City, Rio Nuevo kiss and make up after 2-year spat

16-part agreement has both hoping they can 'move forward' now
2013-02-08T00:00:00Z City, Rio Nuevo kiss and make up after 2-year spatDarren DaRonco Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
February 08, 2013 12:00 am  • 

The city of Tucson and the Rio Nuevo District officially buried the hatchet Thursday morning.

Mayor Jonathan Rothschild and City Manager Richard Miranda signed the final settlement agreement in the mayor's office at City Hall, ending about two years of acrimony between the two entities.

"Today has been a long time coming. But today, the council and board put past disputes behind us and move forward," Rothschild said during a news conference.

Under the terms of the 16-part agreement:

• Rio Nuevo will allocate $6 million for improvements at the Tucson Convention Center.

• The city will retain the Depot Garage and compensate Rio Nuevo about $16 million over the next 37 years.

• Rio Nuevo will reimburse the city about $2 million for invoices related to various 2008 bond projects.

• The city will recognize any money Rio Nuevo contributes to the TCC and a hotel project as a notice to proceed. This will satisfy a state statute that limits the type of projects Rio Nuevo can fund. Once a hotel and convention center are funded, Rio Nuevo can begin spending on other projects with city approval.

• Rio Nuevo will spend $750,000 for downtown streetscape improvements.

• Rio Nuevo will invest $1.1 million in the Mission Gardens project.

• The two lawsuits totaling more than $70 million will end.

• The city and Rio Nuevo agree to cooperate fully with the statutory audits every three years. The next audit must be performed this year.

Neither side received everything it wanted, but said that's a good thing, Rothschild said.

"In my experience as an attorney, I can say that's ... a good sign that reason has prevailed," he said.

Even though the two sides have put their disagreements behind them, Rothschild acknowledged history isn't easily erased.

"I don't think you can forget about it, but you've got to look at it on different levels," Rothschild said. "I cannot put back together a shattered glass. But I can start to work going forward."

And to move forward, Rothschild said, it's imperative that the city and Rio Nuevo cooperate to "responsibly put this taxpayer money to work in the way that the voters asked."

There is still a pending investigation by the state Attorney General's Office. Rothschild said the agreement doesn't indemnify anybody if the state probe uncovers malfeasance.

The City Council approved a final execution of an agreement in December during a closed session. The Rio Nuevo board approved it on Monday.

The cessation of hostilities is a welcome relief, Rio Nuevo Chairman Fletcher McCusker said.

"It's fair," McCusker said. "And more importantly, it allows us to move forward."

With the history of Rio Nuevo and the enmity it fostered among residents, McCusker said, the board will diligently work to regain the public's trust.

"It's not lost on me that Rio Nuevo is two four-letter words," McCusker said. "But in going forward, transparency, I think, is the issue. ... All of our bank accounts are now on the Web. Anybody can now follow what we are doing dollar by dollar. Any project will have its own site on the Web where you can actually see the commitments that are made and (where) the funds flow. That's been part of the challenge historically: who was making decisions and where did the money go. We can resolve that collectively going forward."

While it's unlikely Rio Nuevo will ever see $200 million again, McCusker said Rio Nuevo is experiencing a healthy revenue stream to go along with its $15 million. He said the goal now is to partner with dynamic entrepreneurs who want to transform downtown Tucson into something greater.

McCusker expects people will begin to warm to the district once they begin seeing tangible improvements.

On StarNet: Read the Star's special reports on Rio Nuevo at azstarnet.com/rionuevo

Contact reporter Darren DaRonco at 573-4243 or ddaronco@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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