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Tucson Origins supporters want plans for reconstructed mission revived

But state Rep. Antenori says their efforts could ‘kill’ Rio Nuevo

Supporters of the shelved Tucson Origins mission complex pleaded for 45 minutes Monday to the Rio Nuevo board to revive plans to build the Mission San Agustín and Mission Gardens.

At the same meeting, state Rep. Frank Antenori said Rio Nuevo was dead in the Legislature unless the city sticks exclusively with Tucson Convention Center improvements.

Meanwhile, the Rio Nuevo Multipurpose Facilities District Board put off a decision on a master development agreement to design and build a Tucson Convention Center hotel, and the City Council on Tuesday is expected to delay its decision until May 12 for the same agreement with Garfield Traub Development to build the 525-room, 25-story Sheraton Tucson Convention Center Hotel.

Seven members of Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace reminded the board that Proposition 400, which created Rio Nuevo in 1999, focused predominantly on historic and cultural features on the West Side, not on a convention center hotel, which has come to the forefront in recent months.

“When the Legislature dictated, in their wisdom, that we need a hotel, convention center and arena, I feel betrayed,” said Velia Jimenez Morelos, who has lived near the Origins site for 40 years. “The history and culture component made a big splash in my life (in 2001). About eight years later, I am asking, what happened to all the promises you made to us?”

Gene Einfrank and former Tucson Unified School District Superintendent Roger Pfeuffer in the past year moved into houses in the upscale Mercado District of Menlo Park with the belief that museums and a reconstructed mission would soon be their neighbors. The City Council in February put the entire West Side project on hold to focus on the TCC hotel and expansion.

“For now, we feel a little foolish, like we’ve been taken for a ride, frankly, a little outraged,” Einfrank said.

The Friends presented to the Rio Nuevo board a petition with more than 1,000 signatures asking for the Mission Gardens to be completed and a timetable established to build the mission.

Antenori warned the Friends, as well as the board and City Council, to hold off on any Origins demands while he and Sen. Jonathan Paton work to save Rio Nuevo in the Legislature with a budget amendment that calls for the Legislature to expand and appoint a new Rio Nuevo board and prioritize the TCC projects because they generate money.

“If any of you make an effort to undermine that, the Legislature will surely kill Rio Nuevo,” said Antenori, a Tucson Republican. “The only hope we have left is to sit tight.”

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