Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Downtown revitalization needs revitalizing; start by jettisoning the name

It’s time to kill Rio Nuevo.

Not the effort to redevelop downtown, just the name of downtown redevelopment, which has become synonymous with disorganization, mismanagement and misspending.

Some city officials and Rio Nuevo board members might dispute that synonymity, but there’s reality and there’s perception and there’s no disputing that Rio Nuevo has been a public relations disaster for the city.

And for at least one councilwoman.

Make that, one soon-to-be ex-councilwoman.

There are lots of reasons why Nina Trasoff lost her re-election bid but the biggest certainly is Rio Nuevo. Trasoff was yoked to Rio Nuevo more than any other council member. She was chairwoman of the council’s Rio Nuevo subcommittee and a board member of the Downtown Tucson Partnership, the key player in downtown redevelopment. She was Rio Nuevo’s biggest booster and she campaigned hard on its success.

But few people outside of city hall and the Partnership think Rio Nuevo has been a success and the election results appear to bear that out.

It doesn’t matter the reasons why Rio Nuevo has taken so long to achieve any laudable results, the perception is the city has spent tens of millions of dollars and has little to show for it except a couple of renovated old theaters.

Rio Nuevo has been its own worst enemy. The bad press, such as paying $800,000 to a Washington D.C. firm to make a 15-minute video about the Tucson Origins park, and canceled projects just reinforce the perception of boondoggle.

Consider: there was going to be an aquarium. Then there wasn’t. There was going to be this massive bridge over the freeway and the river. Then there wasn’t. There was going to be a science center. Then there wasn’t. There was going to be a new arena. Then there wasn’t. But there still might be, just not as big as hoped.

It’s no wonder that Rio Nuevo’s name has become the subject of mockery and derision.

Those clever Dicks who inhabit newspaper and blog comment sections have come up with numerous unflattering names for Rio Nuevo: Rio Nada; Rio Nowhere; Rio Nevero; Rio No Go.

It’s time for the name to go.

No one will be fooled by just a name change, to be sure. Stinkweed smells just as bad no matter what it’s called.

So along with a name change, the whole effort needs revamping. The city and the facilities district that generates the tax used to pay for the project should break downtown redevelopment into three parts. The convention center expansion and new convention hotel being one, the new museums and cultural facilities another and infrastructure improvements and new economic development the third. Give them names if you want, but keep each effort separate from the other so that if one stumbles for whatever reason it doesn’t take the rest with it if there’s a public backlash.

Downtown revitalization is important to the economic wellbeing of the metropolitan area and needs to be seen through.

To do that the city needs to convince the public of the project’s importance and that it is making progress while at the same time being prudent with the public’s money.

But as long as that effort is called Rio Nuevo, no one will ever believe either.

For updates on all of the city’s downtown projects, see these helpful city web sites:



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