It is a troubling reflection of the adversarial relationship between the city of Tucson and the state-appointed Rio Nuevo Board that no one knows how much money Rio Nuevo has or how it can be spent.
Rio Nuevo is synonymous with failure in Tucson, and its story is one marked by public officials disregarding the intent of voters. Whether it is abandoning the original vision of Rio Nuevo for glitzier ideas, the roughly $230 million spent with very little to show, an FBI investigation, the Rainbow Bridge or so many other failed projects and concepts, the takeaway of Rio Nuevo is that officials abandoned the public's trust.
Given this history, at the very least, one would expect the city and the state-appointed Rio Nuevo Board, which took over the troubled district in 2010, would work to provide the public with at least a ballpark figure for the beleaguered development district's finances. But two years after the state Legislature and governor appointed the current board, the public still can't get a direct and clear answer about how much money Rio Nuevo has or how it might be used.
This is problematic, unacceptable and a byproduct of the acrimony between the Rio Nuevo Board and the city.
This issue has come up yet again as City Councilman Steve Kozachik has publicly pushed for much-needed improvements to the Tucson Convention Center. Kozachik, relying on a 2010 audit of Rio Nuevo, has said there is $6.5 million left over from a 2008 bond measure and that revenues for the district have increased dramatically this year. Since $3 million of the bond funds were designated for the TCC, and since the state has required Rio Nuevo to focus on the TCC, Kozachik has contended that despite Rio Nuevo's larger problems, repair work can begin now because the money is there.
The city has identified $40 million in needed repairs for the Tucson Convention Center.
But Rio Nuevo board members have said they don't know how much money is left over from the $78 million in bonds the city approved in late 2008. They question the $6.5 million figure, and have even said they are unclear how many accounts Rio Nuevo has with Wells Fargo, which is its trustee. They have described city record keeping as shoddy and incomprehensible, and they have noted that Rio Nuevo's auditors would not sign off on the district's books because city records were so poor that financials could not be verified.
Discussions often devolve into the city versus Rio Nuevo or personal ambitions of council members and board members. What gets lost is the public's interest.
The joint task force Rio Nuevo and the city have created - albeit while disparaging each other - to address the needed TCC repairs is a good first step toward preserving the public's interest as long as the two sides can limit the acrimony.
It's clear the TCC is in need of some major repairs, and that should be a priority. And for this, we appreciate Kozachik's efforts to bring those needed repairs into the public discussion.
But given Rio Nuevo's history, we think it's important to understand how much money Rio Nuevo actually has, both overall and from the bond package, before it starts spending money on repairs. The public deserves to have a clear financial picture - or at least a ballpark figure - before millions of dollars are committed. And it deserves to have that information in the next few months.
Given Rio Nuevo's history, this is the least the Rio Nuevo Board and the city can do for the public.
Arizona Daily Star