The Rio Nuevo Board of Directors took no action Tuesday on proposals by two downtown developers for competing $100 million-plus projects .
Each developer hopes to win the chance to build their projects on about 8.5 acres of Rio Nuevo district land near the Tucson Convention Center.
Although the talk lasted over three hours, the board voted 3-2 to take a few days to think about how members will individually score the proposals and to submit their results by Monday.
The board will then vote on whether to open negotiations with a winner at its next meeting.
Last month, board members ranked the proposals submitted by Allan Norville, manager of Nor-Generations, and Ron Schwabe of Peach Properties to develop the land behind the TCC along Granada Avenue, east of Interstate 10 and north of Cushing Street.
Both proposals included plans for a hotel, parking garage and some mix of apartments, office space, and restaurants and shops.
Norville’s plan also included a visual arts center that will contain three museums and a theater.
While Norville’s proposal edged out Schwabe’s 5,290 to 5,115 in the initial scoring, board members decided it was too close to settle on a winner and set up the public interviews.
On Tuesday, both sides expounded on how their projects were best-suited to transform the parcel into a vibrant entertainment district.
Norville, who owns about 10 acres adjacent to the property, said he hasn’t developed his property because of all the uncertainty surrounding it throughout the years.
“We have been through five condemnations. Every time we have tried to start something, the city initiated an action,” Norville said.
Despite the obstacles, Norville said he still managed to build the biggest gem show in town.
Schwabe, who still has a $1.9 million claim pending over a previous city solicitation to develop the same property in 2009 that was later withdrawn, said he would dismiss the claim if he is the winning bidder.
When pressed by board member Alberto Moore, Schwabe wouldn’t say what he would do with the claim if he lost, only that he would have to confer with his attorney before making a decision.
The board members will now re-rank the presentations and combine the results with their first scores.
The board will vote on whether to open contract talks with the winner at a future meeting.
Even though the board decided to delay scoring the proposals, one member didn’t want to wait to reveal his preference, and in the process may have violated Rio Nuevo rules.
Prior to taking a vote, Moore asked to make a statement.
After about five minutes of speaking about how the site could become Tucson’s version of Rockefeller Center in New York City or St. Mark’s Plaza in Venice, Italy, Moore announced Norville’s project should be the hands-down winner.
Moore said the property fits what Rio Nuevo is looking for and “can become the true urban heart of Tucson.”
Chairman Fletcher McCusker stopped Moore mid-speech over a potential rules violation.
“Our rules are pretty tight, and my instincts were he had gone too far,” McCusker said after the meeting.
Rio Nuevo’s attorney, Chris Schmaltz, explained that Rio Nuevo’s rules prohibit board members from influencing one another in the middle of a bidding competition.
“You should be having no conversation with anyone, proposer or otherwise, who is attempting to influence your scoring,” Schmaltz said.
Unlike the city, where elected officials can vote only on final bids, Rio Nuevo’s board members both evaluate and vote on them.
The board adopted specific rules to avoid charges it’s process was unfair. Violating the rule could provide grounds for a bidder protest.
Schmaltz said Moore was treading into dangerous territory and cautioned him to stop.
Moore disagreed and invoked his constitutional rights to free expression.
“I have a right as a citizen of this community to speak up,” Moore said.
“I expect to continue my presentation. If nobody likes it, too bad,” Moore said.
After about 10 minutes of arguing with Schmaltz and board members, Moore relented.