News

Parking Mirage

It took only a few minutes for the Phoenix City Council to deliver what some would consider a $40 million gift to the growing empire of Phoenix sports mogul Jerry Colangelo.

It was easy.
There was no public opposition.
No impassioned speeches by councilmembers. No outrage over an apparent giveaway of public funds concocted by city staffers.

Councilman Sal DiCiccio did raise some timid opposition to the proposal, but it was quickly overcome by Mayor Skip Rimsza. He silenced DiCiccio with little more than a stare.

The official record for April 17 will show that agenda item 29.2--a legal settlement that would relocate Greyhound Bus Lines' downtown bus station to city-owned property near Sky Harbor International Airport--was approved by a 7-2 vote.

What the official records probably won't say is that the vote constituted a crucial step toward fulfilling a tacit agreement for the City of Phoenix to provide a major parking facility adjacent to a $332 million, retractable-dome baseball stadium being built for Colangelo's Arizona Diamondbacks.

In all probability, the official records will also fail to note that the settlement came after Greyhound accused the city of violating Proposition 200--which prohibits the city from spending more than $3 million on a sports-related facility without a public vote--by planning the $40 million parking garage.

City staffers claim the 3,000-space parking garage, which would be located directly across the street from the Diamondbacks' Bank One Ballpark, is necessary to meet the parking demand created by those visiting the new science museum and other downtown cultural offerings.

"We have planned for a long time, maybe going back seven or eight years before the baseball stadium was even conceived of, to put parking south of the science museum because we are going to need parking for the science museum," Phoenix City Manager Frank Fairbanks says.

But in documents filed in a condemnation case in Maricopa County Superior Court, Greyhound's lawyers say otherwise:

"No rational person can believe that the city is building a 3,000-space 'event parking' garage, which is designed to unload in 30 minutes after a mass release event, and which is directly across the street from a grossly under parked 50,000-seat baseball stadium, for any other reason tha(n) to service the parking needs generated by the baseball stadium."

And other court documents back Greyhound's claims, showing that the city engaged in private discussions with Colangelo about the parking garage and manipulated parking studies that claim the $40 million structure would be needed--even if a baseball stadium were not built right across the street.

Phoenix City Manager Frank Fairbanks is a hands-on administrator and longtime supporter of major league baseball in downtown Phoenix.

Fairbanks formally jumped on the baseball bandwagon in November 1993, telling top Maricopa County officials that "the City staff is fully supportive of a baseball stadium."

But Fairbanks threw a caveat into that support, telling former Maricopa County manager Roy Pederson that Proposition 200 places "limits on our ability to spend for such a project." Despite the limits, Fairbanks made it clear to Pederson that the city was "willing to undertake other project activities at the request of the county."

The county and the Diamondbacks wanted the city to provide parking close to the stadium. The city council responded enthusiastically during a secret executive session in January 1994 and authorized its staff to prepare a "redevelopment plan" that would call for the city to construct parking and retail space near the stadium.

This redevelopment project was seen as a way the city could invest up to $50 million to support the baseball project without violating Proposition 200.

In a recent interview, Fairbanks said the city and baseball officials held talks about building a parking and retail center south of the stadium site. Those talks faltered, however, after landowners there balked at the proposal, and Proposition 200 proponents began publicly criticizing the plan.

During the course of the discussions on redevelopment, city officials met with Colangelo and told him the city planned to build a parking garage--for the science museum--directly across the street from the stadium.

"We did convey to them that the city had had plans for many years to develop a parking garage in the general area of the Greyhound Bus Terminal," Brian Kearney, the city's program manager for the garage project, said in a deposition taken by Greyhound Bus Lines lawyers last month.

The baseball team was enthusiastic about the city's parking plans.
"I think they have made statements to the effect they anticipate being able to use it," Kearney added.

The discussions between the city and Colangelo occurred while Maricopa County supervisors were debating whether to impose a quarter-cent sales tax to raise funds to pay for the stadium, which at the time was estimated to cost $315 million.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty