Guest Column: Plan to put university on El Rio Golf Course is no longer worth pursuing

2013-05-28T00:00:00Z Guest Column: Plan to put university on El Rio Golf Course is no longer worth pursuingVice Mayor Regina Romero Special To The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Grand Canyon University recently expressed interest in locating a new campus in Tucson, potentially at El Rio Golf Course, which has been operating at a loss for years.

Some people have asked me why I would be willing to hear the proposal.

Here's why: Tucson is the sixth-poorest city in the country. Twenty-five percent of our citizens and 30 percent of our children live in poverty. Half of our single moms live in poverty. At the same time, only 25 percent of Tucsonans have college degrees, even though people with a college education earn 80 percent more money.

These difficult economic realities impact every decision I make as an elected official. That's why I have been aggressively pursuing a jobs- and economic-development agenda on the Tucson City Council, and that's why I continue to shine a light on nearly $8 million in golf operating debt, $4.2 million of which has been generated at El Rio Golf Course.

While I have decided to withdraw my support for pursuing Grand Canyon University's new location at El Rio, I want to explain the history of my initial support and why I feel providing good new job opportunities is so important for our community.

Forty years ago, west-side residents marched onto the exclusive greens and fairways at El Rio, demanding their fair share of investment in the community.

After much struggle, the city of Tucson responded and built Joaquin Murrieta Park to the west of the golf course and El Rio Neighborhood Center to the east.

Today Joaquin Murrieta Park needs more than $5 million in capital improvements. Pools are closed across the city. Recreation centers are operating on limited hours.

Yet El Rio's green fairways remain off-limits to those who can't afford to play, and it continues to rack up losses.

The debate over golf started more than a year ago, with the City Council voting unanimously to work with the community on multiple, simultaneous approaches to address the losses at two of the five city courses, El Rio and Fred Enke. Approaches include seeking out private management, asking for funds from the Conquistadores, and turning El Rio into a nine-hole course and park, to name a few.

We are pursuing all of these options, and since October I have publicly expressed support for different proposals in an attempt to find a solution.

At a time when so many of our services are suffering, the status quo of taxpayer-subsidized golf is unacceptable.

City staff suggested El Rio as a site for Grand Canyon University because it fit their description of a city property between 75 and 100 acres. Early financial estimates said the university's expansion could create more than 1,000 jobs at salaries averaging $60,000. Over the next five years, it could bring more than $500 million in growth to Tucson's economy.

Despite the many positives of Grand Canyon's move to El Rio, I have always believed in listening to everyone. After hearing sincere concerns from my friends, allies and colleagues on this issue, I have decided against pursuing the opportunity further.

It is my hope that in the future the conversation about economic opportunities for our community can continue in a healthy, open-minded and inclusive way.

I will continue to seek out jobs and economic opportunities that make sense for my ward and the city.

I don't want Tucson to be known for its poverty. I want Tucson to be known for its beautiful Sonoran Desert, arts, culture and high-wage, long-term jobs.

Ward 1's Regina Romero represents the west side, south side and downtown on the Tucson City Council. She is also serving as Tucson's vice mayor. Follow her on Twitter @TucsonRomero or Facebook.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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