Scottsdale has a weighty decision to make in three working days if it hopes to hold on to Barrett-Jackson Classic Car Auction, the city’s most lucrative tourist attraction.
Auction president Craig Jackson sent a letter Thursday afternoon to City Manager Jan Dolan demanding that Scottsdale agree by Tuesday to start serious negotiations on big-ticket improvements at the city-run WestWorld of Scottsdale, or wave goodbye to the annual extravaganza after its 2006 show.
"If we do not hear from you by (Tuesday) and after so many discussions over the years, we will conclude that you are not interested in pursuing a long-term agreement," Jackson wrote in the letter.
Dolan was not available for comment late Thursday. Other city staff involved in West-World management had not seen Jackson’s letter or were unavailable.
Jackson said he needs to find a permanent home with adequate amenities for his 35-year-old car show.
It has been at WestWorld for 16 years. For more than half of those, Jackson has been asking for improvements, he said.
Last year, he surveyed his prime bidders, and a whopping 73 percent said they would be willing to drive 25 or 30 minutes from their tony resorts to an auction site with better parking and real bathrooms. He said that gave him the go-ahead to look further afield.
"It is our desire and intent to negotiate and sign a 20- or 30-year agreement with a host community as soon as possible that will guide our event and related activities beginning in 2007," Jackson wrote to Dolan.
The threat is considerable. The city estimates Barrett-Jackson’s bidders and guests bring in $73 million each year for Scottsdale. Jackson, who keeps increasing the size and scope of the show and the events surrounding it, estimates that the annual take for the city’s hotels, shops, restaurants and tax coffers tops $150 million.
In January, Phoenix C oyo t e s co - owner Steve Ellman and Glendale Mayor Elaine Scruggs said they are working on a deal to bring Barrett-Jackson to the West Valley.
The Gila River Indian Community, which already wrested Rawhide Western Town and Steakhouse from Scottsdale, also is pursuing the show.
Jackson said Thursday that he also has an intriguing offer from Las Vegas.
"I have options," he said, but added he’s giving Scottsdale dibs.
"My preference is Scottsdale, or as close to my home as possible," he said. "I hope they give me a call and say we are ready to negotiate."
To keep Jackson hawking the pricey cars at WestWorld after 2006, the city will have to agree to buy the 52-acre stateowned property adjacent to WestWorld in September, erect on it a massive, 315-footwide, air-conditioned tent for now, and build a 220,000-square -foot, hard-floored multipurpose building with seating for at least 8,000 for the long term.
The city also needs to provide "22,000 accessible, allweather parking spots," and agree to reserve the prime January week after the NFL playoffs for the sole use of Barrett-Jackson.
For several years, the car auction has been sharing WestWorld with a horse show.
And the city and state need to build a new exit ramp from Loop 101 that feeds directly into WestWorld or find some other way of ferrying cars into the park — bypassing the heavily traveled Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard.
Jackson said after nearly a decade of complaints about WestWorld’s facilities and his offers to share the cost of improvements with the city, he’s been left out of decisions that will affect his ability to stage his event there in the future.
Those decisions by the city include plans to buy a tent that is too small, and place it — and eventually a permanent structure — on already tight existing space.
Jackson said those plans would definitely drive him elsewhere.
"They are going to build the next Galleria out there," he said referring to the former white elephant shopping center that loomed empty in downtown Scottsdale for several years.
Jackson also recommends that the city relinquish its operational control of WestWorld.
"We would ask you and the City Council to seriously consider restructuring the management of WestWorld in the image of the Scottsdale Cultural Council," which runs the city’s art programs and facilities, he wrote.