Venetian Blind

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Excel Corporation would put up three-quarters of the money for the Canals of Scottsdale, and Unger the rest -- signing his name for at least $160 million.

He reminds Scottsdale voters that even if they vote down the Canals project, he and Excel still own most of the property in the redevelopment zone.

"I assure you of this: Something new is going to go there. The city needs to decide if it wants to make it something special.

"Without the public's participation, we'll have to lop a limb off," he says. "We'd lose the museums, probably, and a lot of the public space. You won't find a developer who will put in 48 percent open space in a urban setting without this funding mechanism, that's for sure."

Unger says he thinks those who oppose the Canals either subscribe to "an anti-everything city hall philosophy" or suffer from nostalgia disease.

"A lot of them are people who yearn for the days when Scottsdale was a sleepy little town," he says. "They want to keep it the way it was. Well, you can't do that."

Scottsdale architect Sam West, an outspoken critic of the Canals plan, says he fears an invasion of name-brand retail outlets that would make shopping in Scottsdale a generic experience.

"You look at a charming town like Telluride, Colorado, and you see a main street shopping area dominated by unique local stores. Why would people come to Scottsdale to shop at the same mega-retail stores they have at home?"

According to election records, Great For Scottsdale, Great For You! has spent nearly $800,000 trying to convince Scottsdale voters that the Canals of Scottsdale is the right plan for the future of their city's downtown.

Great For Scottsdale, Great For You! has promoted the Canals project with a line of bottled "Canal Water," and a television spot which depicts children pleading with voters to give them a new museum.

In early August, Save Old Scottsdale -- which has spent less than a 10th as much as Canals proponents -- put up 200 red and white campaign signs. Great For Scottsdale, Great For You! responded with twice as many, nearly identical signs promoting "the only plan to revitalize the Galleria Area."

Spokespeople from both groups have rhetorically sparred in several well-attended public debates, including an August 12 match in which Espinosa blindsided Great For Scottsdale, Great For You! chairman Bill Heckman with a set of real-estate transaction records that she said proved Unger had recently purchased another building on Fifth Avenue, then immediately deeded it back to the city (in Espinosa's mind this was some indication of dark machinations behind the scenes).

Heckman sputtered about personally knowing Fred Unger and being sure there was a reasonable explanation, as Jason Rose and a cadre of young men wearing stonewashed jeans and "Canals of Scottsdale" golf shirts all reached for their mobile phones.

Two minutes later, one of them trotted a note down to Heckman.

"I've just received a response from Mr. Unger," Heckman said. "He says he did buy the property, but he has not deeded it to the city, and has no intention of doing so, and that you should be ashamed of yourself. So shame!"

But Espinosa apparently has little shame when it comes to preserving her idea of Scottsdale.

"The Western experience of this city would be ruined forever, and I'm [going to] do everything I can to stop it," she says. "You may see me spread-eagled on a bulldozer before this thing's done."

Contact David Holthouse at his online address: [email protected]

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David Holthouse
Contact: David Holthouse