Jerry's Law

There are two rule books for doing business in downtown Phoenix.

One is for Jerry Colangelo and his stable of businesses revolving around the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Phoenix Suns.

This rule book is very thin. In fact, open it, and there's only one page containing four words:

Cut Jerry a break.

There's another big fat book that lays out the rules of business for the rest of us. But the driving philosophy behind this encyclopedia of do's and don't can be summed up in five words:

You must pay to play.

Jerry gets. We pay. There's nothing fair about this, but it's the way it has been for the last 20 years in Phoenix.

If a small business wants to put on a special event in downtown Phoenix, it's required to pay through the nose ($60 an hour) for off-duty Phoenix cops to provide security. But Jerry doesn't have to pay for the cops directing traffic at every home baseball and basketball game. Taxpayers do -- to the tune of more than $300,000 a year.

And when Jerry needs parking for a special event in a downtown space -- such as the soiree last week for Charles Barkley's induction into the Suns' Ring of Honor --Maricopa County suddenly makes available a parking garage for the evening.

When local artists wanted use of the same garage for a special event, the county didn't even bother to respond to the request.

Jerry, you see, is considered different from the rest of us because he's managed to siphon more than $300 million in public funds to build arenas, ballparks and a theater.

The theory is, we will all benefit from Jerry's success.

I'm the first to say that I enjoy the sporting events at Jerry's venues. But for the bar and restaurant owners near Jerry's World who have no connection to the Godfather, the trickle-down benefits of all that public money going to the Colangelo empire have been negligible.

Downtown businesses that hooked their star to Jerry's wagon have had a very rough row to hoe indeed. This despite Colangelo's claims that the stadium and the arena would revitalize downtown Phoenix.

In fact, it's laughable to bar and restaurant owners who were once true believers in the Colangelo mystique that spillover from America West Arena, Bank One Ballpark and the Dodge Theater has brought anybody prosperity.

There are fewer downtown businesses today than before the BOB was opened in 1998. Instead of creating a vibrant downtown, the ballpark and arena have concentrated downtown entertainment spending inside the walls of the sports edifices.

The bars and restaurants near the stadium and arena count every dime they manage to get from fans attending events in one of Jerry's tents. So when they see the Diamondbacks-owned nightclub on the ballpark plaza getting break after break from state and city regulators, they tend to get upset.

The two-story nightclub the Diamondbacks built on Bank One Ballpark plaza was supposed to be a gold mine for Colangelo and his stable of investors.

Instead, it turned into a financial sinkhole that lost Jerry and his buddies several million dollars when they operated it as Leinenkugels brewpub from 1998 through 2000.

The experience must have taught Jerry first hand just how difficult it is for neighboring small businesses to capture even a sliver of the $10 million a year he and his investors are collecting inside the ballpark from concessions and souvenirs.

Jerry and his partners bailed on the bar business in 2001, deciding to lease the building to a Chicago-based operation called High-Tops.

Even though Jerry and his partners no longer operated the bar, the team still controlled the building. The principle of cutting Jerry a break stood fast.

Since early 2001, a litany of serious problems have cropped up at the place that have been largely ignored by city and state regulators -- including at least two aggravated assaults on police officers and more than 18 police calls related to assaults. Patrons have suffered serious injuries at the bar, including one man who was nearly killed when a drunk threw a table off the second floor balcony into a crowd.

Meanwhile, the State of Liquor Licensing and Control has issued more than half a dozen citations for violations, including selling alcohol to minors, over-serving intoxicated patrons, illegally using the plaza to sell alcohol, allowing customers to leave the bar with open containers and bartenders drinking while on duty.

The department should have issued at least one more citation, but failed to discover that one operator submitted a fraudulent application to obtain a state liquor license.

If you or I owned a building leased to nightclub operators with such problems, the doors of our structure would be chained shut in no time.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty