Rio Nuevo changes it name - Tucson News Now

Rio Nuevo changes it name

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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Rio Nuevo has been a Tucson punching bag for nearly 15 years.

Passed by an overwhelming majority of Tucson voters in 1999, it never lived up to its promise.

In fact, its name has become synonymous with graft, corruption, inefficiency, fraud and government waste.

Now that the entire Rio Nuevo board has been replaced and brought under the watchful eye of state lawmakers, it's beginning to dig out of a very deep hole.

It began by getting its financial house in order.

It dropped the idea of a great big, shiny new hotel in downtown.

It opened its books to several investigations, including the FBI.

While no criminal charges were brought, the probes shed light on gross inefficiency and waste.

It seems to be fixed now or at least state lawmakers believe so.

The State Senate passed SB 1351 unanimously. Not a single no vote.

The bill, which has been sent to the House, will give Rio Nuevo much more freedom to spend money where it believes it needs to be spent.

It has a bank account of $30 million and can expect about $100 million over the next few years.

As for the name change, "It's toxic," says Board Chair Fletcher McCusker. "You can't say Rio Nuevo without people seeing government fraud and waste."

More than 100 Tucson area high school seniors sent in suggestions, which has been pared down to 18.

The winning student will be presented with a college scholarship in partnership with the University of Arizona and Pima Community College.

Some suggestions are Nuestro Centro, Esperanza Project, Corazon de Oeste among others.

The board will choose the final name but before it becomes official, it must go thoroughly vetted.

With the new freedom, comes a new responsibility for the board.

If the bill passes, "we're free to do whatever we believe is in the best interest of downtown," McCusker says.

He says Rio Nuevo, will likely focus on "one or two projects going forward."

He says primarily the focus will be on vacant land on both sides of the freeway generally along Congress Street and around the TCC.

He believe the new restrictions from the state lawmakers, new rules governing transparency and the rebranding may finally fix the serious issue plaguing Rio Nuevo.

"Had these been in place ten years ago, 12 years ago, it would never have been the runaway train that it was," he says.

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