Rio Nuevo agreement signed - Tucson News Now

Rio Nuevo agreement signed

"Today has been a long time coming," Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rotshchild said just moments before signing an agreement between the city and Rio Nuevo district.

The two had been at odds for several years.

When Rothschild was sworn into office, he presented a list of things he wanted to accomplish.

Ending the Rio Nuevo dispute was one of them.

"I'm going to check that off now," he says.

It's been a long road since the voters passed Rio Nuevo in 1999 and how and why the division came about is still a puzzle.

The Rio Nuevo district was supposed to have an independent oversight board which would keep it transparent and honest.

But city leaders soon adopted Rio Nuevo as their own rejecting the idea it even needed oversight.

Rio Nuevo became something it was never designed to be.

An arm of the city.

Projects were rubber stamped by the oversight committee, if they got approval at all.

The original intent of the program was to help revitalize downtown but the big selling point was to preserve the culture and heritage of Tucson.

Somehow that got lost in the quest to build a sleek, shiny new convention hotel in downtown Tucson for $200 million with taxpayer money.

It never penciled out but the city pressed on anyway.

Transparency was tossed aside as receipts were lost, contracts never questioned, expenditures made without oversight.

$800,000 was spent on a film.

$18 million for the design of Origins Park.

$3 million for Mission Gardens wall.

Money was spent outside the district for a fire station, drainage in Barrio Sin Nombre.

Management changes in the city meant different priorities.

The costs mounted up with little to show for it.

Then came the Great Recession and the plans fell apart.

Soon the program was in shambles but who was a fault.

The city blamed the Rio Nuevo Board. The Board blamed the city.

The state legislature stepped in to reassert its control. The district was formed by a law which allows tax districts to finance large projects.

It seemed Rio Nuevo has stepped outside that law.

The state appointed a new board and the fight was on.

Lawsuits, litigation and accusations became the rule.

And as always, the other side was to blame.

Now, cooler heads have prevailed and it's become apparent nothing is gained by constant fighting and bickering.

Tucson and Rio Nuevo were in jeopardy of losing the district and the millions of dollars that came with it. Money which, when partnered with private capital, can work wonders in downtown.

That will happen now.

With the singing of an 11 page document, everyone appears to be on the same page.

Now, both sides have agreed on who owns what, who's responsible for what and how to spend the remaining money.

Millions will go to renovate the arena at the TCC, historical projects will be completed and Tucson may regain the trust it lost with the voters.

One of the people responsible for the turnaround, Providence CEO, Fletcher McCusker says "It has not been lost on me that Rio Nuevo is two four letter words."

By that he means its a dirty work in Tucson and it may take time, if ever, to rebuild the reputation.

"I think once the community see us produce a project we can be proud of, I think the Rio Nuevo legacy will change," he says.

All the bank accounts, all the contracts, everything Rio Nuevo does from now until the district disappears in 2025, will appear on the new website, Rioneuvo.org

"Anybody can follow us dollar by dollar," he says.

 

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