Rio Nuevo received a bit of good news this week when the Arizona Office of the Auditor General released its most recent audit of district finances.
The audit, performed by C.H. Johnson Consulting, found the downtown improvement district is financially solvent, and stable, but questioned whether the district will bring in enough money over the remaining 12 years of its life to dramatically improve the Tucson Convention Center.
The auditors praised the current board members and complimented them on the “significant improvement” the district has experienced since the last audit about three years ago.
Most of the kudos centered on ending the fight with the city and getting in line with most state statutes, something the current board strived for since it formed in June 2012.
“We’re pleased with the report,” said Rio Nuevo chairman Fletcher McCusker. “It shows we’re on track with the legislative mandates and getting back to basics with the Tucson Convention Center and area hotel.”
McCusker said the current board has worked hard to open up its books to the public to regain trust .
“Hopefully, if people know what we are doing, that we’re on top of things, that we’re posting our expenses in real time so people can stay on top of them, it will give us the credibility with the various people who we need to partner with so we can focus on the TCC,” McCusker said.
While Rio Neuvo is on solid financial ground and will remain solvent through its 2025 expiration date, the report cast doubt on whether the district could make any significant impacts on the TCC and surrounding downtown area.
“We conclude that the District, as currently structured, cannot address the capital needs of the TCC,” the report read. “We estimate that addressing needs at the TCC, plus incentives to adjacent hotels, will cost $100 million or more.”
The report projected Rio Nuevo would reap about $55 million by 2025 which would put it about $40 to $50 million short if it wanted to transform the TCC into a nationally competitive arena.
If the district doesn’t want to pursue an ambitious TCC renovation, the report recommended Rio Nuevo should spend its time keeping costs down and applying its available resources to select TCC improvements and modest downtown projects.
McCusker intends to use the audits findings as clarion call to see if the community is interested in creating a first-class arena or is content with the current mediocre one.
“It said you can just keep limping along or you guys can get serious about it and raise some money,” McCusker said. “We’ll see how people respond to that … But it does compel people to have the conversation . If you want a state-of-the-art facility, how are we going to get there?”
Since the Legislature won’t be dumping cash in Tucson’s lap anytime soon to pay for those improvements, McCusker said, any solution will likely come from a partnership among the city, Pima County and private interests.
“I’m going to get that conversation started immediately … and see what we can do,” he said.