Longform

Parking Breaks

"I don't happen to like baseball and I don't understand it," says Margaret Mullen, executive director of the Downtown Phoenix Partnership.

Mullen doesn't "do computers"; she doesn't need to. With her computerlike memory, she accesses chapter and verse of exactly why there will be only two daytime baseball games during the Arizona Diamondbacks' first season at Bank One Ballpark and exactly which combinations of Diamondbacks playoffs might clash with Suns and Coyotes preseason games, ensnarling traffic and saturating parking downtown.

"Do you have any idea how much time I spend on this?" she asks, the stress resonating in her throat. "I've got 500 and whatever days left and at least 10 percent of my week and my operation staff's is spent taking everybody's best bet on what will happen between now and April 1 [1998]."

With her big glasses and shocking-pink suit, Mullen looks more like a high school principal than a major player in the development of downtown.

Technically, the Downtown Phoenix Partnership is the nonprofit managing entity for the Downtown Enhanced Municipal Services District. In essence, it is an alliance of downtown businesses and city departments funded by assessments paid by property owners inside the district. In addition to funding the office's operations, the money goes toward improving its own neighborhood, and it has a great influence on what the city does to downtown. In fact, some would say, the DPP tells the city just what it will and won't tolerate, operating as a sort of "shadow government" for the central city. And as such, it has been the directing force in the recent downtown metamorphosis.

The DPP has a say in every project going up. The DPP rides herd on city services to make sure the partnership members get their due. The DPP pretties-up downtown, campaigns against panhandlers and tries to make it a pleasant place to work.

The fact is, shadow governments can be more efficient than real governments because real governments get bogged down by democracy. When it comes to solving problems and appropriating tax dollars, democracy takes forever--or never. The mechanism for creation of the stadium district, for example, was set up by the Legislature to make sure the stadium could not be voted down by stingy taxpayers, and so, since its inception, the stadium has sidestepped democracy and dealt with shadow governments.

Just as America West Arena brought thousands of folks downtown and helped rejuvenate redevelopment, the city and the partnership alike expect Bank One Ballpark--BOB, to its friends--to be just as beneficial.

But not every merchant or property owner who will be affected by the ballpark has been privy to the grand design.

In BOB's south shadow lie a few dozen industrial blocks referred to as the warehouse district. Some property owners in the district, especially in the blocks closest to the stadium, from Seventh Street to First Avenue and from Jackson south to Lincoln, envision a bold and bustling entertainment district--brew pubs and art galleries, much like the hip-and-happening LoDo district in Denver that clings to Coors Field, the new baseball park in that city.

In fact, Jerry Colangelo's trusted lieutenants have talked to property owners along Jackson to try to get something rolling.

And the Downtown Phoenix Partnership and the City Manager's Office have explored setting up a mini-DPP in that neighborhood; that notion crashed and burned when it was flown before the City Council, because a vocal minority of the area's businesses didn't want to pay for services that would benefit the speculators and the carpetbaggers.

At least one city employee was spanked over the failure of that warehouse improvement district; the city, the speculators and the DPP are regrouping to see if they can still push it through.

The council, says Mullen, is "nervous about being attached to a county project." The stadium district, whose board doubles as the county Board of Supervisors, is building the stadium, of course, at terms wildly favorable to Colangelo. And the council is still smarting from the sort of shenanigans that begat a 2,500-space parking garage on Jefferson Street that allegedly will be built for the new science museum, but whose construction will coincide with the stadium's opening. A similarly coincidental parking garage has been proposed just across Seventh Street from BOB, this time built on state-leased land.

Other voices think machinations over the area south of the stadium are mostly about one thing: parking. If Jerry Colangelo can't scrape together enough parking for the 50,000 or so fanatics he expects for each ball game, his downtown coup de grace will be woefully incomplete.

That's why many observers suspect that the DPP, and, by extension, Colangelo, wants to manipulate the development south of the stadium, looking to provide even more parking for the ballpark, and security for ballpark patrons walking to and from their cars.

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Michael Kiefer