El Rio Golf Course dropped as possible site for Grand Canyon University

2013-05-29T00:00:00Z 2013-05-29T16:15:12Z El Rio Golf Course dropped as possible site for Grand Canyon UniversityDarren DaRonco Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
May 29, 2013 12:00 am  • 

The city's El Rio Golf Course is no longer being considered as a new home for Grand Canyon University.

One day after Councilwoman Regina Romero, who represents the El Rio area, publicly announced she was pulling her support for the proposal, other council members concurred the idea is dead in the water.

By late Tuesday afternoon, Joe Snell, CEO of Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities, made it official in an email notifying city officials Grand Canyon University is no longer considering the El Rio site. The email goes on to say the university will continue to work with TREO on finding a suitable site within the region.

Bill Jenkins, the college's public-relations boss, said the school is still interested in having a campus in the Tucson area even though the the golf course idea didn't pan out.

He said there are "very definitely" other potential locations in the Tucson area but didn't specify where. One is in Oro Valley, town officials have confirmed.

"I don't think we've given up on Tucson at all," Jenkins said in a phone interview Tuesday. "You've got a million people down there. It's a good market.

"The megachurches in the Tucson area are excited about the prospect of us coming," he said.

Mayor Jonathan Rothschild said locating the private university at El Rio lost a lot of steam with Romero's announcement because "the culture of our council has been to defer to the ward representative on something like this."

Just a few weeks ago it was revealed the city was discussing the possibility of the El Rio site, with Romero as one of the key proponents of the move.

But the uproar that followed from west-side residents forced Romero to reconsider her position.

"I heard from a lot of people who don't like (me) no matter what I do," she said. "But then I started hearing from people who have been my allies and supporters over the years. And they were presenting their case in a clear, respectful way why they opposed it. So I started listening to their arguments."

For months, Romero's been trying to find a solution to El Rio Golf Course losing money, and she considers this is just another step in the process.

"I wanted to have this conversation with the community. I wanted to get information back from the community," Romero said. "And that's what I picked up from this. I've been looking at this for a year. I haven't heard this loud of voice before."

She said there's still a need for west-side residents to decide what to ultimately do with the course.

"The status quo is unacceptable," Romero said. "We must have a frank discussion because the problem of El Rio losing money is not going away."

While she believes Grand Canyon would be an economic boon to the city, she still hopes to see it build somewhere in the region.

Officials with TREO, who have been part of the Grand Canyon discussions, said they could not discuss other possible sites, or the turn of events at El Rio.

Not far along in talks

Rothschild said the city wasn't too deep in the specifics with Grand Canyon University possibly building on El Rio.

He said the city hadn't really heard the particulars of what the university was seeking in a potential site.

"They made an expression of interest in coming here, and we reached out to them," Rothschild said. "And that was the extent of it."

But those talks shouldn't have even gotten that far, according to Councilman Steve Kozachik.

Kozachik, who along with colleague Richard Fimbres voted against continuing negotiations with the university, said the city already committed itself on El Rio and shouldn't break its promises.

The city has a contract with the Tucson Conquistadores to operate its First Tee program at El Rio, has pending proposals from private management groups to run city golf courses and, if it doesn't find a management group, the council voted last October to transform El Rio into a hybrid park/nine-hole course.

"We shouldn't have entered into anything with all of these prior commitments out there," Kozachik said. "It just stinks of bad-faith negotiating. … This should have been aboveboard from the beginning so the stakeholders knew we were talking about it."

Councilman Paul Cunningham concurs the city should be a little more open with its negotiations.

"While I think that GCU has a future in Tucson, I feel that discussion about the El Rio location is over," Cunningham said. "As this discussion moves to other possible locations, public input and transparency must be part of the process."

As for where Grand Canyon is headed, no one seems to know for certain. But Rothschild assumes it will continue to look at sites within the area, whatever direction that may take.

"We'll just have to wait and see what happens next," Rothschild said.

Reporter Carol Ann Alaimo contributed to this story 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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