Though construction on a new south entrance to the Tucson Convention Center started last fall, plans for the city-owned 525-room Sheraton that is to be connected to the facility via the entryway are at a standstill. Among the reasons: Funding for the $180 million project still is up in the air.
The new hotel was to be financed chiefly by municipal bonds and taxes collected for a long-term revitalization project, called Rio Nuevo, in Tucson's downtown. However, a spokesperson for the Metropolitan Tucson Convention & Visitors Authority said bond sales have not been as brisk as the city had hoped. Also, Rio Nuevo's finances are being investigated by the state of Arizona, following reports that funds were being wasted.
The city and the MTCVA have been under pressure from clients to build a headquarters hotel at the convention center, and to update the facility itself.
Among the critics is the Dallas-based American Gem & Trade Association, which holds the largest show in the city every winter. When asked if the delays would affect the decision to keep the association's show in Tucson, CEO Douglas Hucker said, "I would be loath to leave Tucson, but they need to invest in their product. Most of our funding comes from the show, and if it declines because the facilities are substandard and the experience isn't enjoyable, we will have to think of other venues."
At press time, Tucson was facing a budget deficit of about $32 million. Nevertheless, the MTCVA spokesperson said the hotel definitely will be built. In the meantime, a construction timeline has yet to be established.