Waves of change swept over Scottsdale like waves of heat across the desert in 2004.
The political, business and even physical landscape of the city underwent upheaval. This list, in no particular order, represents some of the most dramatic and significant stories for the East Valley.
RAWHIDE STAMPEDES SOUTH
Sprawling over a prime piece of desert along Scottsdale Road just south of Pinnacle Peak Road, Rawhide Western Town and Steakhouse has been a fixture in the community for more than three decades.
The land on which the Old West-replica town sits was sold to a development group for $46 million in June by longtime owner Jerry Hirsch.
More than 50 communities across the Valley – and even the West – expressed interest in purchasing the famous clapboard facades and the "Rawhide" name. Nineteen submitted formal offers.
In the end, an American Indian community purchased the 1880s cowboy town for an undisclosed price.
Gila River Indian Community and its development authority will assume ownership and operation of Rawhide on Feb. 16. The Scottsdale location will close on Sept. 9, and the new Rawhide at Wild Horse Pass will reopen on Nov. 1.
It will be part of the 2,400-acre Wild Horse Pass development area on the west side of Interstate 10 just south of Ahwatukee Foothills.
The Western theme park – known for its gunfight shows and true-to-era dirt roads – is a contradiction to the sea of housing and retail developments nearby. The urbanization of Scottsdale was one of the reasons Hirsch said he wanted to sell, although the new Rawhide will be built steps from a casino and have better freeway access.
Rawhide is Scottsdale’s biggest tourist draw, attracting 600,000 visitors last year.
DOWNTOWN MAKEOVER GETS UNDER WAY
It wasn’t so long ago that downtown Scottsdale was abuzz with concerns that it was spiraling toward stagnation. Projects were stalled, debated to death or voted down.
But three major developments have broken ground this year, contributing to the $1 billion in overall private and public reinvestment that is taking place within its 786 acres.
One of the city’s most prestigious addresses, Scottsdale and Camelback roads, is poised to sprout the $250 million Scottsdale Waterfront luxury condominium towers, where crews are building its first phase.
The urban styling of the planned Main Street Plaza Scottsdale is under construction and has already sold dozens of lofts and condos, some reaching prices as high as $2.5 million. And the historic Hotel Valley Ho, once a desert retreat for the Hollywood set, is getting a $70 million makeover.
There’s the James Hotel Scottsdale, boasting the chic J Bar and a 300-seat restaurant, that opened last winter.
And the City Council recently approved plans for a prestigious W Hotel, a project that will put Scottsdale on the map with the likes of New York, Los Angeles, Mexico City and Seoul, South Korea.
SCOTTSDALE CHANGES LEADERSHIP POSTS
The City Council underwent wholesale changes in May.
Mayor Mary Manross held on for another term after beating Councilmen David Ortega, former state Senate president Bob Usdane and former Councilwoman Cynthia Lukas.
Manross coasted to a 2-1 victory against Ortega in the May runoff.
The campaign often focused on the site of the former Los Arcos Mall and frequently became heated.
Four political newcomers won council seats. Betty Drake, Jim Lane, Ron McCullagh and Kevin Osterman all proclaimed themselves to be watchdogs on budget issues, and emerged from a field of nine office-seekers.
Hold-over council members Bob Littlefield and Wayne Ecton returned to complete their first terms, but their once-chummy relationship showed signs of strain.
Voters turned down a plan to give developer Steve Ellman a $36.7 million subsidy to build a warehouse store complex at the Los Arcos site. Voters also rejected a measure that would have created geographic districts for council members.
BARACY TAKES OVER
John Baracy left the Tempe Elementary School District to became superintendent of the Scottsdale Unified School District on July 1, bringing with him a record of problem solving and open communication.
Parents, teachers and administrators generally are pleased with Baracy’s customer service-driven philosophies. Baracy is tackling headon the district’s declining enrollment and the need for a high school in the city’s northern reaches.
LOS ARCOS SITE
With a 5-2 council vote in July, the former Los Arcos Mall site finally, officially became something other than a vacant lot after a six-year debate. The ASU Scottsdale Center for New Technology and Innovation is to be a major research park, central to the city’s efforts to revitalize its southern half.
Ellman sold the 40-acre site to the Arizona State University Foundation, the college’s independent fundraising-arm, which in turn sold it to the city for $41.5 million. Scottsdale is projected to spend about $130 million on the project. A group of community activists failed to gather enough signatures to force a public vote on the project.
