I am not sure whether to beam with pride or hide in shame after making it into one of Fitz's cartoons on April 29. Then again, promoting the idea of a new arena with no anchor tenant could lend suspicion that I have indeed fallen off my rocker.
Convention centers bring tourism. Most communities of similar size to Tucson have superior facilities. If we choose not have a facility at all, we risk the gem show and potentially a drop in hotel occupancy. This leaves us with the questions: Should we have a Tucson Convention Center? What do we do with the existing TCC? What to do in a "dare to be great" situation?
If you believe Tucson should have a convention center, consider this: The TCC is divided into two operations - conventions and the arena. The convention piece handles the gem show, home show and various other meetings. The arena operation involves concerts, Wildcat hockey, Disney on Ice, wrestling and monster trucks. Thanks to a dedicated staff and conservative management, the losses are minimal. In its current condition, the TCC could be losing as much as $15 million a year.
But the TCC runs a deficit of $6 million a year. This deficit is caused mainly because the arena lacks the seating and amenities necessary to attract any top-tier, large-revenue-yielding shows such as Bruce Springsteen, Dave Matthews or U2. It also lacks the amenities to attract a monthly featured second-tier show. Last year only two such concerts took place; both were booked at the TCC due to scheduling issues in other cities. Most markets Tucson's size attract at least one show that size per month.
One glaring issue is that the arena does not have a ceiling high enough for most professional stages to fit into. Moreover, the arena needs new bathrooms, dressing rooms, security measures and a new loading door, and needs to be rewired for pay per view. It has antiquated systems regarding energy and water efficiency. Finally, it generates zero luxury-suite revenue, now a standard amenity in any modern facility. Despite this, the arena performs better financially than the convention operation.
The convention piece lacks the necessary standard high-tech meeting space, exhibit space and amenities to be effective. The bottom line is we have a square-footage and resources problem. There are times when the convention enterprise forces a shutdown of the arena, and vice versa. An example is when a show is using the exhibit and arena space and a concert wants to book the date. Result: No concert revenue.
Another example: Disney on Ice is in the arena and takes up one-third of the exhibit space for storing props, stages, etc. In doing this they also lock up the loading bay that accesses the exhibit space. Result: No exhibit space rental.
Above that, there are a substantial number of potential convention-business customers who do not even consider Tucson due to us not having the meeting-space and technology requirements.
All of this, along with not having a viable on-site hotel, has limited out-of-town business to the point that it is a miracle we only lose $6 million a year. The shortage of space, amenities and the condition of the finances, coupled with the gem show requesting an upgrade, makes my answer to the second question "The TCC needs an upgrade."
Now, ask what to do in a "dare to be great" situation.
Paul Cunningham is a Tucson city councilman representing Ward 2.