Rio Nuevo soothes Tucson city council funding fears - Tucson News Now

Rio Nuevo soothes Tucson city council funding fears

(Source: Rio Nuevo) (Source: Rio Nuevo)
TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

The chairman of the Rio Nuevo board, Fletcher McCusker, aimed to soothe the fears of several Tucson city council members about Rio Nuevo's spending habits during a meeting on Tuesday, June 6.

Rio Nuevo has sparked about $250 million in construction and business investment in downtown by providing incentives or seed money for a variety of projects.

More than a dozen projects in all including three hotels, business, office, commercial and retail space and a corporate headquarters for Caterpillar.

With all the activity, the council began to wonder if Rio Nuevo was not "in over its head."

Part of the issue, is that Rio Nuevo does not answer to the city of Tucson as it did in the old days. It reports to the state of Arizona.

Tucson so badly mangled the voters' intent when they passed Rio Nuevo in 1999, that the state stepped in to take control.

Rio Nuevo uses state sales tax dollars to spur investment in downtown Tucson and along the Broadway corridor, known as a TIF district.

Because of the switch, communications between the city and Rio Nuevo have fallen on hard times.

Rio Nuevo is far along in the development agreement process before the city of Tucson becomes involved, which is why the city wanted to talk about not only the dollars, but the communication.

In the end, both promised to keep the other better informed.

"I think we can do better by having you in the loop with those conversations," McCusker told the council.

"That communication flow and making sure we're part of the communication early enough in the process is important, at least to me, and I think to other members of this body," Ward VI council member Steve Kozachik said.

The mayor said his concern went beyond the council.

"I think we have to be careful that in the community that you give the perception that you've got an unlimited checkbook," he said. "Because clearly you don't."

McCusker counters that Rio Nuevo is not using taxpayer dollars nor Rio Nuevo dollars to generate the building boom.

He says the board does it through a series of tax rebates, a system where the developers essentially use their own money.

"Almost all of the investment money downtown is done by private banks, private developers," McCusker said. "It's dramatically different than any government in the state has done before."

Rio Nuevo's funding ends in 2025 but the board says it will be aggressive in trying to get an extension from the state lawmakers in the next session.

McCusker says with the funding it expects, about $30 million, he will be able to generate another $300 million in downtown investment.

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