The new Rio Nuevo board has a big decision ahead: Does it move forward with a new downtown hotel? Or will the members decide that they don't want to do the one thing they've been tasked with doing? And if that's their decision, what are they doing?
The Tucson City Council—with the exception of Republican Steve Kozachik, who remains determined to shut down the project—kicked the ball into Rio Nuevo's court last week. Council members have mixed feelings about the latest financing plan for the hotel, but they can't do anything without the Rio Nuevo board's approval.
That's because Rio Nuevo owns the plans to the hotel, as well as the land on which the hotel would be built, because the city deeded the Tucson Convention Center over to the board years ago as part of the launch of Rio Nuevo.
Finally, the city needs the Rio Nuevo board to agree to set aside sales-tax dollars generated by the hotel to help pay for the project if the hotel doesn't meet occupancy projections.
None of those items should be a deal-breaker. The hotel plans aren't worth anything to anyone else if the hotel isn't built. It's not like the Rio Nuevo board can use the TCC land for anything else. And there are no sales-tax dollars generated by the hotel if the hotel isn't built, so agreeing to use the dollars to support the project strikes us as reasonable.
Whether it will seem reasonable to the Rio Nuevo board remains to be seen. Rio Nuevo chair Jodi Bain said the board still needs to meet to make some decisions—but there aren't enough board members in town this week to make a quorum, so any decisions will have to wait until next week, although Bain said some members may meet this week just to get up to speed.
Bain hoped that the board can make some kind of decision by Oct. 7.
The clock is ticking. If they're going to build the hotel, the developer needs to get started as soon as possible, because the plan is to use special, low-interest Build America bonds that will not be available after the end of the year.
Given that the legislation that reformed Rio Nuevo dictated that the board wasn't supposed to start developing anything until a hotel was underway, we're not sure what they'll do if they decide against building the hotel.
But this is Tucson. We never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
The Skinny was late to the Pima County Interfaith Council's candidate forum on Sunday, Sept. 26, but when we arrived, three candidates—Legislative District 27 House of Representatives Green candidate Kent Solberg, former Green Party member turned LD 28 Senate independent candidate Dave Ewoldt, and two-term Democratic representative turned LD 28 Senate independent candidate Ted Downing—had been kicked out of the forum, and Tucson police were on the scene.
The three rejects were not allowed on stage with their opponents and were relegated to the sidewalks outside of the Tucson Convention Center, where they protested the PCIC's decision to not allow third-party and nonpartisan candidates to take part.
"If this was the Last Supper, somebody would forget to invite Jesus Christ," said Downing, whose martyr complex was on full display.
PCIC representatives said there was no conspiracy to keep independents and Greens out; they've just never invited them before, and it had never been a problem. The stage was already crowded, and they wanted to save the time for "legitimate candidates who have a chance at winning," said organizer Melanie Nelson.
When the protest, which consisted of fewer than a dozen people, got too out of hand for the six or seven security guards to handle, the guards called the real cops.
"I wasn't being quiet," said Solberg, who hopped a little bit while re-enacting his voter-outreach approach: "I was standing out there introducing myself, saying, 'Hi! I'm Kent Solberg; I'm a Green Party candidate for the state Legislature, and I'm not allowed to participate!'"
The police officers wanted little to do with the whole fiasco, telling us they were there because they received a call about people blocking the doorway. The cops repeatedly insisted that they were not trying to stop political speech.
Inside, about 1,000 people watched more than a dozen candidates in statewide and local races. They all sat on the stage, waiting patiently for their turn at the microphone to answer yes-or-no "accountability" questions in a minute or less. The event lasted two hours, and no candidate spoke for more than five minutes.
Before the forum started, Rep. Vic Williams, a Republican from Oro Valley's LD 26, called us to say it was a sham.
Though he asked for the agenda several times, he said the PCIC didn't send him it until the night before. For the legislative candidates, there was only one question: Please answer yes or no and explain in one minute: "Will you vote to enact additional revenue sources so that funding for vital services such as education and health care can be protected?"
"I have to spend two hours of my Sunday in downtown Tucson when I could be campaigning in my own district," complained Williams, who ended up hanging out with Downing, Ewoldt and Solberg for a while before deciding to leave.
We eventually made it through the TCC doors after goading by the organizers, who interrupted every interview we were conducting outside to remind us what we were missing inside. We were immediately assigned a handler named Dan.
When asked why he was following us so closely, Dan said it was in case we needed him to track down the candidates for interviews. Excited to have an assistant, we made Dan a list and sent him off to search for the opponents of the Banned Three. A few minutes later, he returned empty-handed and admitted he didn't know who was who. We didn't have the heart to fire him in this economy, so he continued following along as we tracked down the candidates ourselves.
Not everyone thought the forum was a sham. Democrat Nancy Young Wright said that Williams, her Republican seatmate, probably left because the forum was asking for commitments and promises, something she said he's not good with.
"(Williams) wants to be everything to everyone," she said.
State Sen. Paula Aboud, who is facing Downing, Ewoldt and Republican Greg Krino in the November election, said it was unfortunate that the independents and Green Party members weren't allowed, but it was nice to see candidates give bold promises on the record.
"I'm sick and tired of coming down to forums and hearing B.S.," she said.
If you're a regular Skinny reader, you probably don't need the reminder, but the deadline to register to vote is Monday, Oct. 4.
Registration forms are available at most post offices, libraries and town halls. For more information, visit the Pima County Recorder's Office website at www.recorder.pima.gov/regvote.aspx.
Follow the Skinny scribe on Twitter: @nintzel