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Posts Tagged ‘Walkup’

6th November
written by JHiggins

Three events surrounding Rio Nuevo downtown redevelopment have occurred in the last month: the Tucson City Council rightly ended plans to build a convention center hotel, the state Auditor General released an audit of Rio Nuevo’s funds, and we did our first Rio Nuevo “Reality Tour.” As each event unfolded, there was an outcry from a portion of the downtown community. The common line in each was: “Let’s turn the page and concentrate on the future.”

In some cases, letting go of yesterday is a healthy step in the healing process. In this case, $230 million is missing with little to show for it. There needs to be an explanation to the individual and business taxpayers of the city and the State of Arizona.

Here are some things that need explanations: Print this story
• Are people who were complicit in the massive failure of Rio Nuevo still in positions of authority?

• How could the city make wholesale transfers of millions of dollars of assets with little more than a footnote in a financial statement?

• When will taxpayers get an explanation about every single dime that was spent?

There are “ghosts” of Rio Nuevo past. Most have departed the city bureaucracy. The cast of characters who deserve  most of the responsibility for the fiasco that is Rio Nuevo include:

City bureaucrats

Former City Manager Mike Hein is back at Pima County working at the pleasure of County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry. There was Hein’s right-hand man and in charge

of the early hotel projects, Jaret Barr. There was the early quarterback Assistant City Manager Karen Thoreson and project manager John Updike. Sprinkle in Greg Shelko — at $100 per hour — and former city managers Luis Gutierrez and Jim Keene, and you have the makings of too many government officials with too little private sector experience controlling a huge checkbook.

Oversight board

The financial audit spelled out the inability of the original four-member city-appointed Rio Nuevo board to manage and control the purse strings. The district was supposed to be autonomous and the board was to act as the gatekeeper of the tax revenues. The original board included former county Supervisor Dan Eckstom, bed-and-breakfast owner Jeff DiGregorio, Anne Marie Russell, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, and former state Sen. Victor Soltero.

The chosen few

These are the myriad of consultants, engineers and planners who reaped huge fees for designs that were never used on projects that were never built, like commissioning an out-of-state company to make an $820,000 movie to be played in a museum that never got built. There were countless insider developers and campaign donors who were beneficiaries of $1 rents, free land and prime redevelopment tracks because they hired the right consultants or attorneys with the relationships. At least this is changing and the light is being shown on these backroom deals thanks to Councilman Steve Kozachik, investigative reporting and talk radio.

Elected officals

Three of Rio Nuevo’s “superstars” are gone from the City Council: Jose Ibarra, Steve Leal and Nina Trasoff. Councilwoman Shirley Scott and Mayor Bob Walkup still bear responsibility because they’ve been there from the beginning. Walkup, the chief cheerleader for the hotel and light rail, has burned all his political capital and now needs to begin planning his second retirement.

Councilwoman Karin Uhlich added to the fiasco when she pushed for low-income housing projects that have taken an inordinate amount of attention at Rio Nuevo. Scott, Uhlich, Walkup and Councilwoman Regina Romero all were responsible for green lighting an $80 million bond sale at the worst possible time to sell bonds, and for spending it on museum designs, orange griffen statutes, and an over-priced parking garage. They can also take credit for $18 million to plan a hotel that never made sense.

After researching and leading a tour for 40 people a few weeks ago, we came to a realization that the taxpayer was not only robbed by this Rio Nuevo debacle, but punched in the mouth by the city.

The lines between what were Rio Nuevo assets and City of Tucson assets have been so blurred they’ll be hard to untangle. We’ve identified over $44 million that have shifted balance sheets and will probably involve lawsuits to sort out. There is a $14 million parking garage and $30 million spent on the west side.

And just before the state installed a new Rio Nuevo oversight board, the city removed $30 million of assets from Rio Nuevo. Coincidence? 

People who were compliant in the fiasco now must face the consequences.  These are the first steps the city must take to regain the trust of taxpayers and the Legislature.

We’ll be willing to turn the page on Rio Nuevo when the city is open and transparent — two concepts that have been lacking in the project so far.

Contact Joe Higgins and Chris DeSimone at wakeuptucson@gmail.com. They host “Wake Up Tucson,” 6-8 a.m. weekdays on The Voice KVOI 1030-AM. Their blog is at www.TucsonChoices.com.

