Twenty years ago, voters paved the way for Rio Nuevo, a multipurpose district tasked with revitalizing downtown Tucson. Despite a rocky start, a string of successes in recent years have led lawmakers to extend the district beyond its 2025 expiration date. Rio Nuevo Chair Fletcher McCusker discussed the district’s previous missteps as well as what’s on the horizon.
“The first 10 years, we actually call them the lost years because so much money was wasted, literally. And then the Legislature intervened,” McCusker said. “Then the last five years have been pretty productive.”
McCusker described new policies aimed at holding its partners accountable for the funding it receives from Rio Nuevo.
“When we do a project like that we take title to the property. So if there is a failure, Rio Nuevo will end up owning it. That wasn’t the case years ago,” McCusker said. “Right now we’re only putting up about 10% of the overall cost of any one of our projects. But we have the most leverage.”
McCusker said the district also takes steps to get feedback from the downtown community on future investments and plans. That included reaching out to residents of Barrio Viejo south of Cushing Street before breaking ground on a DoubleTree Hotel next to the Tucson Convention Center. Rio Nuevo also recently approved a $65 million plan to renovate venues at the TCC and construct two parking garages.
“We’re a public entity. Everything we do has to be done in a public meeting. We always have a call to the audience,” McCusker said.