An unlikely suitor has appeared to rescue a historic downtown building from the brink of foreclosure.
At a special meeting this afternoon, the Rio Nuevo District will discuss entering into a 60-day option agreement to buy the privately owned Manning House.
"While earlier than we wanted to focus on development, this opportunity arose because of the imminent foreclosure," Rio Nuevo Chairman Fletcher McCusker said in an email.
The deal would prevent the bank from taking over the property and give the district two months to find a development partner, broach the issue with the city of Tucson and analyze the condition of the house before finalizing any sale, McCusker said.
No details were available Tuesday on how much money the district would have to pay for the option to keep the property out of foreclosure.
Recently, Manning House CEO Colleen Concannon placed the debt-ridden property on the market for about $2.5 million to try to avoid a bank takeover.
Concannon said she is glad the district is considering the purchase because she wanted to avoid selling it to a developer who would tear down part or all of the 1907 home, destroying a piece of Tucson history.
"Hopefully, they'll vote for it, but if they don't, then Tucson can watch it come down ... because there wasn't anything else I could do," she said. "I've been guardian for a long time, but it really should not be in private hands. To stay in private hands, and that is certainly what some of the offers are right now, means they have to do what is economically feasible, and that means the dirt is worth more than the building."
Although Concannon said she receives offers daily, she will not accept any until the district proposal plays out because she believes the best chance to preserve the building is through government.
"I think a public entity should own the Manning House, and I have always felt that way," she said.
Concannon said if the Rio Nuevo deal falls through, she will strike an agreement with one of the other interested parties within the next 30 days.
She said the district would be getting a good deal because unlike some preservation projects the city of Tucson has entered into over the years, the Manning House can support itself.
"This is not the Marist College building," she said, referencing the city's recent decision to award $1.1 million to repair the Catholic Diocese of Tucson's dilapidated downtown building. "It can sustain itself without any help."
Councilman Steve Kozachik disagrees with Concannon's assessment and said giving public money to both is equally despicable.
"This is as inherently wrong as bailing out the Catholic Church," Kozachik said. "All that's happened is less than a week later, we found a private-business owner to bail out. … This is not something we should continue doing."
Kozachik added he believes spending Rio Nuevo tax revenues on the Manning House is defying the Legislature's 2009 mandate that limited the district expenditures to a design and construction of a hotel and convention center, paying off bonds and fulfilling any pre-existing contracts.
"This is a direct violation of the Legislature, and it's just daring them to kill the district later this year," he said.
Rio Nuevo board members did not return calls regarding Kozachik's assertion the purchase violates state limits on Rio Nuevo spending.
Contact reporter Darren DaRonco at 573-4243 and at email@example.com