Copyright © 2010 Inside Tucson Business

3rd March
written by Jupiter Jones

In a mad rush to stave off elimination of the Rio Nuevo pot of money, the Tucson City Council has announced a redirection of the priorities for spending the $80 million they cashed in just before the New Year from bonds they sold, desperately, at a premium. 

Now, rather than funding for more design of museums and for construction of the Convento (known by some as the mud hut), the city will spend what might be the last Rio Nuevo money it ever sees on an arena and convention hotel. 

Do it Right or Don’t Do It at All!

To fans of the much-needed hotel, this is a very late, only-barely-better, better-late-than-never situation.  It would be more persuasive if it weren’t such an obviously desperate maneuver to save the TIF and the Gem Shows at the same time. 

I have yet to meet a fan of the arena as the city has proposed it. 

From casual conversations with real people to reading the on-line comments and blogs, there seem to be two schools of thought on the arena that the city seems to want to build so desperately:  either build it bigger or don’t build it at all.

It’s puzzling that the city would spend $130 million on a new arena that only gives Tucson 2,000 more seats than the crappy “Madhouse on Main”, as the Icecats coach calls the Tucson Arena.  I know, I know;  it’s not just the number of seats that makes the crappy arena uncompetitive.  It’s the ceiling height, the lack of amenities, the lack of decent locker rooms and green rooms, the lack of luxury boxes for Rich Singer to feel important in, and the smell.  

Nonetheless, with a growing city (albeit economically under-performing its population), wouldn’t the 12,000-seat arena be obsolete the day it opens? 

Apparently the UA has made it clear that it is not moving the basketball Wildcats out of McKale Center, but even so, there are opportunities for national-level sporting events that would surely be out of reach of an arena so small.  There are AAU events, NCAA events, Olympic qualifying events. 

Sizing to the Sweet Spot

The city’s argument against a bigger arena is that it can’t afford the cost of construction.  But if the operating revenue of a bigger arena justified the cost, the cost wouldn’t matter, would it? If you were in the private sector, and were trying to decide how big of a plant to build, would you limit yourself to building a smaller factory that could only produce enough output to serve a limited area if you could cost-effectively produce enough to serve a much larger market and make larger profits by building a bigger factory?  Of course not.  You would find the sweet spot. 

There may be multiple equilibrium points here.  It’s conceivable that 12,000 seats is more cost-effective than 15,000 seats.  City officials seem to be making that argument, and they may be right.  The new revenue brought in by a 15,000-seat building may not be enough to justify the additional cost of the 3,000 seats. 

But, perhaps a 17,000-seat arena opens up a whole new set of revenue opportunities not available at 15,000 seats, and an arena of that size, while costing significantly more than $130 million, would pay the city back more handsomely than the Little 12,000-seat Arena That Couldn’t.   Perhaps the additional revenue would be enough to justify the additional cost.  Perhaps not.  I don’t know.  You probably don’t know.  The point is, the city had better know what its options are, and it had better be able to explain why it has selected the option that it has.


Explain it to Us-Who Knows, We May Even Support It!

This would be called Leadership.  Understanding the full implications of the various policy options open to you, evaluating the best deal for the current and future needs of the community, and then communicating to the citizens/taxpayers why the optimal option was selected over other alternatives. 


Let’s say you’re the mayor of such a city that was considering building an arena.  Go on TV.  Write guest opinions in the newspaper.  Hold a town hall meeting and televise it.  Tell John C. Scott and his listeners about it.  But don’t just do the cheerleading bit.  Explain the logic and the thought process and what the implications of the alternative scenarios were and why you reached the conclusion that this alternative was best for us.


What’s the Real Reason We’re Doing This?

Also, while you are at it, tell us what we are getting out of the arena you are building for us.  Minor-league hockey?  Arena football?  More and better concerts?  Monster truck rallies?  NCAA gymnastics championships?  Sweet 16 basketball?  Preventing the tribes from building an arena outside the city limits?  Or perhaps, just more exhibit space for the expanded convention center you also seem hell-bent on building.  Is the arena necessary in order to make the hotel work?  (If that’s the case, then you’d better extend your presentation to tell us how and why the 525-room hotel is necessary and whether it is truly feasible.)  Just tell us, we’re adults.


If the threat of losing the Gem Show will truly be abated by building the hotel, then tell us that.  I just want to know.   Use a flow chart if you have to.  And don’t have Greg Shelko, Rich Singer, or Glenn Lyons explain it.  You do it.  You’re the mayor.


