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TRADE WINDS

We mentioned last week that downtown developers Scott Stiteler and Don Martin, the owners of the Rialto block, have been negotiating a sort of Monopoly trade with the city of Tucson ("Let's Make a Deal," May 21).

Essentially, Martin and Stiteler are agreeing to develop some downtown properties—the big one being the Rialto block—and in return, the city will give them anywhere from $3.5 million to $7 million in downtown property. That could include, according to a draft of the agreement, an old Volvo dealership on Broadway Boulevard east of downtown, the downtown train depot, the Ronstadt Transit Center and a property on Sixth and Toole avenues.

What's not in the agreement is any security for the Rialto Theatre, which is the one part of the Rialto Block that Stiteler and Martin don't own. It was purchased by city of Tucson with Rio Nuevo funds and is now leased to the nonprofit Rialto Theatre Foundation.

The city bought the Rialto in 2004 with the hope that it would give people a reason to come downtown. Under the stewardship of Rialto Theatre Foundation executive director Doug Biggers, the Rialto has done just that, as anyone who regularly attends the shows at the historic venue can attest. (We should mention that Biggers co-founded and published the Tucson Weekly until he sold it in 2000 and gave your Skinny scribe this job.) Biggers—along with general manager Curtis McCrary (an occasional TW contributor)—have turned the Rialto into Rio Nuevo's biggest success story so far.

One need only look at the recent disastrous Jay-Z concert at the UA to see how easy it is to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in the concert business when you don't know what you're doing. Or down Congress Street at the Fox, to see how the best of intentions can lead to millions of dollars in debt.

While the city has secured the Rialto as a community asset, the Rialto Foundation is using a building on Broadway owned by Martin and Stiteler so that bands have a green room, and the Rialto staff has an office. They're also using some storage space in the Rialto building that belongs to the developers. But details about allowing the Rialto Foundation to continue using those spaces are absent from an early draft of the development agreement that the Weekly obtained.

The foundation's board of directors is trying to persuade the city to acquire those spaces as part of the development agreement that gives the aforementioned city property to Stiteler and Martin.

Michael Crawford, a former Tucson City Councilman and president of the Rialto board, says the city should be looking out for the theater's continued operation as part of any development agreement.

"From what we've seen about what's coming down, the Rio Nuevo District's theater is not being protected," Crawford says. "If you're going to give all kinds of incentives and such, you've got to do what you can to protect the crown jewel of Rio Nuevo."


FOR SALE: LOCK, STOCK AND BARREL

Senate President Bob Burns finally relented last week and let the Senate Appropriations Committee advance a budget plan, even though it doesn't have enough support to pass the full Senate. Burns wants to get the budget ball rolling, given that the Legislature only has one more month to come up with a budget before the government would shut down.

The Senate budget has many of the same problems found in the House budget we've talked about in recent weeks. But it adds a new twist: It outsources control of the state prisons to a private company in exchange for a $200 million upfront payment.

Here's the problem with privatizing prisons: You're putting a profit motive on keeping people behind bars, which skeeves us out.

Private prison management is bound to cut corners for the sake of profit, particularly when it comes to rehabilitative services. Those sorts of programs cost money—and if you really do rehabilitate someone, you've lost a future customer.

The Democrats are scheduled to release a budget after our deadline this week. Visit The Range, our daily dispatch at blog.tucsonweekly.com, as we unpack the Democratic plan, which promises to balance the budget, protect social programs and not raise taxes.

That trick has to involve the mother of all gimmicks.


SPECIAL MOMENTS

The Legislature swung into special session last week to save a program that lets disabled and foster children attend private schools.

The kids were attending the private schools through a voucher program that was created a few years back as a way of testing whether the Arizona Constitution allows public dollars to be spent on private schools.

The Arizona Supreme Court ruled the program was unconstitutional back in March.

To let the kids now in the program keep going to the private schools where they've grown comfortable, Republicans decided to create an alternative tax-credit program, since that would pass constitutional muster.

In their urgency—nearly two months after the ruling—the GOP caucus jumped into a special session last Thursday, May 21. Or at least they tried to.

Democratic senators, who oppose the program, took a walk, and several Republicans had already left for vacation, including the Majority Whip Pamela Gorman, so there weren't enough lawmakers around to form the legally required quorum.

Hey, isn't it Pamela's job to make sure there are enough votes to get the job done? WTF, Pamela—we know the Indy 500 is fun and all, but don't you have a job to do?

Sen. Jonathan Paton was dragged back from the airport, where he was supposed to catch a flight to San Diego to attend a legislative conference. Sucks to be him.

Republicans are complaining that Democrats and their allies in the teachers' unions must hate children since they don't support this program. That's a tough complaint to swallow, given the way Republicans have been hacking away at funding for foster care and disabled kids all year long.

Let's face it: Republicans used the kids as a way to get voucher programs underway. They created the false hope for the parents in the first place, just so they could have a sympathetic face for the public funding of private schools.

If you're serious about helping kids who need extra attention, maybe you should start by not cutting back on public schools in the first place.


HARD LUCK

It appears that the notion of laying a special tax on Tucson's strip clubs is petering out.

Ward 6 City Councilwoman Nina Trasoff suggested this money shot as a way of helping Tucson boost its sagging revenue stream.

But City Attorney Mike Rankin, citing a seminal federal court ruling in Texas, said that a tax on cover charges for adult establishments would probably be unconstitutional.

A broader entertainment tax on all performances—from symphony halls to movie theaters—might be possible, but Rankin advised against it. He noted that those businesses already pay a 2 percent city sales tax on their revenues, and the city charter blocks the council from imposing an additional tax on them.

Although the city could eliminate its sales tax on those operations and create a new, higher "occupational license tax," it would lead to accounting problems for those businesses, since they would still have to pay the normal sales tax on anything else they sell on their premises.

Find early and late-breaking Skinny at our new daily dispatch, The Range, at blog.tucsonweekly.com.

More by Jim Nintzel

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