Tucson keeps losing its institutions - Tucson Local Media: Editorials

Tucson keeps losing its institutions

Horse racing, films, baseball…is the Gem Show next

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Posted: Tuesday, April 22, 2008 11:00 pm

Forty years ago this community had institutions we’ve since lost, or are about to lose. Quarter Horse racing at Rillito Downs, spring training with the Cleveland Indians, a AAA baseball franchise, a thriving movie industry, and something that grew up called the Rock and Mineral Show. All are now gone, going, or threatened.

Massive population growth, bigger government, and higher taxes should mean you get more good stuff instead of less. What’s wrong?

The Tucson Sidewinders are moving to Reno. Attendance simply wasn’t high enough despite a Herculean effort by team ownership.

Part of the problem with baseball is self-inflicted. Fans were turned off by everything from greed to steroids. More “exciting” sports grew in popularity. I expect a pay-for-view promo soon for a guy with a sword and shield challenging another with a trident and net. Tastes in spectator sports changed. The decline of western civilization may follow.

We’re about to bulldoze the historic racetrack we voted overwhelmingly to preserve 24 years ago because it’s now inconveniently located, and soccer fields have a higher priority. We let the sound stage at Old Tucson burn down and never replaced it. “Nobody makes a Western anymore” is the excuse, yet many other genres were filmed here and there’s still a western market. The recent “Comanche Moon” and “3:10 to Yuma” were filmed in New Mexico, where they have a functional film commission.

The Tucson City Council suddenly discovered cost estimates for a new arena at the Community Center have risen since they gathered them. Replacing and expanding the old one is part of the package for a new downtown hotel and a commitment made to the Gem Show to keep it here. Private developers wanting to expand downtown activities have been constantly rebuffed by Tucson officials claiming they have a plan. It appears they don’t. Tax funded “Rio Nuevo” keeps being modified downward in scope in inverse proportion to expenditures.

Listening to interviews with Council members and other supposed movers and shakers conducted recently by my KVOI colleague John C. Scott indicates a fascination with trivia and process matched to a cluelessness so abysmal that one wonders in some cases who chews their food. Mainstream local media is similarly blasé, apparently unaware that other cities are working on getting the Gem Show. When your girlfriend decides to dump you, you don’t usually get a press release.

The White Sox are gone. Other teams will go with them. Unfortunately, the attempt to save spring training by building a new stadium in Marana will probably be too little too late.

First step is getting the state legislature to allow creation of a special taxing district to fund construction. No bill has been introduced to do so in this session and it wouldn’t get out of the House anyway. The current leadership has several motivations to oppose it, including opposition to raising any taxes, and many representatives are from places competing with us.

Best case scenario would be passage in the next legislature. The next step would be a county-wide election no earlier than fall of 2009. Combine anti-tax sentiment with voters living far from the location and it’s doubtful if any team’s ownership will await that outcome.

Tucson’s leadership has badly degenerated. It’s one thing to lose to Vegas or Denver. They’re being creamed by Reno and Goodyear. Marana’s Mayor Ed Honea is at least trying to resolve a valley-wide issue Tucson’s Smiling Bob Walkup is oblivious to. While it may be too late for a baseball stadium, maybe Marana could propose a hotel / arena and save this valley the Gem Show.

Listen to Emil Franzi and Tom Danehy on Saturdays, from 1 to 4 p.m., on “Inside Track,” KVOI 690 AM.

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