Whatever you do, don’t spend $130 million of our money just to prove a point.  Or just to save a bunch of diverted state tax money you no longer seem entitled to spend based on your track record to this point.

10th January
written by JHiggins

People have asked me why we reprint Emerine’s articles in their entirety here on our blog. My simple answer is that Steve speaks truth to power. His institutional knowledge of our region makes his opinion’s especially pointed. In our world of 24 hour news cycles and spin induced smoke and mirrors, Steve sums up the issues presented to our community in about a clear as way possible. We are glad he has a platform to preach from, we hope to give him another pulpit with our blog.

This weeks article opinion is addressing the our local governments approach towards funding of our law enforcement agencies. FBI statistics show violent crime and murder decreasing all over the county. Locally we had a record breaking year in homicides. What’s governments core function again?

 While crime rises, local politicos look to spend money elsewhere

Published on Saturday, January 10, 2009

Only Tucson and Pima County would insist on doing more crazy things than a columnist could comment on 52 times in a year.

Republican Mayor Bob Walkup and Democratic Council members Regina Romero, Rodney Glassman, Karin Uhlich, Shirley Scott, Steve Leal and Nina Trasoff use every opportunity they get to profess their undying support for Tucson police.

The men and women in blue need that backing. Tucson just experienced 74 murders in 2008 – more than in any year in history.

But the mayor and council are about to cut three proposed police academy classes to only one, knowing that it won’t produce enough new officers to replace those the department will lose through retirements and resignations.

Yet the mayor and council are also about to approve $7.6 million in bonds to build new solar panels on seven city buildings.

Why? Because they want some “free” federal money and solar power is a cool topic.

The federal government would pay part of the interest on the bonds, leaving the principal and up to 2 percent of the interest for the city to pay.

Think of when your supermarket cashier announced you’d saved more than $20 on your last grocery shopping trip. It may have cost you $80, but look what that plastic store card did for you!

Are you tempted to come back after lunch to double your savings or do you realize you can’t afford to spend another $80?

Solar panels aren’t groceries, but we’re constantly bombarded by messages extolling the virtues of anything “green” or “sustainable.”

Most products using those words cost more, but we’re told that if we use them long enough, we’ll eventually save money.

That’s probably true. But it doesn’t mean a family whose breadwinner has just been laid off should rush to buy a green gizmo before their savings account is exhausted.

Richard Elías, the Democratic chairman of the county Board of Supervisors, and his colleagues (Democrats Ramón Valadez and Sharon Bronson and Republicans Ann Day and Ray Carroll) also have problems.

They must also reduce their current budget and make more cuts or raise taxes in 2009-2010. They’ll probably have to do both.

They’ve told Sheriff Clarence Dupnik they’ll try not to cut his current budget if he agrees to not replace any deputies he loses between now and June 30.

You can see that the supervisors, like the council members, also favor law enforcement and oppose crime. Unless it costs money.

Solar panels aren’t the supervisors’ addiction. They’re hooked on vacant land.

They’ve bought 159,000 acres of ranch land and acquired 127,280 acres of leased land in recent years, but it isn’t enough. Nearly 12 percent of Pima County land is still privately owned. Until last year, it was 13 percent.

The supervisors are about to adopt their fifth draft habitat conservation plan for their Sonoran Desert Conservation project. They’ll submit it to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for approval, then hold a bond election to raise more money for their addiction to dirt.

They plan to spend $324,000 a year from 2009 to 2011 and $568,000 for the 2011-2012 fiscal year to monitor and study their vacant land. The total cost for the next decade would be more than $40 million.

Despite a tight budget, they say they must ensure they own enough land and have enough rules in place to guarantee survival of their favorite critters.

Surely you’ve also been worried about the Huachuca water umbel, the lesser long-nosed bat, the Marana piranha, the southwestern willow flycatcher, the western yellow-billed cuckoo, the Gila chub and Mexican garter snake.

But neither you nor the supervisors have seen all of them or discussed their status with anyone.

I made up the third one on that list because I just might apply for a county grant of a couple of million bucks to keep writing about the Marana piranha.

Frankly, though, I’d really rather have a few more deputy sheriffs.

Contact Steve Emerine or e-mail comments for publication to editor@azbiz.com. This column appears weekly in Inside Tucson Business.

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