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TUCSON-In an effort to pave the way for a $190-million renovation and development plan, city officials are poised to start evaluating candidates to build a hotel near the convention center. Hoteliers have until June 1 to get their names on the list.

After the candidates are winnowed out, officials expect it will take a couple months before they are ready to put a request for proposals into motion. The goal is to break ground in 2008 on a hotel and possibly an entertainment district.

What’s involved is 40 acres at Church and Cushing streets near Interstate 10, which contain the convention center and two theaters. City officials plan to invest $60 million into renovating the center and $130 million into building a 12,500-seat arena. But, the hotel is the key to the deal.

“Without the hotel, we can’t afford to build the arena and we can’t start the convention center renovation without that hotel,” says Richard Singer, director of the Tucson Convention Center. The city plans to borrow money for the projects via tax-free bonds in the hope that a city-owned hotel will turn a profit to help retire those bonds. “They all tie together,” Singer says. “Certainly the hotel makes more sense with an improved convention center.”

Singer tells GlobeSt.com that the hotel is an important entry point to something potentially larger. “We’d like to see someone bringing destination retail to the area,” he explains. “Today, when you walk out of the center, you see a shopping mall parking lot. It’s a lot easier to sell conventions if you walk out the front door to see entertainment and things to do.”

Singer adds that once the hotel is underway, the convention center will undergo renovation at the same time, with the arena breaking ground a short time later. The renovation will include an addition of 35,000 sf of meeting rooms and gutting arena space inside the convention center to make way for 170,000 sf of exhibit space.

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