The Trail to Nowhere

by John Washington on February 25, 2012

Jason Rose, PR guy

Laurie Roberts’ column in the Scottsdale Republic today got it all wrong. I don’t think Jason Rose’s McDowell Road elevated trail idea is “goofy.” It’s a good idea.

However, Laurie’s other premise–that it might work–is unfortunately also wrong.

I love Laurie’s efforts to keep Scottsdale leaders accountable. The Republic in their infinite wisdom has chosen to keep her busy with topics other than Scottsdale lately, which is our loss. It is made doubly painful when she’s finally allowed to do something on Scottsdale that amounts to a two-page ad for Jason Rose’s PR firm.

Most of Laurie’s work–like most great journalism–is centered around her trademark hard-hitting questions and critical analysis. This piece doesn’t share that characteristic.

Starting with the premise that the McDowell Motor Mile is dead completely denies the absolute fact that there are automobile dealerships there that continue to do good business. They include a Ferrari dealership, and a newly-opened outlet for used luxury cars (Certified Benz and Beemer). Yes the Pitre complex is still empty (but recently purchased by an apartment developer), as is the former Toyota dealership. But that’s because the property owners have been slow to take action, not because the City of Scottsdale hasn’t meddled in the real estate market enough. Even the Republic in an article not three days old says that McDowell Road is a newly tempting target for investors.

On the topic of municipal meddling, Roberts’ says,

City leaders have been trying to fix what ails McDowell Road since the mid-1990s.

I think that proves my point. The more city government messes around with the real estate free market, the longer it will be before something positive happens on McDowell Road. The city can’t even manage its own real estate with any degree of success. Look at the abysmal deal we struck with ASU Foundation (the development company, not the university). Look at the no-bid, undervalued sales of city owned property to an apartment developer, and the no-bid, undervalued sale of the old Civic Center Neighborhood Center to Scottsdale Healthcare.

The reason Los Arcos Mall, “…died close to 20 years ago…” is because Steve Ellman pulled the plug on it. He didn’t want to spend his own money to revitalize Los Arcos as long as there was hope of getting taxpayer money into his pocket for some scheme involving the property.

In the end, the City of Scottsdale paid twice the appraised value for the property on the eve of foreclosure by Ellman’s backers. Ellman took the (our) money and ran…to west side of Phoenix where he helped the Glendale mayor and city council screw their residents a lot worse than Manross, et. al., got into our pockets with SkySong.

Laurie goes on to parrot Rose’s inspirational references to Paris and New York City projects. Then she observes the obvious: That the basis for these projects was already in place in the form of abandoned rail lines that could be converted for relatively small cost. More importantly, the conversion caused a lot less disruption than new construction.

I note with some amusement that in the two weeks elapsed between Rose’s big “town hall” on this idea, the project cost estimate has grown from “…$40 million to $45 million…” to a citation in Roberts’ column at $50 million. I predicted in my comments on the AZ Central article about the town hall we’d be looking at a $100 million price tag before long. Giving Rose the benefit of the doubt, a $5 million bi-monthly inflation rate will prove me right in only 6 months.

Laurie closes her column by citing as precedents the Indian Bend Wash Greenbelt and the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. However, in both those cases, and in direct parallel to the Highline Trail and the Paris railway conversion project, the basis for both was already there.

Action had to be taken to stem flooding from the Indian Bend Wash, and construction was going to happen to fix it. The citizens just demanded a different sort of construction. In the case of the Preserve, the land was already there. In that case, the citizens made a conscious effort to make sure construction would NOT happen. In both cases, there were clear benefits to property values and community character. A clear case could be (though I’m not sure it ever was) madeĀ  that the benefits would likely outweigh the costs. Rose hasn’t made that case.

To the point of my headline: Part of the reason the Greenbelt works so well is that it provides connectivity. Not everyone uses it to get from Point A to Point B, which is the main reason I use it. Still, a large percentage of folks do, and it works well for that purpose especially given the lack of attention to bike lanes on the parallel north/south arterial streets in our tall, narrow city.

This elevated trail on the other hand seeks to connect to the Greenbelt on one end and on the other end…nothing. It would terminate at Papago Park, assuming we can get cooperation from the City of Phoenix for that end. Rose has floated the idea of an amphitheater there, but that’s a whole different idea that will require a completely different cost/benefit study.

Just because someone HAS an idea for an area generally lacking ideas, doesn’t mean it’s a GOOD idea or the RIGHT idea. I will give Rose credit, however: It is a catalyst for discussion. Let’s see what other ideas we can come up with. And let’s vet the cost/benefit ratios carefully.

And to the detractors who disingenuously dismiss community advocates and government watchdogs as, “naysayers,” take a look at my comments and suggestions to Jason on how he could improve his project. I’ve never heard so much as a peep in response. He’s not interested in making this a better project. He’s interested in free publicity, raising his stature in the community, and the hope of making money off this idea.

 

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