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EDITORIAL: Tucson City Council was Right to Put Downtown
Convention Center Hotel Plan Out of its Misery

The Arizona Daily Star, TucsonMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Oct. 28, 2010--The Tucson City Council did the right thing Tuesday in putting the plan for a new downtown convention center hotel out of its misery.

Negotiations over the publicly financed project were going round and round, and the financial details and performance projections were either incomplete or raised worrisome questions. The city and the developer never did agree on a guaranteed maximum price for construction.

While we were enthusiastic about the potential for a new hotel, we were always against financing that put too much risk on taxpayers.

In the end, the council unanimously decided that selling taxpayer backed bonds was unacceptable.

This was after taxpayers spent a total of about $18.3 million for the hotel plans and for design and construction of the Tucson Convention Center's new east entrance. About $14 million of that went toward the now-discarded hotel proposal.

The hotel was to be combined with Tucson Convention Center renovations and a new parking garage at a total cost of about $258 million.

Councilwoman Regina Romero made the motion to stop negotiations with developer Garfield Traub on the 525-room Sheraton Starwood hotel plan.

She suggested the city work with the recently appointed Rio Nuevo board to plan other downtown projects. That board is charged by the Legislature with developing revenue-generating improvements.

One that should be addressed immediately is renovating the dank, cramped TCC. It's past time to bring its meeting spaces up to date and to provide better, more convenient and more comfortable options for trade shows and visiting performers.

It's also crucial that the TCC be made more attractive to the gem and mineral shows that come here every winter. The spiffy new east entrance won't be enough.

Shows have threatened to leave Tucson because of inconvenient or inadequate venues.

American Gem Trade Association Executive Douglas Hucker told the City Council a year ago that AGTA would not continue here unless the group saw was "progress on a hotel and upgrading of the convention center."

In a recent meeting convened by City Councilman Steve Kozachik, gem show representatives repeated their concerns about the convention center, Kozachik's chief of staff, Ann Charles, told us Wednesday.

But another major issue is whether free shuttle-bus service among the various venues around Tucson during the show would continue, she said. For three years, during Interstate 10 construction, the Department of Transportation provided shuttles, but that's ended now.

The gem and mineral shows' economic impact is about $100 million annually.

Although the convention center hotel is off the table, there are heartening signs of progress downtown.

Janos Wilder of Janos and JBar opened a new restaurant on South Sixth Avenue just over a week ago. Providence Service Corp. has moved its headquarters downtown and is expanding its presence there. Tucson Electric Power Co.'s new, larger headquarters is under construction along Broadway at Scott.

All this is proof that private business sees a future in downtown and will invest there.

The city's original vision for Rio Nuevo 10 years ago wasn't to get into the hotel business or to put taxpayers at risk if a project failed. It was to make investments that would spur private development.

It's time to do exactly that.

Arizona Daily Star

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Copyright (c) 2010, The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson

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