Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Tucson, Rio Nuevo need to build the TCC hotel

To borrow a phrase from Sen. John McCain, “Just build the danged hotel.”

If delay and indecision were money, Tucson would be rich beyond its wildest dreams. It’s been more than two years since the city decided to abandon all other Rio Nuevo projects and just focus on expanding the downtown convention center and building an adjacent hotel, and a year since the state Legislature stripped control of Rio Nuevo from the city and packed the Rio Nuevo board with state appointees whose primary directive is the same.

Yet here we are years later and the city and board are bickering over the hotel’s feasibility and city financial backing. City Councilman Steve Kozachik is doing everything he can to pour sand into the project’s gears by trying to study the issue to death. One has to wonder if he’s earnest about his concerns about the hotel’s feasibility or if his latest list of rhetorical “questions” and requests for joint city-Rio Nuevo board meetings is just a ruse to kill the current plan to the benefit of a competing hotel owner with close ties to his staff.

Meanwhile, Rio Nuevo opponents and community CAVEs (Citizens Against Virtually Everything) are trying to frighten everyone into paralysis by overblowing instances of other Western U.S. cities that have backed convention center hotel projects that are now struggling while ignoring instances where new municipally backed convention hotels have succeeded.

Moreover, they’re using terms like “city left holding the bag” to further fan the flames of fear so that it appears the city will go broke if the hotel struggles. That’s hogwash.

This project can’t be done without public investment, which is what it is, investment. This is not corporate welfare, socialism or tax and spend liberal politics. This is a metropolitan city needing to invest in its economic future before it gets left further in the dust by other growing Sunbelt cities with more foresight, fortitude and community cooperation.

It seems inconceivable that a metropolitan community with a more than $200 billion economy can’t agree to stand behind a $200 million loan for a project that will create, and support, thousands of jobs and annually inject hundreds of millions of dollars into the local economy.

But to be clear, this is not a “build it and they will come” situation, either. If this convention center/hotel project is to succeed it needs a unified, spirited effort from the city, Rio Nuevo, the business community and the public.

Successful convention centers are in communities that have rich cultures that boast numerous amenities and activities to make them so-called “destination” cities. We’re on the cusp of creating that – Rio Nuevo, for all its missteps and misspending, is finally about to pay off.

We’re at the open door of success but fear, or worse, fear mongering, has us stuck at the threshold. The council and Rio Nuevo board need to turn the “what if it fails” rhetoric on its head and view this from a “what if it succeeds” perspective. The benefits far outweigh the costs.

If the city and Rio Nuevo can’t get this done, they will consign Tucson to being a cultural and economic backwater forever.

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