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Most funding in limbo for downtown group’s $1.6M budget

The Downtown Tucson Partnership, a booster group, may have more than $1.6 million to spend next fiscal year.

Then again, it might not.

In an apparent surrender to the unknown, a bad economy and the threat of the Legislature withdrawing money for downtown redevelopment, the partnership has abandoned the revenues-versus-expenditures budget model.

Instead, its proposed budget divides revenue into expected, likely, possible and unlikely categories, with spending to be paired with the categories later, CEO Glenn Lyons said.

The document was presented to the nonprofit’s board of directors March 4 without comment.

Only $432,400 of the group’s $1.6 million draft budget is “expected,” with most of that to come from recently raised fees for downtown businesses that rely on the maintenance and security the partnership provides. Its fiscal year, the same as the city’s, begins July 1.

About $65,000 of that amount is to come from advertising in the partnership-run Downtown Tucsonan magazine, which Lyons said took in $70,000 from ads last year.

Another $65,000 is considered “possible” through a new ad campaign tied to a revamp of the group’s Web site, he said.

Cara Rene, the group’s vice president of community development, has sent an outline of the advertising plan to Jaret Barr and Mary Okoye of the Tucson City Manager’s Office. Rene said they wanted to know about the $5,000 and $10,000 ad packages to be sold to companies with interests downtown.

Nothing has happened with the plan yet, and it hasn’t been worked out how the packages would be sold or by whom, Rene said.

The partnership, which relies primarily on government funding, has run a deficit for the past three years, and the amount of red ink has grown each year, drawing savings close to zero.

Except for optimism about advertising, a swing in fortunes is not expected.

Pima County, which could be on the hook for almost $180,000 for dues associated with its downtown properties, is not expected to pay up. It never has.

Lyons put the sum in the unlikely column. “I haven’t even bothered to talk to them about it,” he said.

In contrast, almost $1 million of the $1.6 million possible budget would come, one way or another, from the city, itself facing a general fund shortfall of at least $30 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Tucson cut its contribution to the business improvement district by 10 percent this fiscal year, and a 20 percent cut is expected for next year, Lyons said.

But the partnership is still expecting to get a $30,000 “entertainment grant” from the city, $25,000 from the Regional Transportation Authority for coordinating meetings on the Aviation Highway extension through downtown and hundreds of thousands of dollars for services to the city-owned parking operation ParkWise.

“The partnership was developed to provide private sector input in matters regarding downtown development,” City Manager Mike Hein said.

City contracts for real estate sales and leases, and planning coordination were always part of the plan, he said.

Hein described the contracts as “win-win,” keeping the nonprofit afloat and closing city operating deficits. Lyons told the board the ParkWise contract was a model for future money-making ventures.

ParkWise Administrator Chris Leighton said the deal would give the partnership more reliable funding and ParkWise better security and maintenance.

Details are still being worked out, but it appeared Monday that the partnership would not get a cut of the parking lot revenues, which under a complicated revenue-sharing arrangement sent more than $700,000 into the city’s general operating fund last fiscal year, Leighton said. At the same time, the separate ParkWise fund was running an operating deficit.

Lyons said the partnership would likely get about $30,000 for administrative services under the contract.

Downtown security and maintenance would not change noticeably under the draft budget, Lyons said, although sidewalks would be cleaned less often.

Breakdowns of budget categories were not available Monday.

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