As Scottsdale resident Arthur Deal walks along a perimeter construction fence cutting through Papago Park, he shows off a picture of his grandfather on horse back on the same land in 1898.
Deal, who lives near the park, has been coming to Papago for 65 years – and now he is fighting to preserve it.
Deal and Tempe resident Lasse Norgaard-Larsen have taken the cities of Phoenix and Scottsdale to court over a new San Francisco Giants training facility in Papago Park, the mountainous public space that straddles the border of Phoenix, Tempe and southern Scottsdale.
The fight is nothing new for Norgaard-Larsen, who has clashed with Tempe and Phoenix – which each own portions of the park – over the years to stave off new parking lots, roads and other encroachments into the hundreds of acres of desert park space where thousands of residents and visitors come every year to walk, hike and bike.
The pair is with Friends of Papago Park, a group of around 100 Valley residents opposed to more construction in the park.
Now they have trained their sights on a new Giants baseball training facility currently under construction on park land near 64th Street and McDowell Road.
The Giants began construction on the multi-million-dollar development in 2019 after the Phoenix agreed to lease the land to City of Scottsdale in 2018.
Scottsdale City Council then agreed to sublease the land to the Giants as a part of plan to expand the team’s year-round training facility, which is currently located at the smaller Indian School Park in Scottsdale.
Under the lease and sublease agreements, the Giants will pay annual lease payments of between $50,000 and $75,000 beginning in 2022, or between $1,370 and 2,055 per acre.
“$1,200 an acre – literally smack in the middle of prime real estate,” Norgaard-Larsen said.
The Scottsdale Entrada site directly across 64th Street from Papago Sports Complex sold for $38 million, or $1.3 million per acre, in 2019.
According to the lease agreement between Phoenix and Scottsdale, the Giants would construct “substantial improvements” to an existing baseball facility on the land.
Deal and Norgaard-Larsen filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for Arizona last month, arguing the new facility violates decades-old restrictions by replacing public park land with a private facility.
The lawsuit cites nearly a dozen historical documents tied to the park, including deeds and land patents recorded after the U.S. government signed over the majority of the land over to the State of Arizona in the 1930s and after the state later sold that land to Phoenix in 1959.
Both land transfers included language stipulating the land should be used a public park.
According to the agreement between Arizona and Phoenix, “The lands shall be used only for municipal park, recreation, or public convenience purposes…if the lands or any part thereof shall be abandoned for such use, such lands, or such part, shall revert back to the United States of America.”
That agreement also allows for the building of a baseball stadium, though Deal and Norgaard-Larsen argue that the stadium allowance applies to Phoenix Municipal Stadium farther west.
Deal and Norgaard-Larsen also call the deed documents still binding and contend that by allowing the new Giants development – which will not be open to the public – Phoenix is violating the language requiring the land to be used for public park or recreation purposes.
“You can’t go in to a public park and give it away to private, for-profit entity,” Norgaard-Larsen said.
The pair acknowledged that the land occupied by the new Giants facility has been home to a baseball training facility for decades.
Opened in 1988, that facility was occupied by the Oakland Athletics until 2014.
However, Deal and Norgaard-Larsen said the new facility appears significantly larger than the old one and intruded further into what was public open space.
"Since litigation is pending, the city does not have a comment at this time," City of Scottsdale spokeswoman Holly Walter said.
City of Phoenix gave a similar response.
“City staff is aware the lawsuit has been filed and does not comment on pending litigation,” read a statement provided by Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department spokesman Gregg Bach.
Bach took issue with the characterization of the Giants development as a new facility, stating, “You refer to this as a ‘new’ facility, which it is not. I just want to be sure you have the correct facts regarding the project and intergovernmental agreement we have with the City of Scottsdale.”
The lease agreement between the cities makes no mention of a new development and only stipulates that a renovation of the old facility would occur.
“Scottsdale, through a sublease arrangement with the Giants, will improve the facility by adding an additional full size field or fields of MLB standards, a renovation of the clubhouse, and ballfield lighting….Other ancillary improvements may also be made,” according to the lease.
Nowhere does the lease say new buildings would be constructed.
However, Deal and Norgaard-Larsen said that in reality, the Giants project is much more than a renovation project.
The team doesn't dispute that.
NBC sports reported in January 2020, the Giants are “literally tearing down the old facility and rebuilding from scratch.”
“We kept a couple of existing field footprints, but to be able to level the building…but the fact that you don’t have to work around existing facilities and structures is incredible,” Giants Farm Director Kyle Haines told NBC Sports.
Comparisons of overhead Google Earth satellite images of the site from 2018 and 2020 show that the Giants demolished most of the buildings and fields and also appeared to encroach farther into the desert to create space for one additional practice fields.
A large gray warehouse was also constructed at the eastern edge of the site that was not there previously.
Phoenix acknowledged that new facility is larger than the old one.
“The existing facility was 30 acres and once the renovation is completed will be approximately 36.75 acres,” Bach said.
But Deal and Norgaard-Larsen argue that this, too, is underselling the scope of the project.
Norgaard-Larsen walked the perimeter of the construction fence with a GPS device and found the new facility will likely take up at least 40 acres.
Both Deal and Norgaard-Larsen said they have no issues with the Giants – they purposefully left the team out of the lawsuit – and that it was the cities’ responsibility to ensure the land es used responsibly.
“They bring in tons of dollars in local revenue; I have nothing against the Giants,” Norgaard-Larsen said. “They contribute to the local economy.”
Deal and Norgaard-Larsen said the lawsuit is a last resort and they made multiple overtures to staff and officials with Phoenix and Scottsdale in an attempt to find a solution and offered to drop the complaint if Phoenix committed no further encroach on the park land in the future.
They did not receive a response.
Emails provided to the Progress show the pair also contacted U.S. Department of the Interior, Arizona State Parks Board and Arizona State Parks and Trails in an attempt to convince those agencies to enforce the old deed restrictions with little success.
It is unclear what the lawsuit will accomplish if it is successful and even Norgaard-Larsen and Deal seem unsure of what they want.
With the construction on the Giants facility nearing completion, they realize the damage has largely been done.
“They destroyed it; it’ll never be the same again,” Deal said.
The lawsuit itself outlines several courses of possible action, but does not necessarily call for the demolition of the new facility.
Rather, it suggests a temporary halt to construction while all parties involved seek an amicable solution.
“I just wish there was a better way to balance keeping the Giants happy and not destroying the park,” Norgaard-Larsen.
In what he called a “worst best case” scenario, Norgaard-Larsen said the judge would find the development does violate the deed restrictions on the land and cause Papago Park – which has been owned by Phoenix for 60 years – to revert back to federal ownership.
It is unclear if this language is still in effect though.
In an email to Deal, John Hurst, an attorney with the Department of Interior, declined to intervene in the project, arguing subsequent actions by Congress removed federal interest in the land.
Deal nor Norgaard-Larsen don't want Phoenix losing ownership but just want to see an end to new building on the remaining public desert land in Papago Park.
“Next time we hope they’ll think twice before turning the bulldozers loose,” Deal said.