The ASU Foundation is slated to select an architect and developer for the project in February.
Construction is scheduled to begin December 2005.
PACKAGE BOMB TARGETS CITY EMPLOYEE
Scottsdale Diversity and Dialogue director Don Logan was injured when he opened a package bomb on Feb. 26.
The blast in the city’s human resources office injured Logan, his secretary, Renita Linyard, and human resources representative Jacque Bell. Logan required surgery to his hands and arms. All three later returned to work.
A team of investigators in Arizona, Virginia and elsewhere spent thousands of hours on the case, but still had not made an arrest by the end of the year.
FIRE PROTECTION SERVICE UNDERGOES CHANGES
Scottsdale hired its first fire chief, William McDonald, in June as it builds a department that will take over fire service from Rural/Metro Corp. on July 1. McDonald, 46, was chief of the Fremont Fire Department in California before joining Scottsdale and has already offered positions to 196 Rural/Metro firefighters as the city’s first public fire department begins to take shape.
As the city department ramps up, Rural/Metro prepares its scheduled service withdrawal from Scottsdale. Lou Witzeman, who founded the company 57 years ago in Scottsdale, died Sept. 2. He was 79.
Scottsdale’s department is building radio towers as part of its communications system that will be linked with the Phoenix Fire Department. Training for the city’s newest employees is expected to start this spring and the city is negotiating for a headquarters.
POLICE DEPARTMENT SUFFERS SETBACKS
The police department started the year with lingering questions concerning past drug use of its employees.
Ortega had ordered a review into the department’s hiring policies, specifically how often and under what circumstances its drug standards are waived.
Police Chief Alan Rodbell and human relations general manager Neal Shearer provided answers to different sets of questions in February and March. They noted that Scottsdale Police Department’s drug standards – when they’re followed – are tougher than other Valley police departments’ standards.
In the fall, the police department launched an internal investigation into officers having sex and loafing on duty. Three officers either were fired or quit, a supervisor retired and another supervisor had his pay cut by 5 percent for six months.
In December, a city audit showed record keeping and storage of guns, drugs and other evidence in the police storage room and rented lockers were in disarray. Rodbell promised reforms.
TRIAL OF BISHOP O’BRIEN
Few East Valley stories received as much national attention in 2004 as the trial and sentencing of Bishop Thomas J. O’Brien, who was convicted Feb. 17 of leaving the scene of a fatal hit-and-run.
Believed to be the first Roman Catholic bishop convicted of a felony, O’Brien was found guilty in a crash that killed Jim L. Reed. The verdict came eight months after the bishop struck an unprecedented immunity deal in an investigation of possible sexual misconduct by priests.
A Maricopa County Superior Court judge spared the former Catholic leader jail time in the hit-and-run and sentenced him to 1,000 hours of community service, in part because O’Brien had no criminal record.
The trial capped two years of legal woes for O’Brien that garnered national attention. In reaching the immunity deal, he admitted to 20 years of covering up for pedophile priests in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix.
PAT TILLMAN’S DEATH
East Valley residents were shocked and saddened by news that local hero Pat Tillman, the former Arizona Cardinal and ASU football player who took a hiatus from fame and fortune to fight in the war on terror, had been killed April 22 in Afghanistan.
Tillman’s prominence in the community and the widespread knowledge of his sacrifice made his death a very public tragedy mourned by thousands.
The deaths of other local soldiers were no less tragic or devastating to loved ones, but it was Tillman’s death that brought home a harsh reminder of the heavy price of war.
Conflicting reports of the circumstances that led to his death have become a topic of debate and an added source of pain for loved ones and fans.
Voters in 2004 ignored concerns that an initiative targeting illegal immigrants was frivolous, costly and discriminatory, approving the measure that will require proof of citizenship to vote and obtain welfare benefits.
Proposition 200 succeeded despite a million-dollar campaign organized by labor unions, business interests and clergy from several denominations.
The measure, which became law Thursday after a Tucson judge lifted a temporary injunction, requires proof of citizenship to register to vote and photo identification or acceptable paper alternatives to cast a ballot in person.
It also requires state and local government officials to confirm legal residency before offering "public benefits" not mandated by federal law.
Much of the attention surrounding Proposition 200 concerned questions about the meaning of "public benefits," but Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard said the law would apply only to certain handouts.
By Bill Bertolino Tribune