After a controversial scoring process, the Rio Nuevo board decided to open negotiations with the developer of a proposed $100 million project that promises to transform a barren 8ƒ-acre parcel into a western downtown gateway.
The board voted, 5-1, to enter into negotiations with Allan Norville, manager of Nor-Generations, for the company to purchase and develop Rio Nuevo land behind the Tucson Convention Center along Granada Avenue, east of Interstate 10 and north of Cushing Street.
Norville’s plans include a 140-room hotel, a 96-unit apartment complex and visual arts center, housing three museums — gem and mineral, photography and art — and a theater.
Norville will also build a 120,000-square-foot exhibition hall on his own property next to the Rio Nuevo land. Norville offered to pay about $5.6 million to the district for the land.
A trio of board members and the board attorneys will now open talks with Norville to hash out a deal.
Before it can take effect, the entire board must vote on it.
If the two sides can’t settle on a deal, the board can negotiate with the other bidder, Ron Schwabe of Peach Properties.
Schwabe’s plan also contained a hotel, apartments and a mix of restaurants and shops.
Some criticized the board’s process to score the two proposals.
Unlike other government bodies, where elected officials can vote only on final bids, Rio Nuevo’s board adopted rules that allow members to both evaluate and vote on proposals.
Rio Nuevo Chairman Fletcher McCusker said the board adopted those rules to avoid charges its process was unfair and keep it transparent.
Although Norville edged out Schwabe in the first round of scoring 5,290 points to 5,115, board members felt it was too close to call and ordered public interviews.
During the interview, board member Alberto Moore announced he preferred Norville’s proposal before he scored the two.
Rio Nuevo rules forbid members from talking to each other about a proposal until they’ve been scored and are up for a vote.
Compounding the matter, Moore then scored Norville’s project a perfect 1,000 points and Schwabe’s only 70 points.
On Tuesday, board member Mark Irvin said Moore’s “shenanigans” had “tainted” the entire process and stacked the deck for Norville. Irvin implied Moore shared some type of relationship with Norville over the years that influenced his vote and called on the Arizona Attorney General’s Office to investigate.
Norville’s attorney, Michael Rusing, denied that any personal or financial ties between Moore and Norville existed.
Rusing said even if Moore was discounted, a majority of the board still supported Norville’s proposal over Schwabe’s.
“You could take any one board member out of the process, the result would still be the same: Nor-Gen wins,” Rusing said. “To try and scapegoat somebody and suggest there’s a taint in the process is unfair to Nor-Gen and the board member.”
McCusker said he felt Rio Nuevo’s rules hadn’t been violated even though members took an oath to score proposals objectively.
While the board could have voted to ditch the process and start over, McCusker said that option wasn’t warranted.
“If Alberto had been out there himself and skewed the scores when everybody else wanted Peach, we’d have a different outcome,” McCusker said. “But we had a lot of people that ranked Norville first.”
Four of the six board members who scored the proposals favored Norville at some point.
Moore apologized during the meeting and said he never intended to possibly violate any rules by publicly supporting Norville.
Schwabe’s attorney said they hadn’t discussed whether to file a protest over the vote.
They have 10 days to file one.