempt to condemn private businesses within the redevelopment area. Zraket has consistently voted against such efforts.

"Condemnation is a governmental power granted for acquiring property for public use," Zraket says. "[It's] not to take one person's business and property so another business can have it."

Jack Long, who owns Scottsdale Auto Supply, was watching baseball one night when he got a call from a neighbor. The neighbor told him to turn on Channel 11, that the council was discussing his business and how they were about to vote to condemn it.

Long says he was not notified of the meeting. As he watched, Zraket was the only council member to vote against condemning the business he went to work for in 1955 at age 21 as a delivery boy. He bought the building and property in the mid-1960s and had planned to lease the building after retiring and use the rent to supplement his social security.

According to Long, Scottsdale Health Care wanted his property for a planned expansion. He says the city tried to get him to sell it to the hospital for a less than fair price. When he refused, the city moved to condemn his business.

The condemnation was eventually thrown out in court, but Long says the city can still move against his property if it wants.

"I just can't see how they can legitimately take it from one private business and give it to another. It's unconstitutional," Long says. "Far as I'm concerned, we need four Georges on that council."

The big issue, though, the one that still haunts Zraket, and will be brought up over and over during his reelection campaign, is Los Arcos.

It's a highly publicized project that everyone has an opinion about, even if the facts don't always support those opinions.

"I think Los Arcos was a tremendous opportunity that has gotten away. I don't think anybody set out to do damage," says former Scottsdale city manager Dick Bowers, who retired in late 2000, months before the arena deal fell through. "There will never be a deal like that again."

The deal, essentially, was for Los Arcos owner Steve Ellman, who also owns the Coyotes, to build an arena complete with space for retail, business and restaurant/nightlife activities. The city would have gotten the arena; Ellman would have pocketed a mint in sales-tax breaks and development fees.

Ellman declined to comment for this story.

The city struggled with Los Arcos for nearly two years. Two public votes were held, one to uphold the city creating a stadium district board and another to authorize the district to seek special funding from the state.

In March 2001, after numerous delays and questions from Zraket as well as other council members, the council voted 4-3 to grant Ellman a six-month extension. It no longer mattered. By April, Ellman had left Scottsdale and moved his project to Glendale, which ultimately agreed to pay for the arena.

"You can't hold George accountable for that," Bowers says. "It took a lot of people to make that not happen."

But Zraket has drawn the bulk of criticism.

Jim Wellington, chairman of the stadium district board, believes Zraket and O'Hearn, specifically, helped the arena fail because both said they would not support an arena at Scottsdale and McDowell roads.

"Both of them have flown in the face of what the city wanted," Wellington says. "I think [George] has intimidated the council and staff and therefore has become an informal leader. That's how he influenced the outcome of the Phoenix Coyote arena."

Richard Campana is even less diplomatic.

"These people have tarnished the image. Most businesses don't want to relocate to Scottsdale. You can't name me one thing they've done in the past two years that's positive," he says. "They've lost Los Arcos. Lost the sales-tax war. Everything they've done is negative. They've said no to everything."

Councilman Robert Pettycrew doesn't think Zraket is to blame, but he says that Zraket's refusal to compromise on the arena deal didn't help matters.

"I think a unanimous council moving forward on a project like this is critical for its success," Pettycrew says.

That's why, according to Pettycrew, he personally never made a motion for the council to vote on approving the project. He says he didn't believe enough support existed.

For his part, Zraket bristles when Los Arcos is mentioned. He objected to the arena, he says, because he saw it changing the character of a neighborhood with dramatically increased traffic, noise and pollution.

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John W. Allman