Well, the hatchet is officially buried.
City of Tucson and Rio Nuevo Multipurpose Facilities District officials yesterday signed a settlement that puts to rest more than three bitter years of bickering over Rio Nuevo’s past.
All the clouds that lowr’d upon our New River, in the deep bosom of the Great Dirt Lot buried.
Each side got roughly half a loaf. The city has to pay $16 million for a downtown parking garage the district insisted the city built with Rio Nuevo funds and it has to give the district a dirt lot near the federal courthouse where the city wanted to put a new arena, unless the district decides it doesn’t want it, then the city has to pay about $900,000 to the district. The district has to pony up about $6 million to renovate the decrepit convention center and it agrees to drop the two silly lawsuits against the city, plus it will spend about $1 million each on downtown beauty projects and putting some garden into the Mission Gardens project. And each side agrees which government owns an assortment of properties in the district without any money changing hands and which is responsible for completion of a handful of stalled projects.
And they agree to play nice from now on and to work together to expand the convention center and develop a convention center hotel, which is what the state Legislature told them to do in 2009 when it wrested control of the district from the city.
With the sordid past of Rio Nuevo buried in The Great Dirt Lot (you know, the expanse of dusty soil west of I-10 where the Origins Park was supposed to have been built eight years ago) it’s time to look to Rio Nuevo’s future.
The district was and remains a good idea. It’s a special district that stretches along Broadway between downtown and Park Place mall in which a small percentage of sales taxes that otherwise would go to the state are captured and kept here to be used for building public facilities downtown with the goal of increasing economic activity there.
When voters agreed to the district in 1999, the vision was to revitalize downtown by building a number of attractions that would make downtown a cultural, educational and entertainment destination.
The resulting influx of people downtown was supposed to spur private economic investment through shops, restaurants and other tourist/visitor amenities.
Anyone remember the Sonoran Sea Aquarium? Or the array of University of Arizona science museums?
Yeah, well, we all know how that turned out.
But we can’t let the dark past blot out a bright future. The new vision for Rio Nuevo is to finish the Westside cultural projects and expand the convention center and get the city back in the convention business again (with or without a new convention hotel).
That’s a pretty simple vision that can be easily achieved before the district’s tax capture expires in 2021.
So, get to work Tucson and Rio Nuevo.
And this time, don’t screw it up.