Rodent droppings and dead cockroaches near a soda fountain and its uncovered reservoir full of ice.
Dead mice in a concession area.
A chained and padlocked emergency exit.
Those are just a handful of the nearly 100 violations at the Tucson Convention Center a city inspection team uncovered during an Oct. 24 review of the arena.
While exposed electrical wires and fire hazards were discovered throughout the TCC, the most disturbing findings for visitors may have been those in the areas for which the city’s concession and catering contractor, Aramark, is responsible.
Overall, Aramark was responsible for about a third of all violations revealed in the inspection.
In addition to its rodent and cockroach problems, some of its other violations included hazardous materials and waste improperly stored or disposed of, buckets filled with old mop water left standing around, and rooms where debris and filth were allowed to accumulate.
An Aramark spokesman said the company is committed to quality service and has taken steps to remedy the issues.
“We have rigorous processes in place to ensure the food served at Tucson Convention Center is of the highest quality and prepared within the safest environment possible,” David Freireich said in an email. “The issues raised in the audit were addressed and receive our continued attention.”
Although Aramark got nicked in the city’s review, it passed two Pima County Health Department inspections in October with flying colors.
The first was on Oct. 10, the second Oct. 18. In total, the Health Department inspected nine concessions at the TCC and handed out eight “excellent” ratings and one “good” rating.
As for the discrepancy between the city and county findings, Jeff Terrell, Pima County Consumer Health and Food Safety Program manager, said his department only checks the concession areas in use during an event at the TCC.
“If they don’t have all of them open at the same time, we might not have access to some areas,” Terrell said.
Regardless of the particulars, City Manager Richard Miranda said the city acted swiftly once Aramark’s violations were revealed.
“The city has taken strong and immediate action to remedy the matter,” Miranda wrote in an email. “We will monitor the situation closely, and if matters are not corrected to our satisfaction we will terminate our relationship with the vendor.”
That could happen as soon as March.
Aramark signed a five-year contract in March 2011, but the city has the option to renew or cancel it annually.
Interim TCC Director Sharon Allen said she’s already conveyed to Aramark that she will take into account the company’s “readiness and willingness” to remedy the problems when it comes time to renew.
“We are going to hold them accountable to the terms of the contract,” said Allen, who took over control of the TCC in mid-November. “We think they understand our message loud and clear. And they gave us every indication” they would fix the problems.
Allen said she treats every violation in the report seriously and expects each defect listed in the TCC report will be corrected by the end-of-January deadline.
At least one City Council member thinks Aramark should have to re-earn the city’s trust and, at a minimum, be forced to rebid on the project.
“We’ve got a new management team in place, and I’m sure they’ll use the inspection to kick some butt,” said Steve Kozachik. “But the fact remains that a food-service operation with inspection reports like that doesn’t deserve to be rewarded with another year’s extension.”
Kozachik suggested since the city is about to search for a private manager anyway, it might as well start over with a blank slate and allow a management team to bid on running every aspect of the TCC, not just managing the arena.
If that eventually happens, Kozachik said, the city should place Aramark on a month-to-month lease beginning in March.