Downtown property owner Allan Norville is taking another swing at building a new downtown hotel and exhibition center.
The Rio Nuevo board voted unanimously Monday night to open negotiations with Norville for the joint development of an up-to-250-room hotel and an exhibition hall across from the Tucson Convention Center, on the west side of Granada Avenue.
The talks mark the latest attempt by Norville to build a hotel on his property near the Tucson Convention Center.
Norville, who owns nearly all the private property between the TCC and Interstate 10, has been offering hotel and exhibition hall proposals since 1995. But none has progressed beyond the planning stage.
Still, Rio Nuevo Chairman Fletcher McCusker believes this latest attempt deserves a chance.
"This could be a significant opportunity for the community and Rio Nuevo," McCusker said at Monday's board meeting.
The plan is to jointly develop Rio Nuevo's 8.5-acre property where the current Greyhound Depot sits and the adjacent land owned by Norville's company Nor-Generations LLC, much of which is now used for parking or temporary exhibit halls for the Tucson Gem & Mineral Shows.
Together the two parcels could be the site for:
• a 140-250 room hotel;
• an exhibition hall;
• a parking garage for 1,200 vehicles;
• a mixed-use area with homes, shops, restaurants and access to the new streetcar line.
Although McCusker and board members Alberto Moore and Chris Sheafe have been involved in "extensive conversations" with Norville about the hotel idea, few specifics exist on costs or if any national hotel chains are interested.
"Right now, it's all conceptual," McCusker said. "It's really early. We just want to have the discussions to see what's (doable)."
Norville was out of town and could not be reached for comment.
McCusker said he hopes to have more details on the project by the board's July meeting.
Norville's past proposals:
• In 1995 Norville had plans for a hotel and 60,000-square-foot exhibit hall, but was thwarted when the federal government condemned a third of the site for a new courthouse.
• In 2005 similar plans were rejected by the city because they conflicted with a now-defunct city plan for a public plaza that would have taken another piece of his property.
• In 2007, he responded to a Rio Nuevo solicitation for hotel proposals with plans for a 450-room hotel for $101 million with a future add-on of 300 rooms for $111 million, but lost out to another bidder, whose contract was subsequently cancelled by Rio Nuevo.
• Early last year Norville was privately invited to make another hotel pitch to city and Rio Nuevo officials behind closed doors, but that plan got bogged down in controversy over the secret session and the fight between the city and Rio Nuevo over financial issues.
Under the draft terms adopted Monday, Norville would be responsible for developing a hotel and exhibit hall. Rio Nuevo would fix a drainage issue that the TCC property creates, build a new intersection at South Granada Avenue and Cushing Street, construct, or find someone to construct, a 1,200-space parking lot, and develop a space for retail, dining, residential and pedestrian uses all within easy access to the streetcar line.
But everything's still in the nascent stages. All the board has done is authorized talks. Any agreement must return to the board for approval. Even then it wouldn't be final since the City Council must sign off an any deal.
A new hotel could induce the Gem Show to keep its annual event in Tucson.
Many have fretted the lack of a downtown hotel could cause the annual gathering of gem shows to leave the area someday.
But a new hotel and hall could decrease the likelihood Tucson's most profitable event bolts for another location, Moore said during Monday's meeting.
Norville's property is currently used for the shows as a site for large tents that serve as temporary exhibition space.
With Norville's track record though, some are taking a wait-and-see approach before prepping for any ribbon-cutting ceremony.
"Mr. Norville's plan could be something very beneficial to the area," said Councilman Paul Cunningham. "But he's been talking about this for a long time, so we'll wait and see if it comes to fruition."
If Rio Nuevo does eventually approve a deal, the district must give Greyhound one year's notice, and the city will be on the hook for relocation costs.
On StarNet: See artist's renderings of a proposed $7.8 million renovation of the Tucson Convention Center at azstarnet.com/gallery
"Mr. Norville's plan could be something very beneficial to the area. But he's been talking about this for a long time, so we'll wait and see if it comes to fruition."
Paul Cunningham, Tucson city councilman