Things may be looking up for the moribund Tucson Convention Center after the City Council unanimously approved measures Tuesday to update the facility and bring in an outside management company to curb costs.
First up was a measure giving the green light for Rio Nuevo to spend $7.8 million on TCC improvements.
As part of the city and Rio Nuevo's agreement to end years of bickering, the downtown improvement district board agreed to put at least $6 million into repairing the TCC, with the provision any plans must be approved by the council.
Most of the renovations focus on "aesthetic and cosmetic" touch-ups to make visits to the TCC a little more pleasant for patrons, said Elaine Weaver, TCC project manager.
Some of the key improvements include replacing seats, improving lighting, adding a video scoreboard and renovating the breezeway, bathrooms and concession stands.
While it's a good these initial improvements are about to get underway, Councilman Paul Cunningham said, there's still a lot more to be done if the TCC wants to become competitive again.
"This is only the beginning of correcting the mistakes of the past to develop a convention center we can be proud of," Cunningham said. "There is still a considerable amount of work to be done," such as widening the concourse and luxury seating.
Councilman Steve Kozachik said the limited budget means focusing on relatively inexpensive "fan amenities" to get people back to the TCC. More ambitious projects can be considered later, he said.
The improvements are tentatively scheduled to be completed in spring 2014.
The second measure authorized seeking a private company to manage the TCC.
City Manager Richard Miranda said the complex and intricate nature of running a convention center in the current market will require a professional management company if the city wants to reduce its expenses and improve the TCC's image.
This year, the city paid $3.4 million in losses and lease costs. Even though the city traditionally puts money into the Convention Center every year, city officials believe declining events and revenues don't justify the expenses.
While the TCC has lost many conventions and events, there's still hope things can be turned around if the right pieces are put in place, said city economic development specialist Andrew Squire.
"There is business out there we are losing out on because we are not ready to go," Squire said.
Squire said a private management group would provide the city an opportunity to right the ship, and possibly regain some of the shows lost over the years and attract new ones.
Councilwoman Regina Romero said she's all for a private company to revitalize the TCC, since it's integral to the revitalization of the west side of downtown.
"Right now, downtown ends at the Fox Theatre," Romero said. The west side is a "black hole" that needs to be "activated," if the streetcar and downtown are to realize their full potential, Romero said.
Despite her optimism, Romero cautioned she doesn't want to see any broken promises to labor groups or events with existing contracts at the TCC.
City Attorney Mike Rankin said any future proposal will account for those present agreements.
It's expected to take a year before any offers are brought to the council.
"This is only the beginning of correcting the mistakes of the past."
Councilman Paul Cunningham
Contact reporter Darren DaRonco at 573-4243 and firstname.lastname@example.org.