El Rio lease to Grand Canyon U. would have brought $13 million, records show

2013-08-27T00:00:00Z El Rio lease to Grand Canyon U. would have brought $13 million, records showBy Darren DaRonco Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Tucson was willing to part ways with El Rio Golf Course for about $13 million over 50 years, city records show.

Last week, a Pima County Superior Court judge sided with a neighborhood group and ordered the city to release documents pertaining to what the city was initially offering Grand Canyon University to lease the west-side golf course.

To pay for the property, GCU would have leased it for about $257,000 annually for 50 years.

In addition to the annual ground lease payments, City Manager Richard Miranda stipulated GCU would have to chip in to improve the surrounding neighborhoods.

In his letter to a GCU official, Miranda said the for-profit college would be expected to fix up nearby Joaquin Murrieta Park, dedicate 15 acres for recreational fields, a biking and walking path and connect the park with Tully Elementary School and the El Rio Neighborhood Center.

To pay for Murrieta Park improvements, Miranda suggested the city could implement a 2-percent “dorm fee” on GCU student housing since the city lacked a residential rental tax.

For incentives, the city offered GCU about $4.1 million in construction sales-tax credits and waived permit fees. Also, GCU would likely have qualified for a 23 percent discount on road impact fees.

The city broke off talks with the university after a backlash from residents.

GCU recently announced it would be building a new campus in Mesa and put any plans for further expansion on indefinite hold.

Cecilia Cruz, who filed the public records lawsuit on behalf of the El Rio Coalition II, a group opposed to the project, said the records reveal the city grossly undervalued the golf course’s value.

“In many ways, the city’s offer is insulting to the intelligence of this community,” Cruz said.

With all of the tax and other inducements the city was willing to give to GCU, Cruz said, it underscores how both university and city officials exaggerated the potential benefits.

“A lot of what they said (GCU) was contributing to the economy, wasn’t really there,” she said.

GCU was also getting away with a great bargain for the amount of prime real estate it was getting in return, Cruz said.

For the school to pay just $21,000 a month for such a large tract of land with all the infrastructure already in place, “is a pittance,” Cruz said.

Furthermore, Cruz said, it was incumbent upon city officials to be more upfront with residents and not keep them in the dark on projects that affect their communities.

But Councilwoman Regina Romero said the city, and she, had been open with the public throughout the process.

“This wasn’t a closed door, behind-the-scenes deal,” Romero said.

Romero said that for more than a year and a half, she had been telling residents publicly she was looking for ways to solve the city golf program’s financial problems.

And even though talks with GCU were only in the early stages, if the matter had made it before mayor and council, the documents show the city was willing to ensure the community would have gotten the investment it deserves, Romero said.

In addition to its own offer, the city released documents showing what the competition for GCU — the towns of Marana and Oro Valley — offered the school.

Marana proposed about 130 acres near Linda Vista Blvd and a half-mile from I-10 for a price ranging between $24,000 and $34,000 an acre.

Oro Valley offered land near Naranja Park for $1.8 million and was going to charge an additional $3 million for grading and utility improvements.

Contact reporter Darren Daronco at 573-4243 or ddaronco@azstarnet.com. Follow on Twitter @DarrenDaRonco.

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

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