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Radisson Hotel City Center in Downtown Tucson Wants
 to Expand to 700 Rooms;  Plans Dependent on
 Reconstruction of Tucson Convention Center

By Joe Burchell, The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Feb. 4, 2004 - The owners of the Downtown Radisson Hotel City Center have unveiled plans to more than double their rooms, to 700, and add up to 40 condominiums in a pair of new high-rise towers.

But they warn that the plan is 100 percent dependent on the city's building a new arena and the Tucson Convention Center's being reconstructed into more of a true convention facility to attract potential guests.

If the arena plans are scrapped, or the city opts to put Rio Nuevo money into another Downtown convention hotel, look for the Radisson to be converted to condominiums, a hotel-condo mix or senior citizen housing, said Roger Karber, managing partner of Diamond Rock Plaza, which is a partner in the proposal with hotel owner Humberto S. Lopez.

Plans presented to the Rio Nuevo Citizens Advisory Committee include an updating of the existing 31-year-old hotel at 181 W. Broadway from the ground up.

A second tower, taller than the existing 300-room hotel, would rise just to the southeast for another 400 hotel rooms, with condos on the top four or five floors, architect Kevin Howard told the group.

Another tower would be placed east of the hotel, where the parking garage now stands, for more condos, he said. Condos would sell in the $500,000 to $1.5 million range.

Parking would be moved to a 2,000-car garage to be built behind the TCC Music Hall.

The towers would be tied together by a mix of midrise offices and ground-floor retail along South Granada Avenue and West Broadway, Howard said.

Karber said partners in the project have raised $2 million for a feasibility study and planning. Whether it's the Diamond Rock proposal or some other plan, he said, the owners are committed to redeveloping the hotel because it's not economically efficient.

Richard Studwell, a member of the citizens group, said the proposal is exciting, but more needs to be known about how the group plans to pay for it and what the final plans would look like before he's ready to endorse it.

Tom Tracy, president of the Lodging Co. and another member of the planning team, said the market for Downtown hotel rooms has been weak for 20 years. "Without a vibrant convention center, hotels don't work," he said.

While the group has tentative plans for what to do with the property, Tracy said that "financing is going to be a difficult issue," which will affect the final form of the project as much as the feasibility study.

Karber said the study could be ready for presentation to the City Council by this spring.

Although construction wouldn't start until after the arena issue is settled, he said, the group wants to be ready to go once the decision is made.

The city is studying the feasibility of building a new arena on West Congress Street at Interstate 10. Even if the council approves the arena, construction will likely be dependent on voters' approval of demolishing the old TCC Arena and converting the land into convention space.

Beyond the arena issue, the developers need to work with the city because part of the project overlaps onto city property, including the entire parking garage.

City Rio Nuevo Downtown revitalization plans have long included a second hotel immediately adjacent to the TCC to be built with private funds, with the city providing the land, infrastructure improvements and other possible assistance.

The plans include $5 million in taxpayer assistance to the Radisson, probably to build a public parking garage or to extend retail uses into the area where the garage now sits.

Karber said he doesn't know yet how much the hotel redevelopment might cost or what kind of assistance the group might need from the city.

Assistant City Manager Karen Thoreson, who watched the presentation, called it "an interesting idea" but said it's hard to say more without knowing what it will cost or what the developers might want from the city.

She said Lopez talked to city officials about the plan before Wednesday's presentation and raised the possibility of the city's taking over the property. She said she wasn't sure the city is in a position to do that.

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