City council considering additional private hotel development downtown

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Talk of a new Tucson convention center hotel has been happening place for months, but today, those involved with the project not only have a time line -- they have a proposal from a private developer to bring yet another hotel downtown.

Before the mayor and council even talk about financing the nearly $200M, 525-room Sheraton Hotel, city staff members needed them to adopt a tentative time line for the project.

Tucson City Manager Mike Letcher pressed for the adoption of a time line, "We need a schedule. We need a schedule to get there. We can't -- I don't feel comfortable as a city manager just letting things kinda happen."

However, some felt the Rio Nuevo board should take the lead on the time line. "I think it's inappropriate for us to move forward and adopt a time line without them having the chance to do so as the owner of the property," says Council Member Steve Kozachik.

After nearly an hour of discussion, the council eventually approved the tentative time line on a 5 to 2 vote -- which puts them in position next week to decide whether they intend to proceed with the hotel and negotiate paperwork with Rio Nuevo.

The City, however, could still back out in the months ahead, regardless of what they decide next week. "It doesn't say approve a hotel. It doesn't say approve financing. It says, this is how we will proceed," explains Letcher.

Meanwhile, Tucson businessman Humberto Lopez and his team brought forth a new proposal to the council Tuesday night to compliment a convention center hotel -- renovate the Hotel Arizona, convert it to a Double Tree, and build an Embassy Suites Hotel next door along with a parking garage.

"Unless you add to that room count, you're not gonna be able to attract the national and regional conventions that you'll really need to change the dynamics and bring people into town," says Humberto Lopez's attorney Ted Hinderaker.

Total cost to the city would be about $13M.

"But there is a person at the table who says, I've got money I want to put toward this, and that's the first I've heard as long as I've been hearing about hotels downtown," says Council Member Shirley Scott.

City staff members, the council, and Rio Nuevo will hear a lot more about hotels downtown in the coming weeks.

Tucson staff members will present the tentative time line to the Rio Nuevo board Wednesday.  Council members are scheduled to hold a special meeting in mid-July to decide whether to approve financing for the convention center hotel.