In response to a request for comments regarding the draft 2015 bond implementation plan, Nicole Fyffee, Executive Assistant to Pima Administrator Chuck Huckelberry, received letters and emails from shocked beneficiaries, who wanted to know why their projects were put off well into the future.
While the nearly $1 billion bond package was sold as something that would spur economic activity in the 5th poorest metropolitan area in the country, many of the projects in the package will not be funded until at least 2020, according to the draft plan.
That revelation has caused a stir among the various entities, who had hoped to benefit from the government largess in the more immediate future.
Even members of the Bond Advisory Committee are questioning the timing and method of funding distribution. Bond Advisory Committee members Carolyn Campbell, Brian Flagg, and Ted Prezelski penned a letter in which they advise Fyffe:
“Our concerns lie in assuring fair and equitable distribution of funds throughout all Implementation Periods (sic) so that our community sees progress in the full spectrum of project areas. In particular, we are concerned with Neighborhood Reinvestment, Affordable Housing, Open Space Acquisition, and Pedestrian Safety and Walkability Improvements. These projects all have the bulk of the spending allocated late in the bond implementation, and we do not understand the reasons for this approach.
Promises of enhancing tourism have been key to bond supporters. Yet, those promises will not be delivered – if ever – for years according to letters from Craig Ivanyi of the Desert Museum and Jamsheed Mehta, Marana’s Deputy Town Manager among others.
In May of this year, Town staff responded to a County request for additional information regarding the Marana Cultural and Heritage Park. One of the questions asked was when the Town thought they would be able to spend the bonds funds. At the time we requested that the Heritage Park be programmed for Period 1 of the Bond program. However, the proposed draft implementation period schedule has the Heritage Park for the end of the bond during period 5 and period 6.
As stated in our previous emails to County staff, the Town of Marana has programmed for the Heritage Park design ork in FY17 and construction to begin in FY18. The Town’s approved five year capital improvement program has over $29 million allocated to the Heritage Park over the next four years. We respectfully request that he funding periods for the Heritage Park be moved up to Period 1 and Period 2 to correspond with the Town’s project timeframes set for the park.
….in reviewing the information – in particular the “Pima County’s 2015 Bond Program – Draft Implementation Period Schedule for Project Start and Completion Dates,” on behalf of the ASDM, I must express serious concern over what we see relative to the timeline for funding the Desert Museum’s project, Coast to Canyons: Journey of the Jaguar. In ASDM’s proposal, we listed a timeline for completion of this project (2020/2021) that is well in advance of when we would receive most of the funding for the project. Obviously, if the funding delay leads to a project completion delay, it completely changes what, if any, work could be done on this project during the time frame we originally provided. Unless the Museum takes out a substantial line of credit or seeks alternative funding allowing us to proceed sooner, this timeline will delay the completion of the project until over a decade from now. Such a change alters not only our revenue expectations, it would very likely result in a dramatic increase in the cost of constructing the exhibit complex, and completely alter a pending Strategic Plan for the Museum set to cover the next five years. At the very least, this could represent a significant burden on the Museum to raise more funds, potentially putting the institution or the project at risk.
Additionally, considering that the Desert Museum is Tucson’s premiere attraction, the schedule currently proposed by the County would greatly delay the positive economic impact this project will have on regional tourism (via giving visitors another reason to visit and/or extending the length of their stay in Pima County), which will reduce revenue generation for both the County and the Desert Museum.
Michael Bylsma, Vice-President of the Tucson Museum of Art writes:
The “Draft Implementation Period Schedule” does not show that the Courthouse renovation project will be funded within 24 months after the bond proposition passes — the implementation period that Mr. Huckelberry assured TMA officials would apply. Instead of being one of the “earliest” projects funded, the draft pushes the start of funding and project implementation back at least 6 years so that construction will not be complete until at least 9 years from the date the bond question is approved by the voters. We have relied on County assurances that the museum project would be in the first group of projects to be funded in our Board of Trustees’ discussions, financial planning, and conversations with donors, and in our public support of the bond question. We are very concerned about the revised proposal to substantially delay this project.
Significantly, the revised implementation period will cause TMA to lose critical momentum as well as the tangible opportunities that exist now with respect to establishment of the Museum of the West – with a resulting substantial adverse impact on our work related to fundraising and lining up donations of art for the new museum. As a practical matter, potential donors will not want to commit funds or commit to donate artworks to a museum that won’t open for at least nine years. “Striking while the iron is hot” is critical; we simply will not be able to sustain the interest and excitement that will be generated immediately after a “yes” vote on the bond if the project is not scheduled to come to fruition for almost a decade. If the delayed project timeline is finalized, it will generate substantial public uncertainty about whether the “Art of the West” museum project will evercome to fruition. And, if finalized, the proposed timeline will be seen as a clear signal that the Old Courthouse renovation is not a public priority — and thereby place the viability of the project in jeopardy.
The revised implementation period also generally seems inconsistent with the County’s “project prioritization factors” that are listed on page 17-18.
Even the controversial velodrome project supporters are unhappy with the funding plan. After advising Fyffe of all the money they intend on spending to sell the bond to the voters, Richard J. DeBemardis, CEO, President and Founder of the Perimeter Bicycling Association of America, writes:
Respectfully, Perimeter Bicycling & ABC-Velodrome makes only one suggested change for consideration in the “Period Schedule for Project Start and Completion Date” for the disbursement of funds for the construction of ABC-Velodrome facility: change from Period 4 to Period 2 based on the following rationale:
(a) Projected time schedule in raising the $1.5 million match to the 2015 Bond Funding of $3.5 million is expected to be completed by the end of 2016 or the latest mid-2017.
(b) The geographical area that builds a bicycle center-velodrome first will be the community to benefit the most -Pima County must have the first bicycle center in our state to be successful in all of its financial objectives.
(c) Once the Perimeter Bicycling matching funds are secured, we are ready to break ground because we’ll complete all other Pima County requirements and construction plans and approvals before the start of 2018.
Mark Blakeman, CEO Tucson Symphony Orchestra writes:
Re: The Draft Implementation Period Schedule for Project Start and Completion Dates. This schedule poses a significant impediment to successful fundraising as well as creating a major detriment to both City and County Revenues……The current Bond Implementation Plan for the Downtown Community Theaters and Historic Cultural Landscape likely undermines the effective and best practices needed to raise the additional $13.4M.
• Given the proposed four-year delay to the proposed Design and Planning Stage, both the market study and the initial fundraising components would be delayed until year five.
• Raising $13.4M will then require several years to complete.
•Without these funds construction and completion of the project will experience significant delays.
• During the five to six-year delay both performance halls and landscape will require ongoing maintenance. These piece-meal repairs will “throw good money after bad.”
•The Tucson Community Center (TCC) will not become an economic driver until its renovation. At that time, both City and County will experience the benefits of increased tourism, robust use of facilities, and increased tax revenues resulting from significantly improved venues.
Because the use of bond monies can change with a simple majority vote of the Pima County Board of Supervisors, the organizations should not only be concerned about the delay of funding, but that the funding will flow their way by the time it is expected to.