A worker pieces together the roof of the Tucson Convention Center as part of the renovation taking place on Friday, Aug 29. The renovation consists of new upper seating, sound panels, lighting, and ceiling tile. Photo taken: Friday August 29, 2014 Photo by Briana Sanchez / For the Arizona Daily Star

Tucson Convention Center’s long-neglected kitchen will soon receive upgrades as part of Rio Nuevo’s $7.8 million makeover of the dilapidated arena.

The board voted unanimously Wednesday afternoon to tack on an additional $300,000 to its existing renovation contract to fix plumbing, cabinets, ceilings, walls, floors, and equipment problems in the main kitchen and concession areas caused by years of city neglect.

Rio Nuevo’s current project involves replacing the arena’s seats, overhauling restrooms and transforming the TCC into a more inviting venue to attract more shows and customers.

Although the kitchen renovation will become part of Rio Nuevo’s broader TCC facelift, the city is picking up the tab even though it will deplete its emergency expense fund for the rest of the fiscal year.

After years of ignoring maintenance needs and run-ins with the health department, the city had to fix the kitchen to align with health and safety standards.

“It’s had problems with the health department and, like everything else down there, probably hasn’t had maintenance on it in years,” said Rio Neuvo Chairman Fletcher McCusker. “Now they are going to bring it up to code.”

The fastest way to do that was through Rio Nuevo.

“They asked if they could piggy-back on the contract and they would pay for everything,” McCusker said. “This is the quickest way for them to do it since we already have a very capable contractor in place.”

The kitchen fixes will occur sometime in mid- to late December after the other repairs are completed, said Elaine Becherer, assistant to the city manager and the TCC’s project manager.


The kitchen repairs will wipe out the city’s contingency fund just three months into this fiscal year.

The contingency fund is what the city sets aside each year to cover unexpected expenses. This year’s fund was set at $250,000.

Critics at the time said it was foolish to think a city with a roughly $1.2 billion budget could last 12 months with only $250,000 in unanticipated costs.

But with steep cuts to departments and other cost- saving measures required to balance the budget, the city had little left for contingencies.

Now with an empty fund, any unexpected expenses that arise over the next nine months will likely be funded by cuts to departments and services or through unexpected savings or revenue.

The extra $50,000 to cover the TCC kitchen repairs will come from savings on medical insurance contracts.

The council will vote on spending its contingency fund at its Oct. 9 meeting.


In other TCC news, Wednesday marked the first day of private management for the arena.

SMG, one of largest venue management companies in the nation, took the helms and will now attempt to turn around the struggling arena’s fortunes.

The city will pay the company $135,000 a year, plus the company can earn incentive fees up to the annual base amount.

As for the 19 TCC employees, 11 landed in other city departments, three were hired by SMG, three choose retirement and two were still in limbo as of last week.

The contract expires June 30, 2015, but can be renewed in one-year increments for 10 years.

Contact reporter Darren DaRonco at 573-4243 or ddaronco@tucson.com. Follow on Twitter @DarrenDaRonco