The Rio Nuevo Board is sitting on millions of dollars in public improvement bonds that are about to expire at the end of the month.
Board members aren't sure how much money is involved, but speculation has been in the $3 million range, or roughly the same amount needed to make critical repairs to the Tucson Convention Center bleachers and restrooms, which they've been haggling with the city over paying for.
When the newly configured Rio Nuevo Board members convene Tuesday, they will start trying to figure out exactly how much money is involved and what they should do with it. At this point, board members aren't even clear on exactly what they lose when the bonds expire.
"We have no idea who's on first base right now," board member Mark Irvin said last week. "Our district is rudderless. We do not have a mission statement (and) we don't have a business plan.
"We've got bond money that's going to be terming. ... I am not sure of the number, but it's in the millions," Irvin continued. "I am trying to get a handle on the exact amount and the day it will term and what we are going to do with it."
The total confusion over the funds underscores the problems that existed under the Jodi Bain-led board, said new board member Fletcher McCusker.
"I don't know that the prior board or board leadership had any plans in place," McCusker said. "But as an observer, it's been a real challenge to identify the resources available to Rio Nuevo. ... And that's the real mystery to me right now is: Where is the money, how much money do we have, how much is incoming and what's the forecast? Once we understand that, how do we prioritize what will probably be very limited dollars to affect downtown development?"
McCusker said he hopes the information will be available by Tuesday so the board can start addressing the issue.
In addition to the money issue, Irvin said, he would like the board to look at a number of other issues, including establishing an agenda committee, holding officer elections, renaming the board and resolving the lawsuit against the city.
"I would like to resolve (the lawsuit), and I would like to get on the same page with them," he said. "We have a whole new group there, and we have a whole new group with us. We should be able sit down, and not just one-on-one or two-on-two. Let's have an open-forum meeting and have everybody on mayor and council and everybody on the district board sitting across the table having a discussion about how do we solve all of these issues and move forward."
Irvin's overtures, and the new board's immediate action on the myriad issues facing it, are welcome news to City Councilman Steve Kozachik, a steadfast critic of Rio Nuevo.
"It's a positive sign. This shows that the new board is serious about getting things done," Kozachik said. "This is exactly the kind of thing that could have happened two years ago when the Jodi Bain board was seated. I've been saying for 2 1/2 years they have bond money that they can spend. Let's use it for the purposes for which it was intended, and that would be the (Tucson Convention Center)."
Irvin agreed and said "this would make a great opportunity to put that money back into the convention center."
As for the new tone at Rio Nuevo, new board member Chris Sheafe said he will make establishing and maintaining communication with the public and the city one of his main priorities during his tenure.
"If communication was less than ideal in the old structure, then that's just something we want to make sure we fix," Sheafe said. "I can say categorically that I will be very strong on ... that whatever information we develop, it will be made available. ... We will open up.
"We will move forward and we will make good choices," Sheafe continued. "If there were problems that were created in the past by staff or a misdirection of funds, those problems can be worked out by whoever it is that has the authority over that. Our job is to take the resources we have and move this ball as effectively as possible down the road and end up with something to show for it."
Contact reporter Darren DaRonco at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4243.