Both Nor-Generations (Allan Norville, manager) and Peach Properties (Ron Schwabe, manager) made team presentations to a packed room full of people on Tuesday. While both presentations hit it out of the ballpark at the special Rio Nuevo Board meeting; the decision as to which team has the most compelling vision for Tucson’s future and incorporates our rich history and culture is still to be decided.
Certainly, this is one of the biggest decisions the Rio Nuevo Board has had to make, the awarding of the Arena Lot; that 8.5 acres behind the Tucson Convention Center, east of I-10 on Granada Ave., and north of Cushing Street, where the Greyhound bus terminal is currently located.
The process was called “a hybrid RFP” meaning that the No.1 ranked proposer would be based on highest scoring in private, without prior discussion by Board members from the last Rio Nuevo meeting and this week’s meeting. It’s a unique process for an RFP but something the volunteer board felt compelled to do in order to keep a completely open and fair bidding process. Unlike an invitation for bid where a contract is formally awarded when the Board approves of the selection, this last scoring will be to decide in terms of approving which proposer will be given 'the right to negotiate development of the site with the District'.
There are many reasons the Rio Nuevo Board has gone to such lengths with this RFP, the main one being to leave personalities aside and to base decisions on the merits of the project. As one proposer stated, “Who someone likes or who someone doesn't like isn't important. What is important is what is the right vision for Tucson and personalities shouldn't be involved.”
The need for such rules became apparent when one board member started reading a prepared speech written for him, and then went on to cite his personal reasons for supporting one of bidders. This, in advance of any scoring, still in the context of scoring for the Board, in the midst of the competition; something not allowed by the rules of the RFP and putting the entire procurement process in possible jeopardy at that point, intentionally or not, remains to be seen.
Both teams envision a $100 + million project with a hotel, parking garage, apartments, office space, shops and restaurants. Both proposals will create an Entertainment District and an overhead promenade / bridge connecting to the TCC and a future Exhibition Hall.
One team comprised all local talent, well-known and well-respected for their work downtown, as well as nationally. The other team was comprised of out-of-state professionals bringing their experience from such places as Paseo, Colorado and Pasadena, California.
One team had a written hotel agreement in hand to show the Board; the other team spoke in general terms of a hotel brand they had worked with in the past, but did not offer any firm commitments for this project.
One team has experience working in Tucson; the other team does not.
One team will bring about 500 more permanent jobs to the area than the other one.
One team is the largest residential developer in the downtown area right now; the other team seemed to underestimate the importance of this sector of the market in its project.
One team talked about a Visual Arts Complex with the UofA, but had no actual agreement with the UofA yet, and who as we all know is also looking at other venues downtown to house their art collection. No answer was forthcoming when asked who would be owning the buildings the UofA is to occupy, just a statement that ‘it wouldn’t be them’. That’s never a good thing to hear when taxpayer money is involved and the UofA has already stated they have no interest in buying the buildings either, they are 'bringing a valuable art collection to the partnership'.
One team talked about and understood the Urban Land Institute (ULI) study that was recently conducted for downtown and responded to really creating an innovative destination -- an iconic place with their project as the ULI team had suggested. ULI emphasized the need to have enough activity to bring additional activity downtown and to have full-time use of it, and to really make sure that it works as an urban location. The other team did not speak of the ULI study or seem to be aware of it at all and spoke of the project as being an extension to the Gem Show.
One team spoke of “the good of the community and the Gem Show” and offered key transitions and mitigating transitions throughout their development plan. The other team’s focus was solely on the Gem Show.
One team spoke of having all LEED certified buildings, water harvesting and trees and shade. The other team showed pictures of buildings in other downtown cities.
One team has a history of working downtown, getting things done, partnering with other organizations, urban planning, merchants associations – it’s who they are - a committed part of our community. The other team not so much, coming from out of state, there appeared to be a certain lack of commitment or at least passion for this project.
One team offered to work with the other in developing the best possible downtown that Tucson deserves, and not settle for second best in any way. The other team did not reciprocate.
One team asked for help from the District with 600 additional parking spaces. The other team already has been granted rights to 1,200 parking spaces and would also look for assistance in building the promenade / bridge.
Everyone wants the best for Downtown Tucson in what will be the most important vote this Rio Nuevo Multipurpose Facilities District Board will undertake. It is an exciting time, watching a new spirit emerge downtown, despite the remnants of partiality visible from some of the board members.
Scoring by the individual board members is due Monday, August 18th by 5:00 p.m. and are to be posted online for public viewing as in the past
May the best team win!