B y J i m W r i g h t
TUCSON MAYOR GEORGE Miller says the rumor that legendary land speculator Don Diamond has been lobbying Congress on his own to kill the proposed downtown federal courthouse project is not a myth. As far as the mayor is concerned, "It's confirmed."
John Canally, a downtown marketing and public affairs businessman who has been networking and promoting the building of the proposed courthouse, says he, too, learned of Diamond's lobbying to kill the project during a recent phone conversation he had with former U.S. Sen. Dennis DeConcini, who told Canally, "The courthouse project is a dead issue. It's not going to get funded."
"Dead," Canally was told, because Diamond and a lobbyist he hired "were telling people in Washington that the business community doesn't want a new courthouse."
Miffed, Canally asked DeConcini why Diamond would kill an $81-million federal building project. Canally says DeConcini told him it all came down to Diamond's concern for potential losses from his downtown rental properties. Diamond, it turns out, is a major downtown landlord to the feds. His La Placita properties earn his company a cool $1.18 million for courtroom and office space he rents to the feds.
Like other downtown landlords, Diamond would feel a short-term negative impact from the building of a new courthouse anywhere in Tucson.
When The Weekly called Diamond for a comment, Chris Monson, a Diamond confederate, said the speculator was out of town for the last two weeks. Monson said he'd been instructed to pass on messages that dealt only with emergencies.
Monson also said he had no knowledge of Diamond's lobbying to kill the courthouse. "Maybe your sources are better than mine," he quipped. "I've known Diamond a long time. I don't think he'd ever do anything like that."
When he was reminded of Diamond's landlord relationship to the feds, Monson noted, "That's a no-brainer. Of course he's concerned about protecting his rents. If the courthouse gets built, a lot of people are going to be hurt. Not just Donald."
Certainly other downtown building owners would be hurt. Shiela King, director of the Building Owners and Managers Association of Greater Tucson (BOMA), says the short-term negative impact if the new courthouse were built downtown would reduce members' current lease income by about 20 percent. But even though 20 percent is a significant impact overall, King says, "Our association is very positive about a new courthouse for Tucson."
Last week, Canally, speaking before the Tucson City Council, presented a position statement from the building owners and management group supporting a downtown location for the proposed courthouse. According to Canally, the BOMA position statement supporting the courthouse at a Stone Avenue and Alameda Street location fell two votes short of being unanimous at a recent meeting of the organization. The two people voting against the resolution were associates of La Placita properties.
The mayor was still fuming when The Weekly called on him for a comment on Diamond's crusade in the name of self interest.
"All it indicates is that this guy is simply out for himself," Miller said. "If you think this guy has ever done anything, for anyone, you're missing the point."
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