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Fletcher McCusker: Rio Nuevo forging ahead with more economic improvements
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Fletcher McCusker: Rio Nuevo forging ahead with more economic improvements

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I have missed only one Roadrunner hockey game since the opening day sellout. The Rio Nuevo board is proud that we provided funds for Tucson Convention Center improvements that helped attract the team to Tucson.

The first game brought 6,750 fans downtown, but there have been plenty of empty seats since. After a recent Saturday game, which Tucson won in overtime, I was chatting at a streetcar stop with a local contractor who had never attended a hockey game before.

“I got a ticket from my insurance broker,” he said. “That was the most exciting thing I have seen in a long time.”

He was headed downtown on the streetcar. “I never go out,” he told my wife and me, “but I love our downtown now.”

There are two lessons here: Every company in Tucson should be buying hockey tickets and sharing them with clients and employees. It is a great way to encourage company and community loyalty and is not at all expensive.

The other lesson follows from what we now know about our downtown visitors: Every time someone comes downtown, he or she spends an extra $30. If we average 5,000 tickets per hockey game, that is 135,000 people that otherwise would not likely be downtown, an economic upside of over $4 million in six months.

This is what Rio Nuevo is supposed to be doing: Investing state tax dollars in public and public-private projects to create a vibrant Tucson city center.

The Arizona auditor general audit of the Rio Nuevo District, released last month and posted on, said that for the first time in Rio Nuevo history, the district is in 100 percent compliance with state statutes and that the board has leveraged state tax dollars by almost 10-to-one.

For every dollar the board invests, the community reaps $10 of construction activity with projects like the AC Marriott hotel, the Arena, Greyhound, the Mercado Annex, City Park, the Marist project and the Chicago Store, and others.

Rio Nuevo has accomplished this by creating public-private partnerships with the city of Tucson, private developers, banks, private equity and real estate investment firms.

City leadership deserves considerable credit as well for the turnaround: new incentives, expedited development services, a more responsive City Council and a very competent city manager who also sees the value in collaboration.

The auditor general audit looked back three years. Since the audit was released, the board:

  • Approved inv
  • es
  • ting up to $4.4 million dollars in the restoration of the Chicago Store, the Arizona Hotel on Sixth Avenue, Bring’s Chapel on South Scott, and 123 South Stone. Each will be a mix of retail, food and beverage establishments, which the developers — Peach Properties and Dabdoub Investments — estimate will create more than $1.3 million of direct tax benefit annually within the Rio Nuevo District. The projected value of the properties upon completion will exceed $19 million
  • .
  • Agreed to advance $2.6 million of the $17 million city park project budget, now that developer Don Bourn says he has financing from Bank of Tucson, binding commitments for in excess of $5 million of private equity, and signed contractor and tenant agreements.
  • Released the Request for Qualifications to design the new Caterpillar building to be built on abandoned Rio Nuevo land west of the freeway.
  • Co-hosted the first state of downtown event, attracting more than 900 people to the TCC to hear from 37 individuals who are collaborating to make downtown thrive.

We have only just begun. Stay tuned.

Fletcher McCusker is the chairman of the Rio Nuevo Tax District. He was appointed by the president of the Arizona Senate and serves at his pleasure. Other board members are Jannie Cox, Jeff Hill, Mark Irvin, Edmund Marquez, Chris Sheafe and Cody Ritchie. Contact McCusker at

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