LET'S MAKE A DEAL!Could it be? Could it possibly be? Has City Hall reached an agreement with the University of Arizona to develop that downtown science center and state museum?
The framework may be in place, now that the UA has dropped its preposterous request for $237 million for the two facilities. City Manager Mike Hein appears to have negotiated a more reasonable proposal that would have the city kicking in $130 million to build both museums in a single facility.
UA President Robert Shelton seems amenable to the idea, although there are kinks to work out. As Hein says in a letter to Shelton: "There are a number of obstacles to overcome, such as financing, land and other infrastructure-related issues."
Hein also said he wants the UA to pony up considerable matching funds. As part of that "balanced investment ratio," Hein wants the UA to absorb "some of the programming and operational costs of projects included in the Tucson Origins Project," which is the re-creation of the Convento as part of the proposed museum campus on the west bank of the Santa Cruz River, south of Congress Street.
We'll see how that works out; the UA says it's bringing a considerable investment to museum deal in the form of its mineral and artifact collection. Plus, hey, an IMAX theater!
In his letter, Hein took the opportunity to shoot down critics who wanted the city to build a larger arena and bring the UA men's basketball team downtown. He said that building a facility larger than the planned 12,500-seat arena would nearly double the $130 million cost, which doesn't make much sense, given that Shelton and UA Athletic Director Jim Livengood want to keep playing ball at McKale Center.
"Our market analysis does not suggest that a 17,000-seat would be well utilized by our community outside of Wildcat games," Hein wrote. "There would be a cavernous feel for all events outside of those 16 UA Wildcat home games."
WORST NEW IMPORTBig kudos to reporter Mark Flatten of the East Valley Tribune in Mesa, who broke the story that the State Land Department is now in business with notorious Nevada developer Jim Rhodes, who bid $58.6 million last December to purchase 1,011 acres of state land in Apache Junction. Rhodes also won the right to begin master-planning another 6,690 acres of state land between Apache Junction and Florence.
State Land Commissioner Mark Winkleman boasted in a press release that Rhodes' bid was well above the appraised value of $45 million and that this was the start of an "innovative process" to do better planning.
But it appears that Winkleman might have wanted to look a little more deeply into his new pal's background. Flatten's series of articles, which can be found at www.eastvalleytribune.com/page/rhodes, revealed that:
· Rhodes has been sued dozens of times by business partners who say he cheated them and homeowners who say he built shoddy homes. One case involving 190 substandard houses ended in a $16.2 million settlement.
· Rhodes was popped by the Federal Elections Commission for illegal campaign contributions. That case was settled when he agreed to pay a $148,000 fine.
· Rhodes has been repeatedly accused of bribing and threatening politicians in order to get massive rezonings in Nevada.
Isn't that just the sort of guy we want the state to be in bed with when it comes time to plan much of the development between here and Maricopa County?
This isn't Rhodes first foray into development in Arizona; in Mohave County, he's trying to jam 150,000 homes on 21,000 acres--and, amazingly, the Mohave County Board of Supervisors is going right along with the plan. What are the future residents going to drink? That's a question that has yet to be answered, although Rhodes' efforts to form his own water company are running into considerable trouble with the Arizona Corporation Commission.
Now that Rhodes has won his bid with the State Land Department, we're not sure if anything can be done to get rid of him. But we hear that state lawmakers are already trying to figure out some way to put a spoke in his wheels. And even Arizona homebuilders aren't real keen about having him come into Arizona; it's not like they need an out-of-state sleazeball giving their industry more bad press.
LONG ARM OF THE LAWLast week, Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, working with Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, indicted Republican Russ Jones, a former state lawmaker from Yuma, on 10 fraud counts. Thomas says that Jones lied when he said he personally witnessed voters signing his petition to get on the 2006 ballot.
The question was first raised last year by Democrats, who sued to knock Jones off the ballot. The Supreme Court ruled in Jones' favor, but he lost the state Senate election to Democrat Amanda Aguirre last November.
Now Thomas has brought criminal charges that could put Jones behind bars for more than a decade if he were to be convicted on all counts.
"We will not tolerate public corruption in Maricopa County," Thomas thundered in a press release. "Whether it's attempted by a Republican, Democrat or Independent, we will investigate corruption and prosecute the wrongdoers."
Given that Jones was gathering his signatures in Yuma, how is it that Thomas has jurisdiction in the case? Thomas says that because the petitions were filed in Phoenix, it falls under his authority to investigate.
This isn't the first time Thomas has stretched the law to pursue his own brand of justice. Last year, he started prosecuting illegal immigrants as co-conspirators under a law meant to target the scumbags that smuggle people across the border.
While Thomas--who is said to be harboring gubernatorial ambitions--is about as conservative as they come, this chickenshit case isn't sitting real well with state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, mostly because they don't want to have to worry about facing criminal charges if they don't dot every i and cross every t when they go out gathering signatures.
Don't be surprised to see late-session legislation putting the investigation of campaign violations solely under the purview of the state attorney general.
SWAP MESSSpeaking of public corruption: The heat appears to be rising for Arizona Congressman Rick Renzi. After the FBI raided his family's travel business last week, the Republican lawmaker stepped down from his perch on the House Intelligence Committee.
But he remains on the House Natural Resources Committee, which is where all his troubles began. The Wall Street Journal provided a succinct summary of the case against Renzi last week.
It's a complicated web, but it appears that Renzi tried to persuade a mining outfit, Resolution Copper Co., to buy an 480-acre alfalfa field in Sierra Vista for $4 million, ostensibly to help reduce water use in the area and protect Fort Huachuca. The mining company would then swap the land with the federal government for mining property up in Superior.
Here's the twist: The alfalfa field was owned by James Sandlin, a business partner of Renzi who had bought the property a few years earlier for about $1 million. After Resolution balked at the plan, Renzi quit supporting their efforts to get the Superior property.
In the meantime, another group involved in a federal land swap did buy the alfalfa field--and that same day, Sandlin sent Renzi a check for $200,000. Renzi says that was a debt payment that was totally unrelated to the land swap.
It kinda reminds us of what legendary Tammany Hall politician George Washington Plunkitt used to say: "I seen my opportunities and I took 'em." Whether it was a case of honest or dishonest graft remains to be seen, but FBI raids and Wall Street Journal exposés are usually a bad sign.