Arizona Daily Star

Three months ago, the Pima County Sports and Tourism Authority was worrying about where to find the money and political support for a $50,000 study on the area's needs for sports facilities.

Its fears were unfounded. Pima County has agreed to give the group twice that amount, half for the study and half for operating expenses.

The Board of Supervisors will vote Tuesday to take the money from the board's contingency fund.

County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry previously expressed doubts about the authority's chances for success to win public support for spending tax money on sports and recreation facilities. Now he says he is "fairly comfortable they're on the right track."

Getting voters to approve a tax hike is tough, he said, but it's worth a try because it could help reinvigorate the tourism industry.

The authority was created in 2008 as part of a plan to save Major League Baseball spring training in Tucson. But only a handful of exhibition spring training games have been played here since.

These days the authority is looking at ways to spur economic development by funding projects to attract sports tourism dollars to Tucson, whether through professional sports or through youth and amateur tournaments that draw teams from across the nation to fill hotel rooms, rent cars and eat at restaurants.

Huckelberry said he is pleased that some members of the authority are recognizing professional baseball as a long shot and are ready to look at alternatives.

The authority plans to hire the Populous sports architecture firm to do a sports facilities needs assessment.

A study like that would typically cost at least $150,000, but Populous principal and Tucsonan Michael Halchak agreed to do the project for $49,000.

Huckelberry said that's less than it would cost the county to do the assessment in-house.

The under-$50,000 price also allows the county to use the "direct select" provision in its procurement rules instead of going through the standard competitive-bid process.

The final product of the study will be some concepts that decision-makers can use to decide whether and how to move forward, authority Chair Linda McNulty said.

Those concepts may or may not include professional baseball.

The county could use the study results to further its bond election, and the authority could use the results to help refine a referendum for the November 2014 ballot.

The group has only through 2014 to hold a referendum because the state legislation authorizing the vote will expire.

Authority board member John Grabo said the public will need to see more than concepts to approve a tax increase, including the potential economic impact for the tourism industry.

It can't be an "if you build it, they will come" sort of plan, he said, because "I think the taxpayers hold their nose on that sort of thing."

Besides paying for the study, Pima County also plans to give the authority $50,000 for operating expenses this fiscal year, including a possible economic impact analysis to flesh out the facilities study.

Tucson Padres contract extended

The Pima County Board of Supervisors approved a $70,000 contract with North County Baseball on Tuesday.

That keeps the Tucson Padres at the county's Kino Sports Complex for another year.

The agreement expires on Oct. 31, 2013, and it includes a $35,000 termination payment if the team leaves. The team is expected to be sold this year.

Contact reporter Becky Pallack at or 573-4346. On Twitter @BeckyPallack.