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Lyons hopeful Rio Nuevo funds won’t be cut

Citizen Staff Writer

Glenn Lyons, 54, started Feb. 17, 2008, as chief executive of the Downtown Tucson Partnership, a private-public organization that brings together downtown businesses, neighborhood groups, arts groups and government leaders to improve downtown.

Lyons plows through the inherent stagnation to get things done. In his first year here, he played a direct role to land Madden Media as the buyer for the city-owned MacArthur Building; award city grants for four downtown facade improvement projects; worked with ParkWise to offer free first-hour parking in three garages; and staged the popular First Night celebration on New Year’s Eve.

Lyons has spoken bluntly throughout his time here about downtown challenges and failures. He is working to reconfigure the way the partnership operates to make it more effective. Lyons talked this week with Tucson Citizen downtown reporter Teya Vitu.

Question: There’s much more to downtown than Rio Nuevo, but what concerns are there that the Legislature may eliminate Rio Nuevo tax increment financing?

Answer: We were told that Rio Nuevo is on potential cut list (in the Legislature). Right now it’s one of many things on the cut list. I think we’ll get through it, but the business community needs to rally the troops and send a message to Phoenix that TIF financing is important to Tucson’s economy.

Q: Why does TIF matter for downtown’s future?

A: The TIF is a revenue stream that allows us to finance all these public capital projects. It’s money that wouldn’t end up in Tucson otherwise. If the city of Tucson can’t invest in public infrastructure and facilities, then they’re not going to be able to do their share of the revitalization effort. That’s why it’s important.

Q: How has downtown changed in the past year?

A: There’s a lot more construction going on. The Depot Plaza is moving ahead. The One North Fifth (Apartments) – the residential is open and the commercial is soon to be open. We’ve got Scott Avenue under construction (for streetscape improvements) and the Mercado in the Mercado District is going as well. I think we’re also on the verge of some very serious additional development. Congress (Street infrastructure, including streetcar tracks) is coming soon and I think we’ll see construction at the convention center in about a year and a half. Beyond that this year the I-10 will be done and the (Fourth Avenue) underpass will be too.

Q: What sort of potential do you see for downtown?

A: I think the market we really have to develop strongly is business travel and tourism markets. That’s where the convention center and hotels come in. The average tourist will spend $300 a day downtown if they are staying in a downtown hotel. You can’t get that kind of spending out of any other investment. Having said that, though, we can’t afford not to work on the other things: arts, culture, entertainment, office developments and residential. If you’re looking 10 years out, you should have tripled the number of hotel rooms, doubled the amount of private sector office space and if we’re lucky, built another 1,000 dwelling units in downtown and the downtown neighborhoods

Q: What would need to happen for downtown and, conversely, all of Tucson to reach its potential as an emerging major metropolitan area?

A: We’ve got to create tens of thousands of new jobs in metro Tucson. We have to make sure that enough of those jobs are created in the downtown so that we can develop the urban environment that we aspire to. I think those jobs have to largely come from spinoffs from U of A’s technology work. I don’t see another way doing it. I’d be happy to have that downtown. More importantly, I want to make sure that every time that their technology people come up with a new idea that we find a way to create private investment for Tucson, because those are the high-wage earing jobs that are often lacking.

Q: Why has downtown revitalization failed for 30 years?

A: We promised too much. Often we did too little. And all too often we didn’t understand the economic drivers that we needed to tap to make it happen.

Q: How are we in a different position now?

A: The one thing is we do have the TIF financing and since 2006 we’ve been putting the project together so that we could move forward to construction.

Lyons hopeful Rio Nuevo funds won’t be cut

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