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Archive for April 11th, 2010

11th April
written by Arizona Kid

Welcome Up & Comers, we need your dreams and your leadership
By Christopher Clements, special for Inside Tucson Business
Published on Friday, April 09, 2010

“Desert sky, dream beneath the desert sky. Rivers run but soon run dry. We need new dreams tonight.” – “In God’s Country” by U2

It is a path traveled frequently by many citizens of the Tucson region. It is a path of perception; yet, exemplifies the stark reality of where the City of Tucson finds itself as it limps through 2010.

You drive through the center of the city and travel east on Grant Road toward Alvernon Way. You can’t help but notice the colorful graffiti, the abandoned buildings, the weeds on the side of the road and homes in disrepair. You turn left on Alvernon and cringe at the visions that are engulfing the core of the city. You pray that it were different. In 1970 Life magazine described East Speedway as the “ugliest street in America.” Over the past decade, portions of Grant Road might be described as the most depressing street in Tucson. Print this story
You continue north and pass Fort Lowell Road. Things begin to change. You are no longer on Alvernon but have been transported, magically, to East River Road. Buildings seem newer and the streets cleaner. Suddenly, you are on a scenic bridge with the white walls of the Jewish Community Center staring back at you and the Brandi Fenton Park ahead. The urban environment transforms.

Majestic homes rise out of the hills and the signs of blight ebb. You are no longer in the city, but in unincorporated Pima County. This Bridge has transported you to the Other Tucson which stretches north of the Rillito River along the foothills of the Catalina Mountains and further north to the vibrant, clean, community and business-friendly municipalities of Oro Valley and Marana.

You can do this experiment of sight and perception on any city road traveling north towards the Catalinas. Campbell Avenue, First Avenue or Oracle Road will all yield the same result as you cross a Bridge to the Other Tucson. Urban blight ebbs and scenic vistas abound. It works going in other directions, too (though without the bridge) east toward Vail and south to Sahuarita and Green Valley, for example.

The trip emphasizes the stark reality that Tucson proper is crumbling, while communities around it are thriving. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Tucson’s lack of attention to urban blight. In this regard, Tucson is becoming the Detroit of the Southwest. Joe Snell, president and CEO of Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities (TREO), likes to tell the story of how business leaders, while recruiting him, brought him to Tucson in the dead of night to avoid the stark and dreadful reality of a city that refuses to enforce its own ordinances with regard to blight.

Many here like to bemoan Phoenix with its big-city attitude; yet, the communities of the Phoenix metropolis consistently argue as to which has the tougher Neighborhood Preservation Ordinances. There, home-owners and business are fined up to $2,500 if the city has to come and clean their yards and paint their buildings. Yes, paint their buildings. Regardless of your anti-Phoenician view, their neighborhoods and roads are clean. Many of the same types of ordinances exist in the City of Tucson but are not enforced. The city could conceivably raise much of its needed revenue by simply making certain its streets and its neighborhoods are clean and livable.

Unfortunately, while this would seem an obvious agenda item for the business interests in Tucson as we try to bring more employment to our city. As chronicled in this publication by Messrs. Joe Higgins and Chris DeSimone, we have business leadership that is tired and fragmented. We seem more focused on maintaining the status quo rather than forging ahead with a vision for the future and taking back a city crumbling under its own bureaucracy and red tape.

Our stark reality is thus: the Business Center of the city has shifted. Its leaders have left and joined the communities of the Other Tucson. Its bankers, lawyers, financial advisors and entrepreneurs have abandoned the city’s core for the tranquility and cleanliness of the Other Tucson. Our K-12 educational capital has also shifted to the districts of the Other Tucson, such as Vail and Catalina Foothills. Whole families are moving their children out of Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) to forge a better life, further contributing to our crumbling core.

This will continue to be the fate of Tucson unless drastic changes are made to our socio-political culture which seems focused on the words “can’t” and “won’t”. Tucson needs NEW leaders and NEW dreamers.

The century began with a great promise for Tucson, a river of investment and growth as embodied in the idea of Rio Nuevo; yet ended up drowning in a flood of red ink, red tape, fraud and abuse. A business shutters and we shrug, a company selects a competing city for jobs and investment and we barely blink. The business of Major League Baseball, which sustained countless businesses during the spring for six decades, fades into nothing and we show no outrage at the incompetency that led to such a travesty. Is this Tucson’s future?

There are three paths our city can embrace to bring itself into the new century:

1. Make fighting urban blight a priority: Enforce existing neighborhood preservation ordinances and enact stronger ones to make our city shine – a livable, vibrant place to live. Empower county assessors to chronicle code violations and assess accordingly. Without this, economic development efforts are meaningless.

2. Place economic development in the hands of the business community: TREO is too beholden to the city and county in terms of funding and leadership and, as a result, it falls victim to the status quo. Merging TREO and the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce would be a good first step.

3. Reform education by breaking up TUSD: The school district suffers from the same plight as the city. It is losing students, intellectual talent and resources to surrounding districts. Break up TUSD into smaller districts for more accountability of teachers and administrators to parents and neighborhoods. Is it any wonder its vaulted superintendent is leaving so soon?

We live in God’s Country. It is a place my family has been proud to give our time, resources, investment and charity for over three decades.  Unfortunately, while so much has changed, much has stayed the same. The awesome beauty of our desert speaks to all of us and yet, when it comes to creating a safe, livable, thriving city – we stumble, limping into decade after decade with the same issues, the same problems as decades before.  We seem unable to get out of our own way.

This week’s issue of Inside Tucson Business celebrates the fantastic achievements of this year’s class of Up & Comers.

Are these the new dreamers?

We need them now.

Christopher Clements is vice chairman and CEO of Golden Eagle Distributors.

Copyright © 2010 Inside Tucson Business

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