Pouring Fuel on a Fire

Contaminated soil and groundwater beneath the site of a proposed seven-story parking garage are driving up costs of a project already over budget and embroiled in controversy.

The structure would cover nearly five acres across Jefferson Street from the $351 million Bank One Ballpark. The stadium is scheduled to be completed next March and Phoenix officials are pushing to complete the 2,700-space garage by next spring.

Besides environmental concerns, the parking garage has become the center of controversy over its expense and location.

Critics say the garage is being built to accommodate parking for the 48,000-seat baseball stadium, in spite of a city ordinance that requires voter approval for any sports-related structure costing more than $3 million. The city has budgeted $43 million for the land acquisition and garage construction.

City officials claim the garage is needed to supply parking to other downtown venues, including the Arizona Science Museum, the Civic Center, Herberger Theater Center and Symphony Hall. Consultants for the city, however, said in preliminary reports that the garage would not be needed unless it was intended to serve the ballpark. At the city's urging, the consultants eventually revised their report to say the garage was needed even without the ballpark.

The city has known for several years that soil beneath the site bounded by Fifth, Seventh, Washington and Jefferson streets is polluted with high levels of diesel fuel. The pollution was caused by leaking fuel lines at the Greyhound Lines bus terminal, which occupied the site until it was condemned by the city and the building was demolished last year.

An environmental assessment prepared last summer by Geotechnical and Environmental Consultants Inc. estimates that the diesel release "probably exceeds 5,000 gallons, and it may be more than 10,000 gallons." The fuel plume extends to the soil and groundwater beneath the site.

"The release may have occurred over a relatively short period of time, or possibly as long as 15 to 20 years," the May 28, 1996, report states.

Greyhound Lines leased the site from Transportation Leasing Company, a subsidiary of Viad Corporation.

Phoenix took possession of the site last year under a Maricopa County Superior Court order. The city has not yet purchased the property and a final sales price is being negotiated between the city and Viad. The city has budgeted $2.5 million to buy the land.

Viad, meanwhile, is conducting environmental studies at the site and has indicated it will do whatever cleanup is required by the state. Viad plans to seek reimbursement for its cleanup expenses from the state water quality assurance fund.

"We have been actively working to clean up the subject property before the condemnation case was filed," says Pamela Overton, an attorney representing Viad. "Since that time, we have continued to assess the environmental condition and we are working under the directive of the state."

State records indicate Viad's assessment and cleanup process have been too slow to suit Phoenix officials, who want the parking garage to open next spring.

"The city seems to have a plan to proceed with the work and sue [Viad] for cost recovery," according to the minutes of a February 28 meeting between officials from the city, the state Department of Environmental Quality and Viad.

Although it is not responsible for the cleanup, the city has budgeted $1.5 million to determine the extent of the pollution and possibly pay for cleanup.

Valley condemnation attorney Jay Dushoff says the city's willingess to expend money up-front to clean up the spill is further proof that Phoenix is really building the parking garage to meet demand for baseball parking.

"The big rush just catches them at the game that the parking garage is really baseball-oriented," says Dushoff, who represents landowners whose property was condemned by Maricopa County to build the ballpark.

City officials say the diesel pollution already has had an impact on the garage's design and presite construction work.

Donn M. Stoltzfus, city environmental program specialist, says the city has had to design monitoring wells and remediation systems that would be installed beneath the parking-garage slab.

"It's much more cost-effective to put the wells and remediation system in prior to construction than after the fact," Stoltzfus says.

Spending money on the design and installation may be premature. Until environmental assessments are completed later this spring, it is impossible to know what type of cleanup, if any, will be necessary, according to state environmental officials.

"There may not be any cleanup required, we don't know yet," says Bill Kopp, an ADEQ hydrologist.

The city budgeted $43 million to acquire the land, design the parking structure and construct it. The facility was to include walkways, plazas, commercial space and a pedestrian bridge to the Science Museum. Garage construction was estimated at $25.1 million, but the lowest construction bid came in last month at $31.9 million.

The Phoenix City Council is expected to reject the construction bids this week and order designers to trim about $4 million in amenities. New bids will be submitted this summer, moving construction startup to the fall.

City Councilman Sal DiCiccio says the delay will likely make it impossible for the garage to be completed to coincide with the start of the Arizona Diamondbacks' inaugural season next April at Bank One Ballpark.

DiCiccio is also holding discussions with Naples, Florida, development firm Barron Collier Company to explore a possible land swap that would transfer the garage site to Collier in exchange for 15 acres Collier owns at the former Phoenix Indian School site.

Collier spokesman Alfredo Gutierrez says the company is interested in building a temporary parking structure at the downtown site to accommodate immediate parking needs. The company, however, wants the flexibility to build something else on the site in the future, such as a hotel, Civic Center expansion or commercial development.

Regardless of what gets built, Gutierrez says Collier would construct an underground parking garage and guarantee parking spaces for downtown Phoenix cultural venues.

Gutierrez says the city should carefully consider what type of permanent structure it wants to build at the prime downtown parcel that many--including proponents of the parking garage--consider to be the gateway to downtown Phoenix.

He says that long-term parking needs would be best met by underground parking garages and parking lots south of Bank One Ballpark, rather than a permanent above-ground garage north of the ballpark.

"We just have to think like a major city as opposed to a large suburban area with tall buildings," Gutierrez says.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty