Writing a $53.7 million check for the first major Rio Nuevo project was a mere afterthought Tuesday for the Tucson City Council.
The council was far more engaged in mapping out downtown’s utilities and how that sewer-water-power line scenario will allow for more downtown Rio Nuevo transformation.
The council swiftly approved its largest Rio Nuevo tax increment financing investment so far to rebuild the Mission San Agustín on the West Side as the anchor for Tucson Origins. This comes from an estimated $550 million TIF fund based on increased sales tax revenues downtown and at the El Con and Park Place malls.
Council members after more than an hour discussion decided that they need to know what they have before they can commit to spelling out what the Rio Nuevo big picture will look like.
The council agreed to asking City Manager Mike Hein for a thorough analysis of downtown utilities lines, which is largely considered a mystery dating back a full century. Private sector developers meeting weekly as the Downtown Stakeholders have assigned top priority to getting a comprehensive utility map.
Beyond infrastructure, Council member Shirley Scott asked for a “snapshot” of the balance between public sector cultural projects and private sector projects.
“I want to make sure the private sector is keeping pace with the public sector,” Scott said.
Council member Nina Trasoff stressed that the past six months have put in motion several downtown housing projects, including The Post, Presidio Terrace, 44 Broadway Lofts, the Mercado District at Menlo Park and redevelopment of the Martin Luther King Jr. Apartments.
Council members Steve Leal and José Ibarra pressed to have an official list of Rio Nuevo projects brought to the council in the next month, but Scott, other council members and Hein rejected committing to a list before establishing an infrastructure map.
Ibarra especially wants to put the council more at the forefront with Rio Nuevo: where does each council member stand on the variety of proposed projects.
“We’ve been talking about an arena for seven years,” Ibarra said. “I don’t think the public knows where each council member stands on the arena. We have not told the public were we stand on these projects.”
The Tucson Origins funding approval on Tuesday set several aspects work immediately into motion.
Engineering design will begin right away on roads and a bridge across the Santa Cruz River that will link the heritage park to downtown.
The national design team headed by local architects Burns Wald-Hopkins will start drawing up construction documents next month for the mission complex, with adobe structures starting to go up in October.
While engineers and architects draw up plans, the West Side site south of Congress Street will undergo garbage dump removal with the plot of land designated for the Mission San Agustín, which will include a rebuilt Convento and Chapel.