These are difficult times for Rio Nuevo, with the downtown redevelopment program fighting to prevent a state death sentence as it struggles to define its own mission.
Rio Nuevo and downtown Tucson will survive and will thrive. But the Legislature must let it live long enough to prove that it can be viable when the economy recovers.
With state lawmakers hunting for every available dime, the operations of Rio Nuevo have come under close scrutiny.
The major funding source for the project is tax increment financing, under which a portion of new sales tax revenue generated in a specific area is returned to the city instead of going to the state.
The city of Tucson has made Rio Nuevo an attractive target, with an underwhelming list of projects to show for the millions of dollars that have been spent. So legislators are trying a variety of strangulation tactics to reduce or eliminate the project’s state funding.
And while some reforms are needed, the Legislature must let Rio Nuevo receive its promised funding.
Reducing or eliminating funding would make it impossible for the district to repay bonds that have been sold to renovate the Tucson Convention Center and build a new downtown hotel. A state move to cut off that funding after it has been encumbered likely would be illegal.
But there also is the matter of equity. Maricopa County used a similar funding strategy to build stadiums for professional sports: football in Glendale and baseball in Phoenix. And roads to a Phoenix-area racetrack were improved in the same way.
Tucson won its “right” to TIF money in a deal that also included the Phoenix projects. It would be grossly unfair of the Maricopa County-dominated Legislature to now renege on Pima County projects.
To their substantial credit, Tucson-area legislators of both parties have banded together to save Rio Nuevo funding. They must remain steadfast and not back down as legislative negotiations continue.
Tucson deserves the chance in a recovering economy to show that downtown can be reborn and be a true asset to southern Arizona and to the entire state.