Rio Nuevo spending spree expected to make big difference downtown

Published: May. 19, 2016 at 9:37 PM MST|Updated: May. 20, 2016 at 12:31 AM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - There were two events which happened in Tucson on Thursday, May 19, each of which could have a big impact on downtown development.

One garnered a lot of attention. The other flew under the radar.

The first, and the one that caught the most attention, was the Arizona Coyotes have officially made Tucson home.

The management of Coyotes came to town to say, "We are beyond thrilled to be here," in the words of Anthony LaBlanc, the President and CEO of the Arizona Coyotes organization. "It is a very exciting day in the history of hockey in the great state of Arizona."

READ MORE: Tucson's new hockey team to start playing in October

The Coyotes organization has begun a team-naming contest and is looking for ways to immerse the team and players into the community.

The team will play 35 homes games at the Tucson Convention Center, which has undergone $7.8 million in upgrades and will see another $3.6 million, paid for by Rio Nuevo, which was instrumental in attracting the team to Tucson.

The price of the tickets is still being worked out, but LaBlanc thought they may be between $10 and $15 with a discount for season tickets.

The day's second event will lead to the development of a 14-acre parcel west of Interstate 10, south of West Congress Street.

The parcel has been barren since 2008, when the city of Tucson sold it to Gadsden Development Company. But, the company has not been able to secure the needed financing to commence construction.

On Thursday, however, the city signed an agreement which allows Rio Nuevo to pay nearly $3.5 million to help Gadsden with the financing it needs to begin construction.

$1.2 million of that will be a check to the city of Tucson to buy the performance bond issued to Gadsden to prevent default.

Rio Nuevo has issued a series of penalties which will be imposed on Gadsden for non-performance.

"We consider this a mega-deal," said Rio Nuevo Board Chair Fletcher McCusker. "We considered it a mega-deal before hockey and before Caterpillar."

McCusker is referring to the recent deal in which Rio Nuevo will assist Caterpillar, Inc. with a consolidation move to Tucson and will build a $50 million headquarters to be leased to the company.

READ MORE: Caterpillar move seen as 'shot in arm' for Tucson economy

McCusker and the board have been on a spending spree downtown.

"We have spent just over $19 million in the past three years which has generated $175 million in construction," board member Mark Irwin said.

All of that spending is in the downtown corridor and includes other projects like the new Downtown Marriott, which is under construction, and the new Greyhound terminal, which paves the way for a new hotel near the interstate.

It's been a busy time for Rio Nuevo, but at some point the river runs dry.

"We still have about $10 million dollars we can leverage," McCusker said.

And when that well runs dry, it will be hat in hand to the legislature.

"We've been very upfront about that," McCusker said. "That's our goal."

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