|By Rob O'Dell, The Arizona Daily Star,
TucsonMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Mar. 28--At least six community leaders expected to help the city decide whether to build a downtown convention hotel have personal financial ties to that decision.
Two Rio Nuevo board members, who will need to vote to approve the $180 million convention hotel, have ties to existing downtown hotels or inns -- executives of one property support building a new hotel and those of the other oppose it.
Two former City Council members and the head of a local economic lobbying group have served as paid consultants to Garfield Traub, the proposed hotel's developer.
And the chairman of a group that aims to improve business conditions downtown worked as a consultant for Hotel Arizona owner Humberto Lopez, who has threatened to shut down his hotel if the new one opens.
None of the relationships is a legal conflict of interest, but they demonstrate an involvement that goes beyond the simple community interest.
"Anybody who has any connection to the hotel ... should declare a conflict of interest and shouldn't vote," former Tucson Mayor George Miller said. "For the sake of the public and the public's perception, they ought to step aside."
Among those expected to have some say in whether the hotel will be built:
The former City Council aide was a paid lobbyist for the company when it was trying to win the hotel bid and after it was selected.
He later became executive director at the Metropolitan Pima Alliance, whose members include businesses, developers and governments. The organization, which calls itself, "your voice for reasonable and responsible development," is expected to make a recommendation on whether the hotel should be built.
Guymon said he disclosed his relationship with Garfield Traub before he took the job and says his contract is basically completed, although he said he will still earn a bonus if the hotel is approved.
Local attorney Hecker chairs the public-private Tucson Downtown Partnership, which is charged with redeveloping downtown and has been actively involved in planning. He was a paid consultant for rival hotel bidder Lopez, whose deal to redevelop his downtown hotel later fell through.
Hecker said he always discloses his work for Lopez -- who opposes the Garfield Traub development -- whenever the issue comes up at the partnership. Hecker said he supports the idea of a downtown convention hotel, but said the finances for this one will be challenging. He said he doesn't see any circumstance where he would have a conflict.
The co-owner of the Royal Elizabeth Bed and Breakfast also is chairman of the Rio Nuevo board, which will vote on the hotel. A week ago, his business partner, Chuck Bressi, testified before the Rio Nuevo Board saying the new hotel is needed because it would help downtown businesses, including his own.
He didn't disclose to board members, many of whom were newly appointed and attending their first meeting, that his partner is the chairman of the board.
Bressi said he was speaking as an individual, exercising his First Amendment right to free speech. He said conflicts of interests happen "every time, everywhere," and many Rio Nuevo board members could have similar conflicts. He said he spoke not only about how the hotel will help his business, but Tucson as a whole.
DiGregorio said their bed-and-breakfast only has six rooms, so there's only so much of a boost the hotel could bring them. Besides, he said, he and Bressi are selling the business.
The former Pima County supervisor was a paid consultant for Lopez in his bid for a downtown hotel. He is also a member of the Rio Nuevo board.
Eckstrom abstained from voting on the hotel when the issue came up last year. He said he's smart enough to know when he has a conflict of interest and would recuse himself.
The former city councilman, now executive director of the Tucson Utility Contractors Association, is an "as-needed," paid consultant for Garfield Traub. Ronstadt said his consulting for Garfield Traub was "incredibly limited," mainly to provide knowledge of early Rio Nuevo history.
While the contractors he represents could work on the project, he said Tucson Utility Contractors Association members won't get much work on the hotel because it's mainly vertical construction, and his contractors do "horizontal" construction such as street work. The organization endorses Rio Nuevo as a whole but hasn't yet taken a position on the hotel.
The former city councilman, who has remained active in civic affairs and still has the ear of current decision-makers, is the lead consultant for Garfield Traub and hired Ronstadt and Guymon.
Pay not disclosed
Neither Garfield Traub nor any of those who worked for the company would say how much they were paid.
Stephen Moffett, the company's vice president of hospitality, said he didn't expect any of the consulting relationships to affect the decision whether to move ahead on the $180 million convention hotel.
Barrio Viejo resident Don Rollings, whose sister owns the Cushing Street Bar and Grille across from the Tucson Convention Center, said it would be unfortunate if people had conflicts of interest because everything on the hotel needs to be aboveboard.
He said he is hopeful the hotel can be done well and help connect Barrio Viejo to the downtown, but not have negative effects on the neighborhood.
A state committee has just taken over Rio Nuevo, and an economic feasibility report on the hotel will go to it this spring.
Contact reporter Rob O'Dell at 573-4346 or email@example.com
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