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Posts Tagged ‘Donovan Durband’

15th May
written by JHiggins

Don’t Rock the Leaking Boat

By Donovan Durband

Two days after State Representative Frank Antenori warned the Rio Nuevo District Board not to rock Rio Nuevo’s boat by obligating Rio Nuevo or its TIF revenue stream to any contracts or projects prior to the Legislature’s passage of the State budget—which would include an amendment pertaining to the disposition of Rio Nuevo—an article in the Arizona Daily Star demonstrated the precariousness of Rio Nuevo’s position in the State Legislature.

The Star article told of a proposal in the House Appropriations Committee to redraw the TIF district’s boundaries to exclude the area containing its two cash cows—Park Place Mall and El Con “Mall”.  The proposal was roundly criticized by Southern Arizona legislators from both parties and from both houses of the Legislature.

Rep. Antenori vowed that the proposal was an error that would be fixed with an amendment to be offered by Senator Jonathan Paton of Tucson.  It would need to be fixed if there is any chance to capture substantial revenues to repay the bonds that Rio Nuevo has already sold or to build the infrastructure that is needed in Downtown or, more remotely, to build the museums and cultural facilities that were part of the 1999 Rio Nuevo ballot measure, the Master Plan adopted in 2001, and a Funding Allocation Guide approved by Mayor and Council in May 2007.

The Appropriations Committee scare amply demonstrates the wisdom of following Antenori’s advice to sit tight, be quiet, and do nothing that would provoke the rest of the Legislature—whose extreme disappointment with Rio Nuevo is now well-documented—into killing the whole thing.  Antenori, Paton, and Tucson-area members of both parties in the Legislature are trying to fend off those from other parts of the state that would just sacrifice the TIF (except for the future revenues needed to repay the December 2008 bonds) to the State’s ginormous budget deficit.

I was involved in the effort to secure the extension of the TIF in 2006, and I saw first-hand what a hard sell it was.  The district boundaries were a sore point then, and they continue to be today.  The Legislature did not trust Tucson city government to make the project happen then, and trusts it even less today.  Justified or not, that’s the way it is.

After the TIF extension was signed into law, I proposed that the TIF be prioritized to leverage private commercial investment through expenditures on infrastructure, so that we could grow our TIF in downtown, creating much more funding than just what the malls produce, so that we could build ALL of the projects that were in the master plan. 


Our Tucson Downtown Alliance board approved the proposal unanimously, and it was met by nods of agreement among the business community, other organizations, and members of the newspapers’ editorial boards.  The idea was not to pit one project against another, but do them in such a sequence as to make it possible to do all of the projects eventually.


While some good things are definitely happening in Downtown, and have been for years, very little of the progress to-date is directly attributable to wise investments of the TIF itself, so it is not surprising that the State would be questioning the efficacy of this investment in State sales tax dollars.  Millions have been spent teeing up projects on the West Side that were halted by the city manager in 2008.  Only the renovation of the Fox and Rialto Theatres, the construction of the TCC box office, the Presidio Heritage Park, Avenida del Convento, and a roundabout outside the TIF district boundaries on Grande Avenue are completed TIF-funded projects.  Soon the Depot Plaza garage will join that list.  See for yourself at http://www.tucsonaz.gov/rionuevo/.


I hope that by the time this magazine is printed, the Legislature has passed a budget with a Rio Nuevo amendment that leaves the TIF funding stream fully intact through its sunset date in 2025.  Almost certainly, though, for that to have happened, the Legislature didn’t get spooked again by news of Tucson leaders trying to redirect control of the project or to redirect funding to anything but a convention complex.  We have to stop denying that there have been problems, take our medicine, and hope for the best.

And, equally certain is the likelihood that the amendment required the creation of a new oversight board for the TIF that answers not to the City of Tucson, but to the State of Arizona.  Hopefully, this board will be made up entirely of Tucsonans who will demand transparency and accountability, who understand how to invest the funding strategically, and who want the best for Downtown.

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