Rio Nuevo has gotten the green light from the state to start spending money on downtown redevelopment without building a hotel first.

Gov. Jan Brewer has signed a bill that lifts Rio Nuevo’s hotel spending mandate.

The change means the redevelopment district doesn’t have to wait around for a hotel project to pop up before moving forward on other projects.

As part of its punishment for wasting millions, Rio Nuevo was handcuffed by state lawmakers in 2010 from putting money into any projects until a downtown hotel and arena were built.

“The Legislature wanted to stop the crazy spending and rein in the board,” Rio Nuevo chairman Fletcher McCusker said.

While Rio Nuevo’s original plans had the district financing and operating a multimillion-dollar downtown hotel, those plans never came to fruition.

“The hotel was scrapped as economic folly, but the language remained in the bill,” McCusker said.

Now that the Legislature untied the district’s hands, the board is free to start pursuing projects, he said.

Some of those projects could include developing land near Interstate 10 by:

  • Collaborating with developer Allan Norville on his plans to build a 120,000-square-foot exhibition hall next to Rio Nuevo property behind the Tucson Convention Center along Granada Avenue.
  • Injecting $1 million into the Mission Gardens project, a replica of a historic agricultural area along the Santa Cruz River that once provided fruit and vegetables to early residents.

McCusker said no plans are definite, but that he expects that to change over the next few months as the board weighs its options.

Even though funding a hotel project isn’t mandated anymore, McCusker said Rio Nuevo would still like to help one get started — such as Scott Stiteler’s proposed hotel on Broadway and Fifth Avenue — or another one.

McCusker noted that no one in the House or Senate voted against the bill, saying that was a testament to the work the current board has put into restoring the district’s credibility.

Sen. Steve Farley (D-Tucson) said there was no reason to continue binding Rio Nuevo to old projects now that McCusker and the board have demonstrated they’re committed to accountability and sensible management.

While nothing can undo the squandered millions and mismanagement of past boards, it doesn’t mean Tucson can’t learn from its mistakes and spend wisely from now on, Farley said.

Frequent Rio Nuevo critic, City Councilman Steve Kozachik, agrees.

“We’ve shown we have people on their board and on the council that will spend it responsibly,” Kozachik said. “I’m glad to see we can now open the checkbook and spend the money the way it was intended: improving downtown.”

Contact reporter Darren DaRonco at or 573-4243. Follow on Twitter @DarrenDaRonco