Guest Commentary

Economic projects should be able to stand on their own

[In this week's issue], the CEO of the Metro Chamber, Mike Varney issued an attack on the Tucson Mayor and City Council in which he did his best to drive private sector interest in coming to Tucson out of the valley. "Fair and balanced" it wasn't.

Varney suggested that the Mayor and Council lacked "common sense and courage" because we did not sell Grand Canyon University the current El Rio Golf Course site. But the city is under contract with the Conquistadors to operate the First Tee program on El Rio. The Conquistadors have millions of dollars invested at the site, and reach more than 1,400 kids at their center. In addition, seven high-profile firms are in the process of offering financial plans to operate our Golf Enterprise. We owe them the courtesy of analyzing their business plans. We owe that to the taxpayers, as well. Surely Mr. Varney would cry foul if any of his business clients had the city violate an existing, performing contract, or stop an RFP process mid-stream after firms had expended time, effort and money to respond. Most would call that that bad faith.

Continue negotiations with GCU, but not for that site.

Varney was also critical of the governing body for 'indifference' to the F-35 Fighter. But the Pentagon's top weapons buyer Ashton Carter has said that the F-35's unit price was "not affordable." And Michael Sullivan, Director of Acquisition Analysis at the Government Accountability Office, has said the first four procurement contracts were more than $1 billion over budget combined, and the planned purchase of 2,457 aircraft over the next few decades is expected to cost nearly $400 billion. That doesn't include long-term operating expenses.

I fully support fiscally responsible missions such as the Air Operations Center for which we successfully advocated in competition with Tyndall AFB last year. I also fully support the A-10 mission that exists at Davis Monthan. But the Feds themselves are conflicted on the F-35. Certainly there are affordable missions we can encourage to keep DM viable without overspending at the levels being projected.

Varney was critical of our not overtly supporting a CAP project funded by Augusta Resources. What the Mayor and Council did was discuss a set of objective criteria by which all interested parties can come forward and apply for access to CAP water at the Pima Mine recharge facility. Our job is to preserve this critical commodity, and manage the health of the aquifer. When projects are ready for prime time, bring them forward and let them compete.

And finally, Varney was critical that the Mayor and Council are not overtly supportive of the Rosemont mine. Mr. Varney knows that I am recused from taking public positions on the mine due to its financial relationship with my employer.

With respect to the rest of the Council and Rosemont, Varney states "the Council has no dog in the regulatory fight." Then why be critical of them for staying out of it?

Former City Councils have mismanaged taxpayer funds; aka, Rio Nuevo. They deserved the criticism they have received. I was public in that criticism, both when Rio was an arm of the city, and while it was an arm of the state. That was then, this is now. Let's do come cheerleading for what's going on locally. Step outside the door of the office of the Metro Chamber, Mr. Varney, and look at what's happening within one mile of the building. Right now more than $60 million in private sector projects are being built, revitalizing the downtown core. In the past three years, that figure tops $200 million.

Some of us have been working hard, focusing on projects the private sector can afford, and that lending institutions will fund. We're turning an important development corner. What we don't need now is for the head of an agency whose mission is to support business development tossing around unhelpful rhetoric. There's too much positive momentum to continue with a negative focus. It's by all of us pulling the rope in the same direction that we'll continue to grow our economy. The glass is half full. Let's keep filling it, together.

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