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No room at the inn for Tucson nuclear convention

Waste Management Symposium leaving for lack of downtown hotel rooms

Downtown now has its poster child for the lack of high-quality hotels and restaurants there in the departure of the biggest money-generating conference for the Tucson Convention Center.

The Waste Management Symposium, which wrapped up its most recent nuclear waste conference March 1 with 2,500 attendees from 34 countries, will meet for at least the next five years at the Phoenix Convention Center, where 1,100 rooms could be booked within a block of the center.

WMSymposia, a Tucson-based nonprofit dedicated to education for the safe management of nuclear waste, has put on the world’s most significant conference for nuclear waste management for 33 years at TCC. But Rio Nuevo’s lack of action for the past five years and unpromising future on the hotel-restaurant front will likely keep the conference out of Tucson, said James Voss, the organization’s managing director.

“Our attendees are not going to stay at freeway motels,” Voss said.

The closure of the Santa Rita Hotel in 2005 made it a priority to leave Tucson. Voss also has doubts about the Hotel Arizona expansion and the frequent management changes at the Doubletree at Reid Park, where the symposia books rooms twice a year.

The conference brings $345,000 in rentals, parking fees and meals to TCC, and has an overall economic impact estimated at $2 million, TCC and tourism officials said.

“It’s a clear signal that we have to get serious about providing a quality environment,” City Manager Mike Hein said.

The city is at least two years away from substantial improvements at TCC and neighboring Hotel Arizona.

Hotel Arizona has 307 rooms and is proposing to add 400 at a cost of more than $100 million. No other major hotel projects are in discussion. Phoenix has nearly 1,600 hotel rooms within walking distance of its convention center.

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