Rio Nuevo has experienced some growing pains. Nobody would deny this.
We’ve had to modify some early plans, rethink our approach to mapping out what will be the major features in a revitalized city center, and face the reality of a listless economy along the way.
These actions reflect good stewardship of a very large, complex project that is moving from concept to reality.
It is only appropriate that there will be modifications along the way.
The Legislature granted us a golden opportunity to create a city center that is a source of pride and economic prosperity by approving the Tax-Increment Financing District.
We can’t afford to squander that opportunity by choosing the wrong path for the sake of expediency.
The delays have been frustrating for everyone who wants to enjoy a vibrant and exciting downtown, including the mayor and City Council.
But over the past two years, we have taken concrete steps that should assure our community that Rio Nuevo is happening:
Our first major funding action reflected our respect for our history and culture when we authorized dollars for re-creations of the Convento, Carrillo House, Mission and Mission Gardens in December 2006.
The mayor and council took another major step in authorizing support for the economic drivers for downtown on March 22, 2007, when we dedicated $392 million for a new arena, expansion of the Tucson Convention Center and a convention hotel; the University of Arizona Science Center and Arizona State Museum; infrastructure upgrades and streetscape improvements; and the Arizona History Museum, Tucson Children’s Museum and a West Side Neighborhood Library, among other museums and amenities.
A major accomplishment last week directed staff to finalize a $200 million agreement with Sheraton to construct a 700-room convention hotel. Other communities have worked for years to accomplish what we just did in one.
While “Rio Nuevo” has existed in concept for a decade, the TIF dollars to accomplish our goals didn’t become a reality until the spring of 2006, when the Legislature extended the TIF District to 20 years, offering the promise of far greater financial capacity.
To date, the TIF has brought in just over $51 million. We can accomplish our many goals, but to do so we’ll have to bond against our anticipated income over that 20-year period. That is why decisions of timing and financing are critically important.
But we continue to move in the right direction. At last week’s meeting, Councilwoman Regina Romero moved to see a master schedule for West Side redevelopment in the next 30 days.
At that same meeting, I asked the city manager’s staff to come back next week with options to accommodate Alan Norville’s important gem and mineral show and close the deal on purchasing the nearly seven acres where he previously held his event. Having that piece of property gives us more options for appropriate placement of the arena and convention hotel.
And last month, I made a motion that will result in city staff coming back to us with proposals and financial timelines within the next 50 days or so for the new arena. The arena will play a key role in creating a vibrant Civic Plaza that all of us who live in Tucson will enjoy.
Our commitments are made. The funding has been allocated. The dollars are starting to come in.
The key now is how best to time these many elements to assure balance as we move forward – and to assure that we have the financial ability to do everything we’ve already planned, and more.
The rich culture and history to be embraced in the Cultural Plaza – Tucson Origins with its museums, the Convento and the Mission – are the heart and soul of where we come from and who we are. These projects must remain a priority.
The new arena, revamped TCC and convention hotel are the economic engines that will drive the entire effort. They, too, are critically important.
And thus our current challenge: How to phase financing and construction schedules so all of the projects to which we remain committed get done.
This truly is a challenge, but I am confident this mayor and council will work together to assure our vibrant downtown – all of it – becomes a point of pride for our entire community.
Nina Trasoff is the Tucson City Council representative for Ward 6 and is chairwoman of the council’s subcommittee on Rio Nuevo.