Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley completely misses the point in her op-ed on Rio Nuevo published March 21. The Rio Nuevo Multipurpose Facilities District has been an essential leader in the incredible revitalization that has already occurred in downtown Tucson in recent years.

The resulting benefits so far are many and widespread: Well-paying jobs have been created, property values and sales-tax revenues have increased, major employers have relocated, historic properties saved, cultural and community facilities improved and expanded and, perhaps most importantly, the entire community has united behind a common, shared vision.

While there may have been problems in the past, the more recent reports of the Arizona Auditor General confirm that Rio Nuevo is being managed with integrity and fiscal responsibility. Taxpayer resources are being used strategically and for the benefit of the entire community.

The combined efforts of Rio Nuevo, Pima County, the city of Tucson, organizations such as the Downtown Tucson Partnership and the private sector have resulted in a remarkable transformation of what, 15 years ago, was a lonely, desolate and unattractive eyesore.

Notably, the very special and unique character of our downtown is being protected whenever possible.

Eleven years ago, TREO, our regional economic development agency (now known as Sun Corridor Inc.) unveiled its economic blueprint following a broad-based, community-wide survey process that involved thousands of residents from across the region. The blueprint lays out specific actions required in order to create a strong, sustainable, competitive economy that provides well-paying jobs and prosperity for the entire community.

It recognizes that, “Any community’s downtown is not only its outward face, but an integral component of its economic heart and soul. Tucson ... desperately needs a vibrant downtown that includes a robust balance of office workers, residents, cultural/entertainment venues and important linkages with the University of Arizona. A bustling downtown ... is needed to attract young, in-demand, skilled workers who enjoy urban living, active entertainment options and are known to select the community in which they want to live even before they select a job.”

By every measure, we are achieving these goals, and Rio Nuevo has been and must continue to be an integral part of this effort.

Here is just a partial list of the economic, cultural, and community successes we have enjoyed with the support of Rio Nuevo (and many others):

  • Caterpillar is relocating hundreds of people to its Tucson Mining Center downtown, bringing 600 well-paying jobs to the community.
  • The Tucson Convention Center has been completely renovated and modernized.
  • Arts and entertainment venues such as the Fox Theatre and Rialto Theatre have been improved and stabilized.
  • Hexagon Mining is relocating its international headquarters to downtown.
  • Several historic buildings are being saved and repurposed.
  • Commercial and residential development are occurring on the west side of downtown.
  • Downtown hotels (which are essential to any commercial, cultural and entertainment hub) have been built and are under consideration.

Rio Nuevo must be permitted to continue its mission. The cost is small and the benefits to the entire region great. It would be a mistake to impede the exciting momentum and collective efforts that exist for a truly great downtown that will benefit us all.

This column was updated April 3 to reflect that Caterpillar is relocating about 600 people to Tucson for its Tucson Mining Center. Its corporate headquarters is in Deerfield, Illinois.

Lawrence Hecker is the former chair of the TREO Economic Blueprint Steering Committee and a board member of the Downtown Tucson Partnership.