The Rio Nuevo Downtown Redevelopment District is on stronger financial footing than three years ago, according to the results of a state audit of the district.
The audits are scheduled every three years, and the latest report shows several things already widely known about the district, including that the Tucson Convention Center is in need of aesthetic and functional improvements.
The venue has been mismanaged and doesn't have enough events to compete with other venues in the country, the audit said.
The Rio Nuevo district board knew that, and has decided to spend $8 million to upgrade the facility, said Fletcher McCusker, chairman of the Rio Nuevo board.
The convention center "was literally ignored for probably 13 years," McCusker said, even though it was one of the early designated Rio Nuevo projects.
“I think people got caught up in the fact that we were going to build a new one and didn’t pay attention to the old one, well that’s never going to happen now," he said.
The board is scheduled to hire a contractor for the convention center improvements Nov. 5, and construction will start after the February gem shows downtown are finished, McCusker said.
The audit said the Rio Nuevo district needs more funding to complete its goals. The district is funded with a portion of state sales taxes generated in a designated part of the city in and east of downtown. Those taxes are designed to be spent on Tucson's downtown redevelopment, instead of going into state coffers.
That's another known issue, McCusker said. In addition to the planned $8 million in improvements, the district needs $40 million to $100 million to fund a more complete upgrade of the TCC, he said.
"That's going to have to come from a variety of sources, we can no longer just depend on the state and state taxpayer dollars, it's going to take the consortium of the city the county private sector developers to really look at do we want to enhance this arena so that we're competitive?" McCusker said.