Rio Nuevo audits released soon, Westside project presented

The Rio Nuevo District Board met yesterday to receive an update on their audit efforts, and hear from members of the public on the proposed project on the Westside; Rancho Chuk Shon.

Auditor Susan Vos advised the district Board that the audit should be concluded in the next week. Vos said that the audit is in its final draft, and the auditors gave the City “the opportunity to resolve some of their issues.”

Vos said that Westside audit should be done in a matter of weeks. Chair Fletcher McCusker asked Vos to describe the cooperation or lack thereof she has received from the City. Vos advised the Board that the City had been “very cooperative, and I need to remember that they have a City to run while meeting our requests.” Tucson Mayor Rothschild has promised a new era of transparency and accountability under his leadership.

The District Board, under the prior leadership of watchdog Chair Jodi Bain, began the process of auditing the City of Tucson/Rio Nuevo projects due to having spent $230 million with little or nothing to show for it. McCusker has continued Bain’s efforts and increased the audit budget.

Members of Rancho Chuk-Shon presented their plans for development for the Westside. The revenue generating development plans includes a lienzzo arena, practice roping; equestrian facilities, banquet hall, restaurant and related retail shops, along with space for cultural activities. It will focus on developing enterprises that bring jobs to the area.

The Board voted 7-0 to match the first $50,000 the Rancho Chuk-Shon group raises for the project. To date, the work on the project has been done by volunteer business people, architects, land planners, and the community members dedicated to bringing revenue generating enterprises and job opportunities to the hard hit area.

“We believe we can proceed with the voters original intent on the Westside in a manner that will be supported by the community and Westside residents, create destination venues that preserve the culture, sonoran habitat and archeology of Tucson’s first inhabitants and enhance downtown,” said McCusker. “This grass roots effort is succeeding on ground that is littered with consultant studies and misdirected plans. We are pleased to be a part.”

The group offered a conservative estimate of generating nearly $100,000 in TIF revenue on their estimated $2,850,000 in revenue in the first year alone.

Rancho Chuk-Shon was included in the Rio Nuevo ballot measure voters approved in 1999. The original ballot proposition stated: “Emphasizing the balance between man and environment, Rancho Chuk-Shon provide amenities such as horse facilities and trails along the Santa Cruz, a Charro ring and cultural displays. Open air mercados will provide space for Native American and other local artisans to display their unique crafts.”

The lienzzo, which is a Charro arena, will be the focal point as it supports the already organically occurring enterprises of the neighbors in the area and local charros. There are approximately 150 horses in a one mile radius of the project.

The neighbors of Rancho Chuk-Shon and the Tohono O’odham tribe have been struggling against political forces for years on their attempt to bring jobs to the area and restore the “revered land which had become the site of our refuse. They say the land “needs to be reclaimed and become a place of celebration.”

According to the group, “Rancho Chuk-Shon will represent the appropriate parties responsible for overseeing, administering and facilitating the entire project. Rancho Chuk-Shon will raise the appropriate funding to implement the project described in this feasibility guide, and concept development plan.”

Anthony Mejia, who was raised in the neighborhoods around Chuk-Shon and graduated from Cholla High School, introduced the project to the newly reconstituted Rio Nuevo District Board. Diego O’Bolger explained to the Board the lienzzo’s history and cultural relevance. John Hunnicutt, a local businessman, introduced the feasibility study. Architect, Ric Espiriti, discussed the preliminary architectual plans, and land use issues.

A similar project to rancho is successfully operating in the Phoenix area; Corona Ranch. Its owner, Bill Smith, presented the Board with an explanation of the Corona Ranch operation and how the model can produce jobs and tax revenues for Southern Arizona.

Letters of support of the project from the Chairman of the San Xavier District of the Tohono O’odham Nation and the Metropolitan Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau were presented to the Board.

In its letter, the Metropolitan Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau noted that the project would be a draw for the convention and tourism industry. According to Rancho’s presentation, tourism still remains a healthier industry across the country.

Josefina Cardenas, a native Tucsonan and long time resident of Barrio Kroeger Lane, has been the driving force behind the project. With the advice and counsel of her elders, Cardenas has worked since 1999 with the Tohono O’Odham tribe, community members, politicians, business people and now the Rio Nuevo Board, to make their “dreams for the dump” a reality. She has fought to bring opportunity and jobs to the people of the Westside and the Tucson community as a whole.

While many neighbors showed up in support of the project, only one neighbor, Diana Hadley, objected to the project. The former University of Arizona ethno-ecologist and historian, claimed that despite the fact that the land is now virtually barren as a result of having been a landfill for decades, it is a natural path for Saguaros.

Last week, Tucson was rated as the 6th poorest area in the county according to U.S. Census data. The study found that its business “unfriendly” reputation has prevented job growth.

Cardenas says she does not know if her dream of seeing “our government and community supporting each other to heal past mistakes, on Mother Earth,” comes true, but she believes that if they do, Rancho will provide “a great place for all our families.”

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