B y D a v e D e v i n e
MAYOR GEORGE MILLER may complain that Don Diamond is trying to kill a downtown location for a new university campus to promote his own Rocking K development. ("Rocking K U?," Tucson Weekly, July 20). But at the same time he should be taking a hard look at the recent actions that he, the majority of the City Council, and the city staff have taken to prepare for a new campus to be at the former IBM site, the location Diamond favors.
Just a few weeks ago, the City Council, with Miller supplying the deciding vote, agreed to annex a large area around the state and federal prisons between Wilmot and Houghton roads south of I-10. They were told then that a new fire station would be built in the Rita Ranch development north of the interstate, to serve the newly annexed area.
A temporary fire station, costing almost $800,000 in personnel and capital costs for one year, will be installed by early 1997. The permanent facility, costing much more, would be built later.
Right now the Rita Ranch area, which has approximately 1,000 homes in it, is serviced by Fire Station No. 17, located a few miles north of the development. The only thing between the two is desert. There are no stop lights and very few intersections or driveways--just a two-lane road that can be traveled on at a high rate of speed by emergency vehicles.
So why quickly build a temporary and then permanent fire station at Rita Ranch at a cost of millions of dollars? This is especially important because other, larger areas of the city are more in need of a new fire station and will have to wait if this station is constructed. City staff would certainly reply because the area is booming. But a look at current construction activity, combined with a slowing economy, indicates that development at Rita Ranch will probably occur at a reasonable rate in the next few years.
A new fire station, however, would also be able to serve the IBM site, which is just over one mile away. Fire service will obviously be an important factor in deciding where a new campus should be located. This is especially true because the city doesn't charge the University of Arizona a dime for the hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in fire protection service it now provides. The same will almost certainly be true for a new campus, whether located downtown or at the IBM site.
Eventually a fire station will be needed at Rita Ranch. But why have it in place by January 1997? Could the reason be that is about the same time a new campus will be beginning operation?
The city staff is also relying heavily on a new resort at Diamond's Rocking K development to help pay the bills of providing city services if the project area is annexed. They expect the resort to be built very quickly. What better promotion for a new resort than to have a new University campus just a short distance away at the IBM site?
Finally, the reasons given for the recent annexation south of the interstate stretch believability. According to the City Manager, the city staff believes "this area of our community will become the focal point for industrial and commercial development related to trade with Mexico." Kind of a prison and production portion of Tucson.
But could there be another reason for this annexation? When it is finalized, the city limits will be north, east and south of the IBM site. This will certainly justify annexing the area into the city, which will mean that a new campus can get all the benefits of city services that the University of Arizona now enjoys.
If George Miller and the City Council want to push a downtown site for a new campus location, they could pledge to not annex the IBM site or provide city services to it. But they won't, because that would be playing hardball and our City Council doesn't do that sort of thing. Instead, it lets people like Don Diamond do it.
So while the mayor may want a downtown location for a new campus, it looks like his positions on both the recent annexation and the Rocking K development will lead to the opposite. But he can always say he tried.
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