Rio Nuevo can breathe easily now that its statutory audit is behind it for another three years.
The board voted unanimously Tuesday afternoon to accept the Arizona Office of the Auditor General’s conclusions in its recent audit of district finances.
“They recognized the work that we’ve done to get on top of our finances and get the house in order,” said Rio Nuevo Chairman Fletcher McCusker.
The audit, performed by C.H. Johnson Consulting, determined the district is financially stable and praised the current board for ending its fight with the city and pulling the district out of disarray.
“We think your administration is in order and we don’t think you have any more basis for the negative comments and criticism because of the way you organized your funding and your finances,” said Charles Johnson, president of C.H. Johnson Consulting. “It’s a clean bill of health.”
Johnson said while the district needs to continue making sure businesses in the district fill out the proper forms so the district can maximize its tax revenues, the audit can be construed as a “clean slate” for the board as it moves forward.
Another issue raised by the audit was whether the district can accomplish one of its primary goals of significantly improving Tucson Convention Center.
Johnson said the audit looked at various convention centers across the country and compared their features and amenities to those of the TCC.
The TCC finished at the bottom in most categories, Johnson said.
To lift the TCC off the bottom rung, it will take around $100 million to transform the center into a legitimate contender for convention and concert dollars, Johnson said.
With the district projected to take in about $55 million before it expires in 2025, that leaves a $40 million to $50 million gap to fill.
Johnson recommended a regional approach where the city, county and district hash out a comprehensive plan to finance the ambitious renovation.
McCusker said it wasn’t a surprise that money is the big issue as the district moves forward and intends to pursue a local approach to fixing the TCC and completing other projects.
“We cannot expect the state to be the sugar daddy,” McCusker said. “We’re going to have to find a way collectively to deal with these abandoned projects, and the TCC is one of them. … How are we going to finish the job? I think that’s the question now.”