Hidden Agenda

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A few weeks after the stadium proposition was narrowly approved by voters, Tempe dropped the McClintock/Rio Salado site and submitted the Papago Park Center site -- the same location that Giuliano said a month earlier should not be submitted.

The Papago Park Center location was eventually selected by the TSA for the stadium on February 13 -- in large part because Tempe officials assured the TSA the site would not pose a problem for the airport. That proved not to be the case.

Prior to the July flare-up with the FAA, Papago Park Center officials worked closely with Tempe to quickly prepare the site for construction. Last May, Tempe asked Papago Park Center officials if they would contract out sewer construction work needed for the site, rather than Tempe going through the slower, but legally required, public bidding process to do the work.

"Per your request, SRP will contract out the sewer work as an accommodation to the city," Papago Park Center executive Jayne Lewis wrote in a May 3, 2001, e-mail to Tempe redevelopment director Steve Nielsen.

"Otherwise, as I understand, the public bid process for the work would adversely impact the schedule for the canal relocation. As we discussed, this additional sewer cost is the city's cost and will not be the point of future negotiations with PPC."

Tempe has refused repeated requests to release documents related to site preparation for the stadium. The Papago Park Center memo to Nielsen was leaked to New Times.

How did the Papago site come out of nowhere at the last minute to win TSA approval -- particularly after Mayor Giuliano pushed in mid-October to drop the site from consideration?

Tempe officials are dodging the issue by feigning memory loss and sealing public records. The e-mail sent by Schaefer was obtained from a private source after Tempe refused to release records specifically requested by New Times in late July.

Giuliano offers one explanation. He told New Times last month that Salt River Project indicated the Papago Park Center site might be available for the stadium, but that the water and electric utility didn't want to get involved until after the election for political reasons.

Tempe obliged, Giuliano said, keeping the Papago Park Center site in the background until after voters narrowly approved Proposition 302.

Giuliano has since backed away from that version of events he gave New Times in a tape-recorded interview. In an August 20 letter to SRP president William Schrader, Giuliano states he is "disturbed and outraged" with a New Times article ("Quarterback Sneak," John Dougherty, August 16) that outlined the site-selection process.

"SRP never conspired with Tempe about this project and this site, and we all know that," Giuliano stated in the letter, which, like the Schaefer e-mail, was leaked to New Times after Tempe refused to release the document.

SRP has a slightly different version of events.

SRP spokesman Jeff Lane says that prior to the election, Tempe asked the utility company to donate the Papago Park Center land to Tempe. Lane wouldn't say who made the proposition.

"We were told that our property at Priest and Washington had to be provided at no cost . . ." Lane says.

Not surprisingly, SRP rejected Tempe's request. SRP is a quasi-municipal company that would have a difficult time justifying giving away valuable commercial land for a football stadium.

Shortly after the election, Lane says, Tempe changed its tune.

On November 20, Lane says Giuliano called Schrader and asked once again about the Papago Park Center site. This time, Lane says, Tempe was willing to put up money to obtain a lease on the property.

"We were told the initial requirement of no cost was no longer required and that the city of Tempe would entertain a market-based ground lease," Lane says.

Tempe's sudden offer of cash quickly led to a preliminary agreement for Tempe to lease the property. Papago Park Center manager Gena Trimble sent a lease agreement dated November 28 to Tempe deputy city manager Pat Flynn.

The Tempe city government wheels were now turning quickly to prepare the Papago site for the TSA.

The city's principal planner, Fred Brittingham, sent a November 28 memo to redevelopment director Steve Nielsen outlining dates for 10 meetings before city boards and commissions necessary to zone the property for the stadium. (City attorney Brad Woodford later told Brittingham to forget the zoning process, saying TSA was exempt from city zoning provisions.)

On the same day SRP was sending over tentative lease agreements and city staffers were preparing to zone the property, Giuliano announced at a TSA board meeting that he expected the city council would soon approve a plan to withdraw the McClintock/Rio Salado site -- because of extensive environmental problems -- and substitute it with the Papago Park Center site.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty