The Tucson City Council put the kibosh on the long-planned downtown hotel last week, saying that the risk that taxpayers might end up having to subsidize the development was too great in these lousy economic times.
Politically, the council didn't have much of a choice. The downtown hotel had become a symbol of the council's fumbling on downtown redevelopment, and the citizenry wasn't in the mood to listen to complicated arguments about reserve funds or the potential advantages of boosting convention business to bring in more Rio Nuevo funds.
Nor were council members finding support from the new Rio Nuevo board, whose members didn't appear to have much of an interest in helping out with the hotel. (And given that some of them are close to Bert Lopez, the apartment developer who also owns downtown's dumpy Hotel Arizona, we can't say we were surprised to see they were less than motivated to find a way to build a better downtown hotel.)
Facing an angry mob of citizens, the council did what it does best—it made the easy decision, and killed any further planning on the downtown hotel. In the end, even Mayor Bob Walkup, the biggest champion of the hotel, gave up and joined in the 7-0 vote to shut it all down, although he did take one final shot at finding a way to continue negotiations to make something happen.
It appears to us that the City Council blew the chance at getting a hotel built by not getting it done years ago—screwing around instead with rainbow bridges, science centers and gardens that are now unlikely to get built in The Skinny's lifetime.
At the end of the week, the Arizona Auditor General finally released an audit of Rio Nuevo that revealed what anyone who reads the morning daily already knew: Oversight of the Rio Nuevo dollars was lax, and taxpayers hadn't gotten very much for their money.
The audit points out that the city didn't follow through on many of the original plans for Rio Nuevo, such as an aquarium in downtown Tucson. (We'd say that killing the aquarium was one of the smarter moves, given that it would probably be bankrupt by now, but we digress.)
The audit also notes that the Rio Nuevo District failed to focus on sprucing up the Tucson Convention Center to make it more attractive to modern convention planners, which would then have generated more sales-tax dollars—which was the whole point of creating Rio Nuevo in the first place.
A key observation from the audit: "Cities throughout the nation have recognized that multipurpose facilities such as convention centers are most successful when coupled with a related hotel."
Well, that's off the table for the foreseeable future.
Here's the good news about downtown: There have been major improvements, both public and private, that are bringing more and more people downtown. About 15,000 people showed up for last month's Club Crawl® (proudly sponsored by the Tucson Weekly); in the two weeks leading up to that, more than 10,000 people came to shows at the Rialto Theatre; several thousand more will be down there for this year's All Souls Procession to honor Dia de los Muertos on Sunday, Nov. 7; Janos Wilder's new DOWNTOWN Kitchen + Cocktails has been packed since it opened; and smaller venues, such as the delightful 47 Scott, continue to pop up.
Downtown Tucson is not the wasteland and failure that some critics would like you to believe it to be, and we remain believers in the potential of the modern streetcar to continue the rejuvenation of the city's center.
But there have been too many missed opportunities.
The City Council's decision to kill the downtown hotel doesn't change an underlying problem: The Tucson Convention Center is an outdated mess, and downtown doesn't have a decent hotel that can accommodate a major convention.
You can certainly argue that there's no reason to try to attract convention business to Tucson, because we'll never be able to match other Southwestern cities, whether you're talking about Las Vegas or Phoenix. And if that's your position, then the TCC's current state isn't a problem.
But if you do believe that tourist dollars are worth pursuing, then a big question remains: Where does the council go from here?
None of our council members appear to know the answer to that one.
Shaun McClusky, the real-estate broker and former City Council candidate who has been cheerfully running the campaign to persuade voters to knock down the proposed city sales tax, had some accounting problems with his last campaign-finance report.
McClusky's pre-general report for the Cut Waste First Committee, which was due on Oct. 21, reported raising $16,184. But he didn't report any expenditures—which is quite a miracle for a campaign that had set up a website, peppered the city with signs, printed up bumper stickers and ran TV and radio ads.
As Caitlin Jensen, manager of pro-tax-increase campaign Keep Tucson First, put it: "If they were able to share their accounting tricks with the city of Tucson, we wouldn't need Proposition 400 to balance the budget."
The Tucson City Clerk's Office notified McClusky last week that he appeared to be in violation of several sections of Arizona's campaign-finance laws.
By Thursday, Oct. 28, McClusky had filed an amended report that included $13,133 in expenses, all run up by TagLine Media Group.
McClusky, who made his political debut with an unsuccessful run for the Ward 5 City Council seat last year, says he didn't originally file the expenses, because he didn't realize he'd been billed for them.
"I opened the invoice after the reporting period, and it was dated before (the end of) the reporting period, and I put it in the wrong pile," he says. "So that was my mistake."
But he says it wasn't sloppy accounting on his part.
"It's not necessarily being sloppy," he says. "I think I need to look at my e-mails more."
McClusky has another problem: The City Clerk's Office has notified him that he wrongly failed to include his major donors on a campaign ad that ran on the Web and later on TV.
McClusky says he didn't disclose his major donors because at the time of the production, he "technically" didn't have any, even though he knew that a big check from auto dealer Jim Click was in the mail.
He discussed the ad with his media consultant, and "as soon as I knew I had my money coming—I didn't have the check, but I knew it was on the way—I said, 'Let's get things rolling,' because I knew the money was coming."
Besides, McClusky adds, the state law in question states that it only applies after Nov. 2, 2010, so he doesn't understand why he's supposed to be in compliance with it.
"I don't see where I broke the rule," McClusky says.
City Attorney Mike Rankin and Assistant City Clerk Suzanne Mesich didn't return phone calls from The Skinny.
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