Describing the existing Tucson Convention Center arena as dreary and dingy, the Rio Nuevo board approved a $7.8 million project to revive the '70s-era event center.

"What we tried to come up with was something that creates a wow factor," said board chairman Fletcher McCusker.

Replacing the seats, adding a video scoreboard and acoustic material, replacing signage and lighting, painting with a new color scheme, and renovating the breezeway, bathrooms and concession stands are all part of the scope of work approved by the board at Monday's meeting.

The $1.7 million in new seats won't change the arena capacity, but they will be more comfortable and have cup holders.

No new bathrooms will be added, but the existing ones will get aesthetic upgrades.

The south wall, now block and conduit, will be covered with acoustic material that will look nicer and improve sound quality.

The construction schedule is yet to be determined, and the work will have to be done between shows. The new seats will come first.

The point is to generate more money at the convention center, which board members said has been "blacklisted" by some event planners.

Board member Alberto Moore questioned the return on investment and voted against the plan.

Some of the money will come from bond proceeds and some will come from sales-tax revenue.

"All of what we're talking about here is going to make the fan experience much more enjoyable," interim TCC director Martin Carey told the board. "I can assure you these improvements will do nothing but enhance the chances for business."

The city is doing its part, having spent $17.5 million on TCC repairs in the past year or so, including work on carpets, sidewalks and escalators, city general-services director Ron Lewis told the board.

In other action, the board:

• Approved an agreement aimed a prodding developer Don Bourne to develop the long-vacant Thrifty Block on East Congress Street, in the heart of downtown.

The agreement, which the city and Bourne's lenders have to sign off on, gives Bourne two years to have a building permit. It requires Bourne to submit concept plans and quarterly progress reports to the Rio Nuevo board.

Two one-year extensions are possible.

If Bourne fails to develop within the deadlines, the property reverts to Rio Nuevo ownership.

• Agreed to take over the title on the city property along the east side of Interstate 10 south of Broadway, where a new arena once was planned.

• Approved a budget for fiscal year 2014. Rio Nuevo expects to receive $12.5 million and spend $10.5 million.

On StarNet: View renderings of the proposed TCC renovation at

Contact reporter Becky Pallack at or 573-4251. On Twitter @BeckyPallack