Going once, going twice . . . not so fast.
Scottsdale is still in the hunt to retain the lucrative Barrett-Jackson Classic Car Auction with a long-term deal at WestWorld of Scottsdale.
Negotiations between Scottsdale and auction president Craig Jackson have revved up since the city learned in late January that Jackson was aggressively pursuing a new home in Glendale.
"We have had a series of meetings with city of Scottsdale. Most of the attention has focused on 2006, and making 2006 — the 35th anniversary — a great event," said Jason Rose, Barrett-Jackson spokesman. "And we have had discussions with them about a longterm agreement, what it would take and how it would be structured."
Assistant city manager Roger Klingler, who is leading Scottsdale’s negotiations with Barrett-Jackson, did not return repeated calls.
Scottsdale also has met twice with the operators of a smaller car auction, Russo and Steele Collector Automobile Auction, to gauge their interest in relocating to WestWorld should Barrett-Jackson leave the city-run special events venue and equestrian park.
Russo and Steele co-owner Drew Alcazar compared his auction to a barnacle on the whale that is Barrett-Jackson, whose more than 900 cars and thousands of bidders and spectators are estimated to infuse $73 million to the local economy.
The city and Alcazar characterized the talks as strictly preliminary and informational.
All the talk about who would move where comes amid serious discussion about whether the city should rigidly pursue its $87 million West-World master plan, which would include an exhibit hall, an amphitheater and other large-scale improvements.
WestWorld users met Thursday to discuss the plan and to formulate priorities for the 120-acre special-events venue. Some City Council members also have suggested the city needs to rethink the plan.
"We may change priorities as to what we tackle first in hopes of retaining Barrett-Jackson and making it a much more viable facility for other users and potential users," said WestWorld general manager Brad Gessner.
One of those priorities should be halting the planning of a 115,000-square-foot exhibit hall that would be too small for Barrett-Jackson, and unusable by equestrian users or other tenants, said Councilwoman Betty Drake, a longtime horse enthusiast.
Fixing drainage problems at the park and adding temporary stables and multipurpose tents around the Equidome would allow horse and car people to have more event space, she said.
"We need to kind of step back for a minute and say, ‘Why are we spending $28 million on an exhibit hall that doesn’t meet anybody’s needs?’ " Drake said.
Opening up that discussion has helped to calm the waters between Jackson and the city. The sometimes choppy relationship is clearly better than it was even two months ago.
"I would certainly say (relations) have improved markedly since one rainy day during auction week (in January)," Rose said.
Jackson has been complaining for years about WestWorld’s muddy fields on rainy days, its portable restrooms, and its sometimes cramped parking for the event’s well-heeled bidders and car enthusiasts.
WestWorld, owned by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and operated by Scottsdale, is part of a retention basin. It is designed to capture floodwater from
the McDowell Mountains.
Alcazar said he believes Jackson’s threat to leave Scottsdale is mostly a negotiating tactic.
"It is designed to flood. That’s what it is supposed to do," Alcazar said of Jackson’s oft-heard complaints about the mud. "So when it rains in north Scottsdale, guess what? WestWorld is going to be wet."
Alcazar said he met with the city because he wants to be in communication about Barrett- Jackson’s future plans, comparing the auction’s importance to an anchor store at a mall. For instance, Alcazar parks his auction at Scottsdale Road and Loop 101, near WestWorld.
Adding a little intrigue to the situation is that Alcazar worked for Jackson for years until the pair parted abruptly. Alcazar later started his own auction.
Rose said he was unmoved about the talks between Russo and Steele and the city.
"My reaction to that, to be perfectly honest, is a yawn," he said. Jackson is looking to sign a 10- to 20-year deal with a community, Rose said, stressing that talks are ongoing in other cities besides Scottsdale.
Jackson has more incentive to stay than leave, said city economic vitality director Dave Roderique, noting the Scottsdale area has the Valley’s top-notch resorts, golfing and entertainment.