Ballpark Bailout

© 2001 New Times November 16, 2001 7:35 p.m.

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors is poised to give Jerry Colangelo a $6 million gift on Monday.

The supervisors plan to pierce the $238 million cap on taxpayer contributions to build Bank One Ballpark by advancing $6 million to Colangelo's Arizona Diamondbacks to cover higher-than-expected land condemnation costs to build the stadium, county records obtained by New Times reveal.

Supervisors and the Diamondbacks agreed in 1994 that taxpayers' contributions to the ballpark would be capped at $238 million.

The supervisors will vote on the proposal at the board's meeting set to begin at 9 a.m. Monday, November 19. The $6 million bailout is not specifically mentioned in the supervisors' agenda item #70 that was posted midday Friday on the county's Web site.

But documents obtained under the state public records law show that the county intends to give the Diamondbacks $6 million more from the stadium's long-term capital reserve account that was intended to pay for future major repairs to the $366 million ballpark.

The vote poses a potential conflict of interest for Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, who traveled to New York City with the Diamondbacks on the team's chartered jet for the World Series. Wilcox, who could not be reached for comment late Friday, has said through a spokesman that she will repay the team for all expenses once she is given a bill.

County spokesman Al Macias said Friday that he has not seen an accounting of Wilcox's New York trip.

Wilcox has been a strong supporter of the Diamondbacks, and at least one of her relatives directly benefited from stadium construction contracts. Wilcox's brother-in-law, Frank Rivera, won at least four subcontracts from primary contractors worth at least $500,000 during construction of the ballpark.

Wilcox, along with Supervisor Don Stapley, has supported the Diamondbacks' concerted efforts to secure a $6 million bailout on the condemnation case since last winter.

County sources say the team has the support of at least one other supervisor, or the item would not have been posted for Monday's meeting.

The Diamondbacks would use the money to pay a condemnation judgment awarded to Downtown Phoenix Partners for two acres at the stadium site, if an appeal on the judgment to the Supreme Court fails.

In addition, the Maricopa County Stadium District, which owns the stadium and is composed of the five supervisors, borrowed $15 million and used the money to cover construction costs. The district loan was to be repaid from revenue generated by non-baseball events held at the ballpark and from a portion of Diamondbacks ticket sales.

The team was responsible for all construction expenses beyond $253 million -- including the $6 million condemnation judgment.

To raise the public funds, supervisors imposed an unpopular quarter-cent sales tax that was supposed to be capped at $238 million. However, about $244 million was collected before it was terminated in November 1997. The additional $6 million was not returned to taxpayers, but instead deposited in the ballpark's capital reserve account. The balance of the reserve account was $10.5 million as of September 30, 2001.

Under the proposed agreement with the team, the county stadium district would take $6 million from the capital reserve account and give it to the team to pay the condemnation settlement in an extremely complicated way.

The bailout comes two weeks after the Diamondbacks won the World Series by defeating the New York Yankees. Despite the victory, the team is in deep financial trouble and is seeking additional investors.