Rio Nuevo’s finances and accomplishments have been given a glowing review by auditors for the state who noted “truly exceptional” improvements since a similar 2013 audit.
The district has been recovering from a less than stellar reputation with some state officials and lawmakers. The audit, however, says the district has been successful in bringing in new investment to downtown Tucson. It was done by Johnson Consulting under contract with the Auditor General’s Office.
Among the accomplishments highlighted in the 85-page report: major renovation the Tucson Convention Center arena; construction of the 136-room Marriott Hotel; landing the headquarters for Caterpillar’s surface mining branch; and refinancing of bonds from 2008, that saved the agency about $5.4 million.
“The accomplishments of the District in the latest performance audit period are truly exceptional as some actions taken by the District have allowed for major projects to advance in the District and have also improved the long-term outlook for the Tucson Convention Center,” auditors wrote.
The report, however, says downtown Tucson still needs more hotels and additional renovations to the TCC, which have been estimated to cost at least $100 million.
Rio Nuevo Chairman Fletcher McCusker said he is thrilled with the audit. It validates the current board’s efforts to shed its tarnished image from 2010, he said.
McCusker said he expects to use the new report to talk with the city of Tucson, state lawmakers and other partners about bringing additional revenue to the Rio Nuevo coffers.
The district, McCusker said, has its hands tied regarding new development because it is using a large percentage of its revenue to pay off bond debt.
“Unfortunately, however, we remain significantly hobbled by the approximate $70 million of debt remaining from the prior administration,” McCusker said in a letter to the state auditor.
The TCC remains a top priority for Rio Nuevo. McCusker said he is working with developers to bring in new projects downtown.
The report demonstrates what can be achieved regarding revitalization, said Tucson City Manager Mike Ortega, noting Rio Nuevo worked closely with the city.
“Working together we can accomplish some great things for our downtown,” he said.
Ortega said he is aware of current conversations with developers to bring new, not-yet-announced projects to the area as well as the possible redevelopment of now-closed Hotel Arizona.
The TCC would benefit from those additional hotels, he says. Some concert promoters and other larger events have shied away from booking at the TCC because of the relatively small number of hotel rooms nearby.