Workers urging the immediate start of construction on a downtown Convention Center hotel dominated a town hall held by the new Rio Nuevo board on Wednesday.
More than 300 people turned out for the meeting - the vast majority construction workers and tradesmen wanting the work that would come along with construction of the $190 million hotel planned next to the Tucson Convention Center.
About 75 of those attendees carried signs with proclamations such as: "We need the jobs," "Why not build it," "Stop talking, start building," and "Let's get to work."
Speakers who implored the board to build the hotel and put Tucsonans to work were met with thunderous applause.
Todd Scholer, senior project manager for Sun Mechanical Contracting Inc., brought 50 of his employees to the meeting, equipping them with yellow hard plastic signs they waved wildly.
"A picture is worth a thousand words. Tonight I brought you that picture," Scholer said pointing to his employees. "I think we need to put Tucson back to work."
Many construction workers brought their families, and during pauses in the meeting the din of children laughing, playing and crying could be heard.
One of those children was 4-year-old Bryce Lennox, who held a sign that said "Yes! Keep my daddy working."
Bryce came with his father, Jason Lennox, who works for Border Glass and Aluminum Inc. Representatives of the company and their families filled up two rows of the town hall, which was held at the Convention Center.
Not everyone supported the hotel, and those who spoke against it or urged caution received audible applause as well.
Business advocate Rick Grinnell urged the board to finish its audit of 10 years of Rio Nuevo spending before approving a hotel.
The Rio Nuevo audit is supposed to be made public in September. Hotel advocates want a vote of the City Council and the Rio Nuevo board by midsummer, so bonds could be sold in September and construction could begin in October.
Both entities are needed for the hotel financing to work, as Rio Nuevo needs to put up tax-increment financing money and the city needs to backstop the bonds with its credit.
City Hall critic and vocal opponent John Kromko said the same arguments being made for the hotel were made when the TCC and Tucson Electric Park were built and neither projects met their revenue projections. Both became a drain on taxpayers, he said.
Councilman Steve Kozachik spoke to the board and said he wasn't totally against the hotel but said many questions need to be answered. He again urged the council and the Rio Nuevo board to have a joint meeting to talk about the issues. Other speakers backed this point as well.
David Pittman, director of the Arizona Builders Alliance, said because the economy is depressed, prices for construction materials would never be cheaper.
"It will be an economic stimulus to downtown and all of Tucson," Pittman said. "All you have to do is pull the trigger."
Contact reporter Rob O'Dell at 573-4346 or firstname.lastname@example.org