Tucson's Rio Nuevo downtown redevelopment district was beset by management problems, a lack of oversight and weak internal controls that led a majority of its project to lie incomplete despite more than $230 million spent, a much-anticipated audit obtained by the Arizona Daily Star shows.
While the audit, conducted by Los Angeles private auditor Crowe Horwath for the Auditor General, is not the smoking gun some had expected, the 76-page report confirms that much of the money has been spent on planning or projects that stalled. Money also went to projects - that while not illegal - were not in the spirit of Rio Nuevo's mission. And the city's financial record keeping was disorganized, making tracking the spending nearly-impossible.
The audit's findings mirror those made in Star investigations of Rio Nuevo over the past three years.
The audit is expected to be released to the city and public this week, said Rio Nuevo Chairwoman Jodi Bain. The final version of the audit may include elements not included in the final draft version the Star obtained.
The Rio Nuevo Board submitted their final comments on the audit to the Auditor General late this week.
Key findings in the audit include:
• Rio Nuevo completed only two of the 15 projects listed on the 1999 ballot - the Fox Theatre and the Presidio Wall.
• More than half of Rio Nuevo's projects are incomplete or on-hold.
• The city's Rio Nuevo financial data on projects was "abbreviated, incomplete and confusing."
• Money was spent on projects that were not-compliant with Rio Nuevo's mission.
• The city reimbursed the University of Arizona expenses related to the Science Center that were questionable and not allowed by state law.
• City charged Rio Nuevo excessive interest rates for the district's unpaid loan balances.
• The previous Rio Nuevo board failed in its financial oversight
"When viewed from a value-added perspective the current outcomes are unsatisfactory," the audit stated. "Only a small number of other projects - two theaters, underpass, roundabout, and the two TCC projects - are tangible, complete and recognized as such."
Read more in tomorrow's Star