It's not so much that our community is filth-ridden and overrun with dilapidated houses in desperate need of a date with a wrecking ball.
But the combination of dusty streets (compliments of our dry, desert climate) and our overall tendency to neglect weeds until they reach crop-harvesting level can give the impression that we're not that concerned with physical appearance. You know, that whole "Keep Tucson Shitty" underground movement that seems to pop up whenever improvements to anything around here are proposed.
It's why, rather than the Old Pueblo or any of those other marketing-driven nicknames for Tucson, the one I think fits best is "The Dirty T."
Let's just accept it, folks.
I think most of us have, whether outwardly or in our subconscious. Except for, it seems, the people who run the Tucson Convention Center.
You know the TCC, right? That amalgam of buildings that, in theory, is intended to provide a venue for musical acts, sporting events and various other tenants who want to bring their wares to Southern Arizona. I said in theory because the main facility, the Tucson Arena, is a rundown, outdated barn that is in use maybe 30 percent of the year.
And that's mostly because it's the only place with enough room to hold the SAHBA Home Show and it has the only sheet of ice within 100 miles.
In other words, a venue by default.
Which is why I couldn't believe it when a good friend of mine told me recently that one of the bigger events to visit the TCC in the last few years, a three-day BMX bike-racing competition, has been told it's no longer welcome to pay for the use of the only viable location around here for such a venture.
In early August the TCC hosted the USA/BMX Southwest Nationals. The event drew several thousand riders, youth and adult, along with their families and friends. I'm not sure what kind of economic impact that brought here in the summer—aka the tourism dead zone—but I'm sure it was significant.
Yet TCC officials aren't letting the event come back because ... wait for it ... it's too dirty.
That's not the official line, but it appears to be the reason.
"That type of event, I believe, is best suited for an outdoor venue," said Marty Carey, who has served as TCC director for seven months. "It was nice to have that event to fill up our ... summer but ... it wasn't convenient."
You see, in order to have a large-scale competition for dirt bike racing, you have to truck in dirt. Lots and lots of dirt. Something like 6,000 cubic yards, Casey said, in order to configure a track full of jumps, ramps and other things I don't really know much about because my knowledge of BMX only goes as far as the greatest Australian movie featuring a teenage Nicole Kidman ever made.
(It's called BMX Bandits, it's 30 years old, and it's the bee's knees. You should check it out.)
As with any event, the Southwest Nationals requires both setup beforehand and cleanup afterward. In the case of the latter, though, Carey said the cleanup is extensive (his word). So extensive that it's almost impossible to do effectively, and without leaving some trace evidence behind.
"If you were to go into the arena today you'd still find remnants of that event," Carey said.
I'm pretty sure I can find remnants of the last Korn concert, too, in the form of some badass carving on a bathroom stall.
Carey wouldn't go right out and say that the TCC didn't want the BMX anymore, but the fact is the event had been held here on the same weekend every year since 2008.
So why the change all of a sudden? Could it have anything to do with the Rio Nuevo folks (and, consequently the Tucson City Council) recently approving $7.8 million worth of renovations to the TCC?
That money, earmarked in June by the Rio Nuevo board and approved by the council in July, calls for, among other things, updates to the TCC's seats, bathrooms, lighting, public address system and concession stands. There's even talk of sprucing up the breezeway leading into the arena, possibly gating it off so pre-event concessions could be sold there.
"We're not going to change anything structurally; we're hoping to enhance the experience," Carey said. "The renovations will certainly help us bring new (events)."
Could it be there was a stipulation somewhere within the negotiations to get the upgrade money—clouded in some vague language meant to mask its true intention—that in order to get the funding, certain, um, changes would be required?
You know, like how the council in July gave the green light to bringing in an outside company to manage the TCC? Such things are necessary when you end up having to ax someone that you've found has spent years double-booking and otherwise mismanaging the region's largest indoor event facility not named McKale.
Again, Carey said there's no connection between the approved-but-as-of-yet-unscheduled renovations and the end of the Southwest Nationals' tenancy. You can take from that what you want.
Without the TCC, Tucson is done for on BMX/USA's event circuit. The second weekend in August has been its spot on the schedule, and without an indoor venue there's just no doing it. I've heard people talk about trying to put up some sort of temporary canopy over some outdoor area, like at the Pima County Fairgrounds or even Kino Stadium, but it probably wouldn't compare to the comfort and convenience of having several thousand seatbacks facing a competition area.
It can't be moved to another time of the year because the circuit already has a stop in Phoenix in March (aptly called the Winter Nationals, probably because for most of the riders, they're out there racing because it's winter back home), and that's an entrenched, well-attended event.
Some of you might think, what's the big deal? It's just a bike race. But that kind of mentality is why we no longer have spring training, we just lost minor league baseball (for the second time) and, frankly, why we will always be considered just a dusty stop on the road to Mexico.
The Dirty T, it is.