Triple Crown?

It could be the perfect location for the Arizona Cardinals football stadium.

There's plenty of parking already built.

Most of the site is publicly owned.

It's close to planned light-rail stations, has excellent freeway access and has no airport issues.

There are no residential neighborhoods to disturb, and most of the land has already been cleared.

The site is centrally located near existing hotels and it's a 10-minute drive to the airport — key factors in the financial success of a stadium that is also designed to serve as a convention center and trade show facility.

Where is this site?

Just a few blocks west of America West Arena and Bank One Ballpark, between Jefferson and Jackson streets and Fourth and Seventh avenues in downtown Phoenix.

Maricopa County already owns 12.5 acres of the 15-acre site, greatly reducing the cost of land acquisition for the stadium, which needs a minimum of 12 acres, plus land for the rollout field.

Of the county's 12.5 acres, 10 acres (four city blocks) between Fifth and Seventh avenues already have been cleared to make way for the county's planned administration complex called Plaza de Maricopa.

But earlier this summer, the county — citing budget problems — indefinitely shelved that project, which included a 23-story office tower. The county has no immediate plans to develop the area that was razed for the Plaza.

Now, Phoenix City Councilman Phil Gordon says the site could be the solution to the Cardinals stadium location woes that have dragged on for more than a year. At the same time, Gordon says, a stadium on the county land would provide an immediate boost to downtown Phoenix.

"Rather than leaving four vacant blocks, this could result in a development right away that would bring in new tax revenues to the county and the city," Gordon says.

Utilizing the county-owned site would create a sports, entertainment and convention center corridor in downtown Phoenix, with the ballpark, the arena and the stadium all located on Jefferson Street.

"You could have three major facilities all in a row that would become the downtown redevelopment core that would not negatively impact any other development," says Gordon.

Gordon has closely followed the stadium location efforts, although he has recused himself from City Council votes on the issue because his brother-in-law is a lobbyist for the Cardinals. The city would not be directly involved in the Plaza de Maricopa site because the land is controlled by the county.

Few businesses or residents would be disturbed by the construction or operation of the stadium at the site, which is surrounded by government buildings.

The location is tucked between Maricopa County's new jail under construction to the east, the federal courthouse to the north, the county's new morgue to the west and the county's new customer service center to the south.

Tourism and Sports Authority chairman Jim Grogan says he's intrigued by the location and strongly supports any effort to move the facility into downtown Phoenix.

"I would love having it in downtown," Grogan says.

Maricopa County spokesman Al Macias says the county has not considered the site as a possible stadium location and was unsure whether it would meet all of the TSA's requirements. Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, who played a key role in the Bank One Ballpark project and in whose district the downtown site is located, did not return a call Monday seeking comment.

The TSA is racing to select a stadium site by September 12 in order to avoid a public election in November that could disband the authority.

Tempe, Mesa and Glendale are offering sites to the TSA, but all three have significant problems. TSA officials say privately that, while the Mesa site is suitable, there is strong political opposition to the site, including a pending referendum that could derail the project.

Glendale, meanwhile, is considered by some TSA officials to be too far from downtown Phoenix, which will hamper the authority's ability to use the stadium for convention purposes.

The Tempe site also is facing public backlash. It's perceived to be the favorite of the Cardinals — which is causing some TSA officials to back away from that site, because they don't want to be seen as being in the Cardinals' camp.

The lack of a strong front-runner gives the county the opportunity to step into the fray, Gordon says. The county already has experience in building large sports facilities. Bank One Ballpark is owned by the Maricopa County Stadium District.

Besides the Plaza de Maricopa land, the county owns a block due east, between Fourth and Fifth avenues, which currently houses county offices and a three-story parking garage. The remaining parcel of the six-block site has a printing facility. The land is controlled by a private party that has sold property to the county in the past.

One of the biggest problems in locating the stadium has been the high cost of land acquisition; another has been finding a site with suitable parking. The downtown county site offers solutions to both problems, particularly since most of the land is already publicly owned.

Parking is not an issue downtown. In the last two years, the county has spent $37.5 million to build two massive parking garages that are adjacent to the possible stadium site. The garages were built primarily to supply parking for the Plaza de Maricopa.

The county has just completed the $26.5 million, 1,800-space Jackson Street garage and is nearing completion of the $11 million, 985-space forensic sciences garage on the southwest corner of Seventh Avenue and Jefferson.

With the Plaza de Maricopa shelved, the county is stuck with far more parking than it needs in the downtown area — and no way to generate significant parking revenue.

And that's during the week. There is virtually no demand for parking on Sundays during football season — except for a few hundred detention officers working in the county's downtown jail facilities and an occasional baseball game.

In addition to the new county garages, several other parking garages near America West Arena, Bank One Ballpark and Phoenix City Hall could be utilized during football games, and would generate revenue for the city and county.

Despite the short time frame left before TSA must make a selection, Gordon says it is possible for the county to submit a development plan.

"If there is a desire by the county, they can figure out how to make it work," he says.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty